Medicinal alcohol. A Hawaiian princess. Obstacle courses. Food-on-a-stick. A vat of beer. A wax museum. And calligraphy. Yep, it must be another Carlin Family Adventure Day!
On Friday, Joel and I joined our friend Grace for a trip to the Meixi Royal Stone Archway in northwestern Zhuhai. I guess this is a big tourist destination in Zhuhai, but none of our English-speaking friends have been there yet. There’s an interesting history to the site. The arches are dedicated to Chen Fang, who was born in Zhuhai in 1825. As a young man, he traveled to Hawaii to start a business there and invested in sugar cane plantations. When the U.S. Civil War broke out, he was able to fill the void left when southern sugar was no longer shipped to the north. He soon became a millionaire, married a Hawaiian princess, and had 14 Hawaiian children. When floods struck China’s Guangdong Province, he sent money back to his homeland. Years later, he retired back to the area, built a family mansion, and dedicated his remaining life to public welfare.
Admission was 65 yuan. Inside, the park was practically empty–most of the people we saw were gardeners or other employees. There’s much more to see than just the arches. These are the grounds of the Chen family estate and most of the buildings are open. Some even function as workshops where craftsmen create traditional crafts for purchase.
We had a really cool experience at one of the first buildings. We peeked inside and struck up a conversation with the couple drinking tea there. They were impressed with Grace’s Chinese language skills and we were impressed with his English. It turns out that he’s a professor of history and sociology, as well as manager of the site. After giving us a taste of the medicinal alcohol on display, the couple invited us for traditional tea and snacks while we learned more about the site, his job, and their son who is a graduate student in the U.S. It was one of those impromptu events that makes travel in China so fun!
We said good-bye to our new friends and wandered around the rest of the park. I’m not sure that I saw any other tourists. (It was a weekday, after all, and although the weather was lovely for us, it had been raining for days before.) One building was filled with old engraved signs and engraved stones. Another was filled with calligraphy and the people let us try our hand at calligraphy with a special re-usable paper and water brush.
And then there was the wax museum. Signs in English helped us understand the histories of some of the faces we’ve seen at other historical sites in Zhuhai–that was so illuminating! Grace was a little startled by the wax figures because they were so life-like. You could see the pores on their faces and the stubble on shaved heads. I’ve always avoided wax museums because they seem so hokey, I really enjoyed learning about these figures.
Outside again, we bought some fresh coconut juice to drink and wandered through the last of the grounds. Sometimes–in the summer? When the weather is good?–they must feature acrobatic shows on the lawn. Grace and Joel took a spin on the giant swings. Then we discovered a little obstacle course. I refrained from playing too much because I was wearing sandals and didn’t want to smash a toe. Joel and Grace called me a stick-in-the-mud and managed to avoid the bruised shins I anticipated.
From there, we headed out. It was getting late, we were quite hungry, and we only had a few hours before we needed to get home to relieve the nanny from watching Simon. We finally happened upon a cool outdoor restaurant. It served street food–the kind you can buy at mobile carts–but from the convenience of a real restaurant. Sitting out on the sidewalk on a lovely evening was magical. We ordered the giant vat o’ beer and tried all types of barbecued meats and veggies. “More food-on-a-stick that the Minnesota State Fair,” declared Grace. Not a bad ending to a lovely day.