China, but different

Updated: 2013-03-29 07:49

(China Daily)

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China, but different

Chaozhou has developed a uniqueness in everything from language to cuisine

There is a saying in China: "If you haven't been to Chaozhou, you haven't really been to Guangdong."

Largely isolated from the rest of the country for much of its history, the city has developed a uniqueness in everything from language to architecture that is known as Chaoshan culture.

The Chaozhou language is completely different to the Mandarin spoken in the rest of China and there is no written form of it. It is passed from generation to generation only as the spoken word.

China, but different

Food, art, and everything else about the city also has a flavor that can't be found in the rest of China. This makes Chaozhou a great place to experience something different and yet still very Chinese.

Here are some main attractions:

1. Guangji Bridge

Guangji Bridge, which crosses the Hanjiang River in the east of the city, was the world's first bridge that can be opened and closed.

It was originally built in AD 1174 during the Southern Song Dynasty, but the present construction was finished around 200 years ago.

The outer parts of the bridge are made of stone and dotted with airy pavilions, while the central part is made of wood and floats on boats. This floating section can be disconnected to allow boats to pass through the bridge.

The pavilions and pagodas along the bridge are engraved with beautiful calligraphy and carved images, some a thousand years old.

The bridge is also a good spot to view some of the city's most beautiful scenery, including Beacon Hill and Hanwengong Ancestral Temple.

2. Kaiyuan Temple

This palace-like courtyard was first built in 738 AD, but the present building, which is made of a combination of wood and stone, is about 200 years old.

The temple is a Buddhist center and includes architectural styles from across the dynasties.

Inside are examples of calligraphy and stone tablets, some carved with scenes from Buddhist stories, others with images of daily life.

3. Memorial Arch Street

China, but different

With 23 memorial arches, this is the longest street of its kind in China. Each arch is attached to a touching story - about moral integrity, scholarly honor or official achievements. The oldest of the arches dates back to 1517 and the newest to 1785.

The street has an exotic feel. Much of it was built during the early Qing Dynasty and influenced by the architecture of Southeast Asia, mixed in with architectural styles from around China.

Take a rickshaw ride down the street and soak in the atmosphere or slowly browse your way along the craft shops that line it.

The embroidery shops there sell finely made work decorated with images of birds, flowers and animals. There are also elaborate woodcarvings and delicate straw mats for sale.

Chaozhou is the birthplace of Chinese ceramics: the industry has been here for 2,300 years. It is said that Chaozhou ceramics are "white like jade, thin as a piece of paper, bright like a mirror and fine like thread".

Food and culture

Seafood is a major feature of Chaozhou cuisine, its flavor enhanced with sauces such as tangerine jam and broadbean paste.

Duck and goose are also local favorites. The city's famous spicy goose is served with garlic and vinegar sauce. The use of flavoring is much less heavy than in most parts of the country, with emphasis instead placed on the freshness and quality of ingredients.

For snacks try the city's fried spring rolls or beef balls.

After dinner, nothing beats sitting back in one of the city's tea houses sipping Gongfu tea, which was first drunk in the Song Dynasty and remains an important part of social etiquette in Chaozhou.

If you end up visiting a local family you can be sure of a cup of Gongfu tea, which has a bitter taste that lingers in the mouth.

Drinking Gongfu tea is more a lesson in aesthetics than a solution to being thirsty. In the city's teahouses, tea services are often accompanied by music, traditionally played on a combination of string instruments, gongs, drums and flutes.

In the evening take in some Chaozhou opera, which began around 500 years ago. It includes clowns, folk dances and balladic songs all combined with some skilful acrobatics.

China Daily

(China Daily 03/29/2013 page22)