West side stories
Updated: 2012-12-20 10:14
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)
The Chen Family Temple is a historical gem hidden in the concrete jungle of skyscrapers in the heart of Guangzhou. Zou Zhongpin / China Daily
While the rest of the metropolis gallops forward, a district on the west side of Guangzhou has wound down for a nostalgic embrace of its graceful past, says Raymond Zhou.
When I was a graduate student in the early 1980s, Guangzhou had only two bridges across the Pearl River, and what is now the center of town in Tianhe was still an endless swath of rice paddies. I would ride a bicycle along Haizhu Bridge and the boulevard that used to be the axis of the city.
As the city expands, mostly toward the east and the south, instead of being drowned in a canyon of skyscrapers, old Guangzhou has emerged in its regained glory of a century ago. Liwan district was the old commercial hub, with trading companies (most notably Sup Sam Hung) and retailers as well as residential buildings so unique they were given the name Xiguan manor.
Xiguan literally means "outside the west gate", but the city gate was demolished early in the 20th century and the 16.2-sq-km housing 700,000 residents is now officially Liwan district.
I never knew there was a Liwan Creek, one of a dozen that crisscross the city. That was once swallowed up by heaps of unseemly buildings. Now, a walkway has been created along the creek, which has been dredged and removed of its stench.
Old structures along the banks have been cleaned and retouched. You may even chance upon a wedding procession or a Cantonese Opera show that adds a punchy splash of color to the scenery.
The area used to have as many as 800 manors, two-story elongated houses (10 meters by 40 meters) the wealthy had built for their families. Now, only a dozen remain in their original form.
What distinguishes the Xiguan manor from private homes in other parts of southern China is the entrance: It has three doors, a swinging door similar to a saloon in the American frontier, a sliding gate with horizontal bars to keep the draft in and burglars out, and the real door.