Sunday, April 14, 2013

Tracing my roots

My grandpa hailed from a village in Jingjiang (晋江) which is now a “city” in Quanzhou (泉州). I have been to Quanzhou before – when in the early 1990s, Genting’s Lim Goh Tong was asked by the then governor of Fujian to consider building an expressway from Quanhou to Fuzhou.

 I requested a party to arrange for me a private visit to Quanzhou/Jingjiang. The tour guide was a great disappointment; I didn’t know she herself had never been to the region before! The driver had been there, but he didn’t have the slightest idea what and where were the better historical sites to visit.

We took a cursory tour of Jingjiang; the city appeared “cool” and pleasant. The local restaurant where we ended for a meal was clean; and the food was pretty good.

The City of Quanzhou was totally unrecognizable to me, even though I had been there before. It is no different from most Chinese cities, despite being touted as one of the most historic cities in China. We were literally groping in the dark, guided only by my vague recollection of what I had visited before – the pagodas, the Muslim quarters, the Lao-tze hill and the Muslim quarters.

In China, the rhetoric has always been superlatives like “the most famous”, or “the biggest”, or “the oldest”. Kaiyuan Temple (開元寺) is said to be the biggest and oldest of its kind in Fujian; the Qingjing Mosque (清淨), the oldest Arab-style mosque in China, blah, blah, blah.

Unfortunately, the maritime “museum” where an ancient Song Dynasty vessel is displayed is now closed for the renovation. The woman who was manning the souvenir kiosk next to it was fast sleep on a bed complete with pillow and blanket. She did not have the slightest idea what the museum was all about. Nonetheless, I managed to pick up a couple of books on tourist attractions in Quanzhou. The books were covered with a layer of dust; I must be her first customer in years.

The leaders who are responsible for tourism and cultural relics need to "eat rattan" ( ).The concept of tourism in China is still very mickey-mousy. Most things are NICE FROM FAR, but in reality, they are FAR FROM NICE. Non-stop physical construction or renovation appears to be the prime pre-occupation of theirs. Little attention is paid to details and quality. The Kuan-Yue temple is a case in point.  Apparently, it was built to honour two great heroes – Kuan-yi (
) and Yeh-fei (), but non-discerning visitors would are likely to miss this significance. On top of this, the beggars in front of the temple behave more like ticket touts than people of are in need of humanitarian help.  
We sure have missed many other great destinations there, thanks to our "anxious-to-get-rich quick" tour guide.

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