There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Friday, 22 October 2010


With our fifth trip to China imminent, it seems an appropriate moment to write a paragraph or two about Huizhou, the city that started it all. Huizhou is pronounced 'way-jo'; pedants and scholars might care that the first syllable is second (rising) tone while the 'jo' is third (falling-rising). My inability to cope with tones doubtless accounts for the incomprehension that greets any attempt to deploy my very limited Mandarin vocabulary.
The Xiapu district of Huizhou.
Siân & James lived on the nth floor of one of these blocks

Huizhou has less than a handful of sites to attract tourists. Although it is hardly remote, 160 km east of Guangzhou and 60 km north east of Hong Kong, few foreigners ever visit; perhaps that is the best reason for going there. If you want to watch the Chinese going about their business undistorted by the mirror of mass tourism, then Huizhou is the place to go. If you want to see the Chinese economic miracle in a small city on the edge of the Special Economic Zone, then there is no better place than Huizhou. If you want to relax somewhere inexpensive surrounded by lakes and parks, then I recommend Huizhou.

Ren Ren Le, Huizhou's main supermarket
A city of 500 000 people is only a dot on the map by Chinese standards, though Huizhou is the capital of a prefecture of several million. Looking south and west from the upper floors of the Noble Jasper Hotel, it is possible to see the steep, wooded hills that mark the city’s edge. In other directions, the urban sprawl of Guangdong Province is more persistent.

Sitting on the confluence of two rivers and wrapped around two lakes, Huizhou is a city of water. Strolling round Nan Hu (South Lake) you can watch old men playing Chinese chess or listen to impromptu concerts, while in the early mornings half the population turns out for their daily exercises. Some merely stand among the shrubs twirling their arms, others practise the slow controlled movements of Tai Chi, while a group of ladies lunge and parry in carefully choreographed swordplay.

Choreographed swordplay by South Lake, Huizhou

The area surrounding the larger lake, Xi Hu (West Lake, no expense was spared in the naming) was laid out as a park during the Song dynasty (10th and 11th centuries). For a few Yuan you may stroll among the gardens, see a statue of the poet/administrator Su Dongpo and climb a wooden pagoda. From the top there is a fine view over the lake and the five-hundred-metre causeway that crosses it. The numerous right angle turns deny demons access to the central pavilion, while the small, marble humpback bridge was built by Su Dongpo in 1096.

West Lake, Huizhou
In 2004 I had never heard of Huizhou. Our daughter Siân, with a freshly minted MA in her hand and uncertainty as to what to do with it in her head, decided it might be interesting to go somewhere and teach English. With the whole world to chose from, Huizhou was where she and boyfriend James found jobs. They stayed a year, came home and got married, then returned for six months. Lynne and I visited twice, using Huizhou as a jumping off point for trips further north and west, and as a point of return before heading back to Hong Kong and thence home. It is special to us because Siân lived there, and because it was the first Chinese city we stayed in, its calmness a relief after the aggressive chaos of Shenzhen’s Lo Wu bus station.

Keeping Huizhou tidy

In Huizhou, under Siân’s tutelage, we learned how to survive as foreigners in China. We learned about buses and the etiquette of taxis and discovered that you can walk into the most basic restaurant, or occupy a table outside what seems only a hole in the wall and not only will you not be poisoned, but you will be served a meal that is skilfully cooked, full of flavour and extraordinarily cheap.

Frog cooked in a big leaf, Huizhou

The climate in August is far from ideal. It is certainly warm enough, the temperature reaching the low thirties, but it is usually overcast and often raining. Occasionally there is a storm, sometimes a typhoon. Even on sunny days the air is laden with moisture and to avoid being bathed in sweat you learn to walk slowly. Most things in Huizhou happen slowly, even the traffic.

West Lake, the pagoda from the middle of the lake, Huizhou
The city is nothing special, but it sowed the seeds of an obsession with China that has seen us return again and again. Despite the weather, I like the place.

1 comment:

  1. That's pretty much how we feel about China now after 18 months here.Love the food,the scenery,the people and the history.