Homecoming #3: Shantou

* Warning: Pulling an Yvan Rodic, which means another image-heavy post all over again. Promise it’s the last one because it’s a bitch to scroll down I know.

IMG_1736

For our trip, we were based in Shantou mainly because my parents and sister flew in direct to Shantou from Singapore. We pretty much spent most of our days visiting relatives and ancestral homes in Chaozhou, the two cities being so close it didn’t even feel like we were traveling between cities.

IMG_1737

IMG_1738

Markets hidden in snaking residential alleys.

IMG_1740

I’m fascinated by Shantou’s cage-like apartment facades that are messy, dingy and so full of character.

IMG_1744

IMG_1745

Chickens and ducks for sale in the market, fresh meat like it should.

IMG_1748

It’s the first time in my life in an environment where everyone speaks Teochew unabashedly. It was so surreal considering that as a child growing up in Singapore, for a time I was rather ashamed of speaking Teochew in public (all my friends in school spoke either Mandarin or English, only old folks converse in this antiquated dialect, or so I thought) and couldn’t understand why my mom insisted on speaking the dialect instead of Mandarin. Fast forward to 2010, I’m really glad I was able to order food in Teochew and be understood by the locals.

IMG_1754

IMG_1768

A friend recently backpacked for a few weeks through southern China. Upon arriving in Shantou, she found it boring and couldn’t wait to get out as fast as she could, promptly getting on the next bus to Xiamen.

IMG_1769

In Shantou’s defense, I’ve been to far more dreary cities devoid of character still fumbling to find their place in modern China today. In comparison, Shantou can be rather attractive and quaint if you take a bit of time to get to know it even though it’s as left behind as those other cities.

IMG_1777

To me it is familiar (can’t help it, Teochew heritage) yet foreign at the same time, quite unlike the other parts of China I had been to.

IMG_1783

IMG_1786

Its melancholic charm best experienced in narrow streets and crumbling architecture left forgotten and unpreserved. By the way, these posters are pure gold.

IMG_1799

In the city’s old quarter, I get the feeling as if I am in Singapore or Malaysia circa 1970/80s.

IMG_1807

IMG_1811

Stained glass windows are everywhere if you notice. Wonder what’s the story behind since I don’t usually associate stained glass as intrinsically Chinese. British merchants, treaty ports, colonial past ?

IMG_1818

IMG_1820

IMG_1827

IMG_1846

Rust eating away at the cast-iron art-deco facade, an impressive structure that I wish had been better preserved.

IMG_1848

Of course some traces of Communist influences…

IMG_1863

Pointed arch window frames, stained glass windows and may Chairman Mao live for 10,000 years.

IMG_1866

We also found Mao in unexpected places, which makes the exploration quite very rewarding.

IMG_1870

IMG_1872

IMG_1875

IMG_1878

IMG_1882

IMG_1884

A little snack since the flight in question was delayed for more than a few hours and there was nothing else we could do to interrupt the boredom of the wait.

IMG_1890

Waiting with the extended family I have never known at the airport for my parents and sister to arrive. Finally ! That’s the plane they were on.

IMG_1897

Dai pai dong, Teochew style FTW.

IMG_1898

A selection of boiled/ steamed fish to go with plain rice porridge.

IMG_1902

Wanted to try the tasty-looking raw marinated crabs but chickened out in the end.

IMG_1910

IMG_1923

IMG_1925

IMG_1926

IMG_1927

IMG_1929

Listening to children on the streets speak fluent Teochew, yet another surreal moment.

IMG_1931

So many oysters to shuck.

IMG_1935

More beef noodles.

IMG_2169

IMG_2356

Fishball and sliced pork noodles.

IMG_2360

IMG_2364

IMG_2367

IMG_2368

Probably the weirdest thing I’d seen in Shantou (make that Chaozhou too).

IMG_2369

IMG_2377

IMG_2383

How long does it take for reused signages to reach this stage ?

IMG_2387

If I have to pick one photo to represent the state of derelict and despair in Shantou’s old quarter, this will be it. Everyone’s resigned to fate, residents and buildings alike.

IMG_2390

IMG_2392

Such a pity the buildings are just biding their time to be torn down.

IMG_2401

IMG_2403

IMG_2408

IMG_2411

IMG_2417

Transporting pigeons on public transport. On the same bus we also witnessed how buses double as express courier service when a person got on the bus to collect a parcel from the bus conductor then hopped off at the same stop. Highly amusing !

IMG_2475

IMG_2477

As you may already have noticed, noodles was our starchy staple of choice for the duration of our stay in Shantou.

IMG_2493

IMG_2501

The cab driver had to answer a phone call midway through our ride, except that his phone was chained to his belt. He was speeding along the road with his head tilted in this manner for ten or so nerve-wracking minutes.

IMG_2505

IMG_2520

IMG_2525

A Chinese opera puppet show we stumbled upon after following the sounds of lively music. It was a lovely treat especially as we don’t get to see much of these in Singapore anymore.

IMG_2527

We were among the few people at the neighborhood temple watching the performance under the awnings, alongside old folks.

IMG_2537

IMG_2538

Indiscreet and nonchalant advertising by the street.

IMG_2539

IMG_2542

IMG_2543

IMG_2544

An interesting choice of gates for a construction company.

IMG_2550

IMG_2554

Spied upon the subtlety of stars…

IMG_2558

… and motorcycle taxi drivers waiting for their next customers.

IMG_2564

IMG_2568

IMG_2569

IMG_2570

Farewell Shantou (and Chaozhou), it’s been a trip like no other and certainly much more significant than any trip I’ve gone on. I’ll hope to come back soon one day !

4 Thoughts on “Homecoming #3: Shantou

  1. As a fellow Teochew who cannot speak enough of the language to be conversant in daily life, this is such an amazing post. The place is beautiful!

  2. admin on March 6, 2012 at 10:19 AM said:

    Ben – Thanks for your kind words. You should definitely try to head that way sometime. Are your ancestors from Shantou proper ? It was rather confusing for me at first (Shantou/Chaozhou/Chao’an) but managed to figure out in the end with help from mom that my ancestors on both sides of the family were actually from Chaozhou.

  3. Patrick on July 26, 2013 at 7:22 AM said:

    I’ve just seen your blog! Love it. I feel like I have just been through my anscestral homeland, Chaozhou/Shantou. My neice who was recently there forwarded this link to me. The photos of the old quarter really is like home in the 70s. My wife and I recently visited Penang old town and some parts of it is still like that including the coffee shops selling soup noodles for M$4.20 or A$1.50!!
    The food is very Teochew, clear soupy things, yum.

  4. admin on July 30, 2013 at 11:23 PM said:

    Patrick – I’m really glad you had a peek of Chaozhou/ Shantou today on my blog and enjoyed reading your thoughts. I’m flattered. My parents recently visited Penang as well and had a variety of mouthwatering and inexpensive food. If you have the chance, do head to Chaozhou/ Shantou sometime before the old quarters are demolished to become another grey characterless Chinese city. It’s funny how we both belong to different generations of Teochews and live halfway across the world yet we share the same love for Teochew clear soupy things. 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation