Discovering Dongguan (东莞)

On November 25th, we spent an entire day in Dongguan city near 星河. We began the day by leaving our hotel, which is Dongcheng International Hotel 东城国际酒店. This is a beautiful, brand new hotel. We had a room on the 28th floor. The window view is not as spectacular but the rooms were spacious, modern and clean.

The first event was a delicious dim sum organized by Carol’s cousins at a restaurant near by. We had a room to ourselves with a private washroom. Now that is classy. The dishes were similar but different from the dim sum dishes that we are use to in Toronto. This event will prove to be just the start of many tasty events to come.

We walked off the dim sum meal at the Keyuan Museum (东莞可园博物馆). This is an old out door garden museum from the Qing Dynasties in the (1800’s).

We then got some Douhua (豆腐花) dessert at a local store hidden from the main streets. This is followed by fresh out of the oven BBQ Goose (燒鵝), and then we parked ourselves at another dessert place eating more Chinese desserts and chicken.

We then walked it all off in the central area of Dongguan City, and waited for the building lights to come on at 7pm. This is followed by another delicious dinner, and we finished the night with a trek around 东莞33小镇, a lively area with plenty of eateries and night life activities.

Dongguan is a newly minted first tier city in China, and we were shown that it has lots to offer.

Our day in Dongguan

Enjoying Shanghai

The last couple of days (November 23th and 24th) we spent our time touring the futuristic Shanghai and visiting a very good family friend whom we have not met for about 13 years.

Check out Carol’s videos attached below for the foods that we tasted and the places we went to.

The most lasting impressions were how modern Shanghai has become with its modern infrastructure and metro systems. With the help of Baidu, and WeChat and its mini programs, we can literally goto any place of interests without depending on a tour group. I love the flexibility in which modern China now offers a tech savvy tourist.

Of course meeting up with an old family friend is always heart warming, especially when she took the time to cook many dishes for us. I wished we could have stayed longer, and spend more time to catch up. I would have love to meet her grandchildren but they were at school still when we visited. With our multi entry Chinese Visa we hope to come back often, and perhaps next time stay in Shanghai for longer than a day. I think a four or five nights stay may have been more ideal.

On the 24th, we had another Shanghai 小笼包 breakfast. We simply cannot have enough. We then discover Carol’s paradise, a 4 stories food market filled with munchies and other eateries. If it was not for our time constraint, we could have spent hours there.

We had to take the train back to Dongguan (东莞) where we have plans with Carol’s cousin on the next day. In hindsight, we should have taken a flight instead. However, it was good to experience the “people” at the crowded station, and on the train. Even with the updated modernity of China, people’s social behaviour and tolerance I think is still the same as twenty years ago. Always rushing, demanding, and quite loud. Barging in front of the queue without regard to anyone else is still a sight that is commonly seen.

Our full day in Shanghai
Our last Shanghai breakfast and our transit to Dongguan (东莞)

Our First Night in Shanghai

On November 22nd, we took the G100 high speed rail from Hong Kong to Shanghai.

The trip took approximately 8 hours in total including the time of the stops. There were several stops, including some other big cities, like Nanchang (南昌), and Hangzhou (杭州).

The seats were really comfortable on the train, but the washrooms could use some extra care. Carol took the advantage of ordering take out on the train! This is not ordering from the train’s cafeteria. You can literally order food from restaurants on up coming stops, and have the meals delivered to your seat! You cannot do this on an airplane. Talk about advancement in creature comfort.

When we arrived, I was very hungry so we dashed straight to a near by mall on Nanjing Road (南京路) and have my favourite Shanghai food. You can watch Carol’s video below to see what I mean.

Checkout our train ride and the huge Shanghai train station

Back to Hong Kong

On November 21st, we went back to Hong Kong to conduct some more banking business but primarily to meet with relatives that we have not seen for many years.

We woke up at around 7am in Fenggang and arranged a DiDi ride to Lo Wu Control Point (羅湖管制站) a border crossing between China and Hong Kong. The one hour ride ended costing us around ¥140 (~$27 CAD), which I thought was not too bad, but relatives told me that we got cheated and should have been around ¥100. Oh well, live and let learn.

The border crossing again was uneventful, and we took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀) where we met with Carol’s uncle and aunt. We had dim sum. It was good to see everyone in good spirits, and catch up on how everyone is doing in the past 10+ years.

We then went back to Mong Kok (旺角), where we completed some banking business which we thought was completed last week, but apparently there were some missing procedures that require our signatures. Banking in both China and Hong Kong is super strict and filled with rules, policies and procedures. If you seek to open an account, be prepare to spend hours in doing so.

In the evening, we met up with my cousin which we also have not seen for more than 10 years. During those years, he got married and had a son. It was good to see his family and his super cute three years old son. I personally had a really good time reconnecting with them.

Finally, we closed off the evening with dessert with Carol’s cousin in Causeway Bay (铜锣湾). We found a nice little dessert place near SOGO right next to the MTR station. We had some good laughs while eating our dessert.

We are blessed to have many family members in Hong Kong and the warmth of reconnecting with them never fades.

Heading to Hong Kong and Greeting Relatives

Back to Fenggang (凤岗)

On November 19th, we partake in our first Chinese high speed rail experience. We took the train C7005 from Guangzhou (广州) to Pinghu (平湖). I purchased the tickets on The purchasing experiencing was quite easy, but we had a little issue when passing through the ticket gate. Our e-tickets were tied to our passports and the agent was not able to find our tickets on their system. Based on our Japan experience, we arrived with ample time to resolve the issue. I had to show my invoice and the ticket number for her to let us pass. However, on the train when the conductor came to check our tickets, our passports and our e-tickets were validated correctly.

Types of trains we took on C7005

The train was a C class express intercity train with a travelling speed of around 150km/h. It took us about an hour from Guangzhou to Pinghu and another 40 minutes of DiDi ride (Uber like service) to get back to Fenggang.

The next day (November 20th), we stayed at Fenggang to do some banking business and to visit Carol’s ancestral village and her father’s empty flat. At night, Carol’s cousin treated us to another excellent Cantonese dinner. Before we finished our dinner an old acquaintance dropped by. We knew them when they visited us in Canada. They ended up footing the bill. This world is such a small place.

Banking in China is … interesting. I will not go into details but make sure you have all your documents in place, and be prepare to wait a very long time to create accounts. Also be sure to inform the banking personnel that you are not a tax payer in China. If you don’t, things will not work out well for you. Another ironic thing is that in a world of smart phone payments, the bank only accept ¥20 cash for the cost of the debit / bank card, so make sure you have that handy. Be sure to remember how your name is spelt and make sure it matches with your WeChat account.

Make sure you choose a reputable bank that has the ability to transfer cash to and from other countries in the denomination of your choice. The first bank, DRC Bank (东莞农村商业银行股份有限公司), will only accept US dollars as the form of wire transfer, and a physical signature is required for the receipt of the transfer, so it is kind of pointless for a wire transfer. The second bank ICBC (Industrial and Commercial Bank of China – 中国工商银行) took a lot more effort to create the account, but is ultimately more flexible, and they have more branches through out the country. My conclusion is that there is not much trust between the head office of the banks and their retail branches. Everything has to be post-approved by head office and the people at the branches are simply data collectors and do not have much say or agility.

Below are the videos representing the two days.

Transiting from Guangzhou to Fenggang
In Fenggang and visiting Carol’s village

Touristy Guangzhou

On November 18th, we started out with another local breakfast. It was a delicious breakfast with super friendly service and a super cheap price. Checkout our breakfast below:

So you can see from the above, we had breakfast for two people for less than $7.50 CAD. In China, there is no tips culture. This is the way I like it. What they advertise is exactly what you pay. With WeChat Pay, the transaction is completed in seconds, and you have an electronic record.

Expensive prices for the Guangzhou Tower

Afterwards we headed out to the Guangzhou Tower. You cannot get more touristy than this. We did not go up the tower, since I did not feel like spending ¥150 for the elevator ride up. Check out the prices from the previous picture. Click on it to enlarge it so you can make out all the pricing options.

We did however walk around the area and cross the 海心橋 (Haixin Bridge). We figured out how to rent a bike with our WeChat and 美团 (Meituan) apps, and rode along 二沙岛 (Ersha Island).

After our ride, we took a DiDi ride to a famous wonton noodle place that is frequented by locals called 吴财记面家. However, the line up was way too long. We waited for 30 minutes and still no seats or food. Even for take out, we still have to wait. We decided to give up on this place and just ate some place at a local mall near by. No noodles can be that good. Could it?

The area where we spent most of our afternoon and evening.

We took a stroll around 沙面岛. This place contains many of the old European style buildings just before World War II. The area is now taken over by the government and serves as a huge park and tourist district consisting of many shops. We also notice that there may still be some residents on the island. The area is huge as you can see on the above map, and it is a very picturesque place. We spotted many photographers and amateur models there taking the opportunity of the excellent lighting conditions of a very clear dusk.

We spent the remaining evening picking our seafood of choice at a nearby fish market called 黄沙水产交易市场. We took the live catches to a neighbouring restaurant where we had another scrumptious, finger licking good seafood dinner.

We then rode the subway hotel bound. However, not return trip will be complete without a detour for desserts! We found a place close to our hotel. I am so glad that we found this place. It turned out to be the best dessert place on our Guangzhou tour.

Once again, checkout out Carol’s video of our day.

Eating & Shopping at Guangzhou

On this day, November 17th, we spent a full day here at Guangzhou (广州). The greatest new experimentation of our Asia adventure is the ability to take the local bus. Another commuting option enabled by another WeChat Mini Program, so convenient here in China. Of course with WeChat Pay picking up snacks and meals is literally seconds away.

Therefore, it is not a huge surprise where we spent the majority of our time doing. After a quick local breakfast (really on the cheap), we set out to Lychee Bay (荔枝湾). We toured the old town surrounding the park, and then walk around the park. We then had dim sum at 泮溪酒家(荔枝湾店) opened since 1947. The dim sum here is about the same as in Toronto, BUT its rice pot was way better!

At night, we checked out the night scene at 北京路步行街. The place was lively and active and simply had street food there for dinner. We also did some light shopping in the malls surrounding place. When the shop starts to close, we stopped by at a soup place where Carol had a chicken soup in a coconut shell. The soup was too sweet for me, but she really liked it.

Of course on our way to the subway stop, we spotted a dessert place called, 明记甜品, that we cannot simply let it past, so we stopped there and had a “little” dessert.

I have come to the conclusion that Guangzhou is my version of heaven! Check out Carol’s video of the day below:

Lots to eat in Guangzhou!

In Search of My Roots (寻根)

On November 15th, we went to 东仓里, 江门市 (Jiangmen), 广东省 (Guangdong). We liked to thank Carol’s cousin’s sister-in-law who drove us to Jiangmen. It was about 2.5 hours from Fenggang with the traffic and all.

Click above to goto Baidu map
My paternal grandparents’ tombstone

The idea is to checkout what the birth place of my grandfather’s ancestral village looks like today.

We based our search on the information from the tombstone on the left, and the remaining memories of my father and my aunt.

The ancestral village is called 东仓里 (sorry no English translation here). We also have my great-grandfather’s name, 呂贊泉, and my grandfather’s names (more than one), 呂華富, 呂俊, and 呂仲平. In the past, people went with many aliases. One is given at birth by your parents (名) and is used to address you by your parents or your family members. The second name (字) is given to you when you come of age (20 years old for male and 15 for female). Your school mates, friends, or people of the same generation will use this name to address you. The final name (号) is used by others to address you with respect typically by people of younger generation than you.

My father has the following names: 呂厚積 (名) and 呂栢钊 (字).

We arrive at the village and went to the local government office who was extremely helpful. They gave us a tour of the neighbourhood and introduced us to the people who have been there for ages. We met a lady who claimed to know a member of the Lu (吕) family who passed away at 103 years old about 3 years ago. His name is 呂厚巨 (名). Since both my father and this deceased member share the same 厚 middle name, there is a very high likelihood that they are of the same generation from the same family. She then told us that 呂厚巨 told her that a long time ago a part of the Lu (吕) family emigrated to Vietnam and never came back. This could be my grandfather at the time.

The ancestral home has since been knocked down, and she showed us where the house would have been. Everyone was very patient with our ignorance and received lots of help from people of the village. I use the word village very loosely, since it is now integrated into the Jiangmen city, and it looks and feels more of a neighbourhood surrounded by more modern buildings.

After our in search of our roots exercise we went to Shunde District (順德區) of Foshan City (佛山市), which also resides in the Guangdong Province (广东省). There, we had some good eats. Shunde is known for its Cantonese cuisine. You cannot get more Cantonese than Shunde. Checkout the attached video by Carol to get a taste of what we had.

Our trip to Shunde

Convenience of China

On Monday, November 13th, we register our place of residence at the local Police Station. If you are not staying in a hotel and you are visiting a family or friend, you must report your arrival and present your proof of residence to a local police station within 24 hours of arrival. Since Carol’s cousin knows everyone, including someone working at the police station, and we were advised by her that we don’t really need to do it, because our stay is too short. We thought it best to do this any ways, just in case.

The locals no longer use cash for day to day activities. It is all on their cell phones. People no longer need to carry their wallets. All of their identifications, and monetary funds can be accessed using their phone and the WeChat app. You pay for everything using WeChat Pay. You can get food using WeChat, and you can arrange transportation using WeChat.

The past weekend, we felt totally handicapped. We had to depend on Carol’s cousin on everything! Of course we want to be independent during our remaining stay here in China, so I will describe here what we had to go through in order for us to enjoy the same level of liberty and convenience that locals do.

The very first thing is to make sure you have a cell phone that has a local Chinese number and has data within China. The way we did this is to simply purchased two Nihao Mobile SIM cards. China does not support eSIM’s. I purchased Airalo China just so that we have data access when we were traveling from Hong Kong to China, but the Airalo solution is not sufficient because it does not provision you with a local phone number. Activation with the Nihao SIM was pretty straight forward. I did have an issue with my wife’s SIM card, but it was quickly resolved with Nihao’s WeChat support.

Once you have a local Chinese phone number, you will need to open a domestic bank account so that it can be tied to your local phone number. You will need a local resident perhaps a family member or friend to help you out in this matter. I opened an account with the DRC Bank. However, my wife had an issue because her passport name was simply too long for their systems. She had to goto ICBC to open an account. The difference is that DRC Bank was able to activate my account in less than an hour, but ICBC requires a seven day hold on the account creation application. The difference in service is astounding.

Once I had WeChat pay tied to my bank card, I can pay for things with my iPhone! This is simply a joy. We used the Meituan (美团) app to order food delivery, and we used the DiDi app for local ride services similar to Uber. If you want an extended stay in China and want to travel on your own, then you MUST have the above setup. Without a local number and WeChat pay, it will simply be hell for you in China.

Below are the videos from the past two days showing the above process and how we enjoyed this convenience.

Getting registered and getting our WeChat Pay to work!
Using our WeChat Pay for food!