My friend has apartments up in a city called Zhaoqing, in the middle of Guangdong Province. I had the opportunity to check it out, and given the option between staying in my home city for a weekend and traveling to a new place – even if not far away – I would pick the latter every time. It was actually a pretty sweet place. There were parks and temples, in addition to gorgeous natural landscapes.
Zhaoqing is a city of nearly 4 million, and yet is a place most outsiders have never heard of. This is a type of city that makes living in China worth every penny. It would be an odd journey to travel trans-Pacific to see even a moderately sized city like Zhaoqing. (Small by Chinese standards; it’s bigger than every city in the US, disregarding New York.)
By living here, I get to see what an “average” Chinese city is like. For instance, Ohio has picked the President every year since JFK in 1960 failed in the Buckeye State. Places like Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio are incredibly important to understanding the American psyche, how we operate, what we’re like, the difference within. Likewise in China, although Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou are megacities, the majority of the country lives outside of these places. Therefore, traveling to Zhaoqing gives insight into what a small city Chinese is like.
Much of central Zhaoqing looks just like any other Chinese city. KFC aplenty. The addictive scent of jiaozi in the distance. The same tiling on the ground. Identical malls. A gaggle of elderly dancing in the streets. Similar bootleg shoe salesmen. The familiar karaoke belted out. The imperceptibly different off-brand convenience stores. And sometimes reaffirming what your expectations is a good thing. However, the city definitely has a little more to offer.
Zhaoqing is famous for its central Star Lake, which – just for the record – in no way is in the shape of a star. It’s got karst landforms like in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam or Guilin, China. Giant rocks spoke out of the water, displaying their grandeur. Star Lake has seven major peaks, and we climbed up the top of the tallest one, 110 meters to the top with a stellar view of the city and surrounding area awaiting.
It’s an exceedingly pretty spot to center a city around, and this is amplified every evening. A crowd grows around Star Lake nightly to witness a water show. Bright lights shine off fountains spewing spires of lake water or misting it out into the distance. Set to some Western classical music, it’s a fairly unique display in these parts.
After the show, we then biked around the lake, and there’s awesome food aplenty. From Western chains like McDonald’s and KFC to local one-off shops serving noodles and dumplings, there’s food aplenty. It’s crazy how in every city in China, they have some time-honored, local delicacy not found in any other part of the country. Here was a special zongzi, prepared for the Dragon Boat Festival. Wrapped in zongye (which is the leaf of…zong) is special rice with a red date in the middle. I’ve had similar ones elsewhere, but it was quite different nonetheless.
The next day we discovered that inside the rocks are natural pools and streams that you can take a boat ride inside the bat-filled caves. So transferring a few bucks to the clerk, we got a little tour in a quiet cave. A pitter patter of dripping water signaled that the formation of stalactites and stalagmites is ceaseless.
There was one final park in Zhaoqing we visited. On an island, after a small boat ride, you could hike all around a gorgeous little getaway. It was a forested area with running water carving out a natural hike. The babbling brooks and sorta-not-really-difficult-to-navigate passages made it a quiet spot. Rope bridges guided you the length of the hike, which anticlimactically peaks where trees block every vantage point.
In short, Zhaoqing is a great place. It is modern with a good bus system. There is plenty of housing and shops and restaurants. It grew around a picturesque lake and everyone was friendly. It’s a place worth checking out if you live in Guangdong, but unfortunately, probably gets few outside visitors.
Let me know what you think in the comments below. Have you been to a place worth visiting in only certain contexts!
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