Huizhou: A Liveable Oasis

Huizhou begins with a shabby bus and what seems a standard journey east until the final 20 minutes when the bus veers off the main motorway into a south westerly direction – seemingly away from Huizhou. Surely there must be a reason for this. Perhaps it is calling at the cities West railway station first. Nope it goes straight past or rather crawls through as the station is in the midst of a dusty construction site.

Like Qingyuan the cities geography thwarts me; this time the museum is on the north side and though part of the city thrives on the northern side, its main hub is currently on the south around the bus station. What is it with bus stations? Always horrendously disheveled, it’s almost as if they are purposely designed as a magnet for the needy or seedy. Across the road is a Cafe 85 and that does as an interim to get my bearings.

I could go back the way the bus came to Bailitong Square, a mall with a Walmart. Another portion of urbanity (not visited this time) lies to the East yet it’s to the immediate north and the will of the water which wins through. The city inhabits pockets of land encroached by lakes, inlets and a typically wide river – the Dongjiang. The area is called Huicheng and the bus station (it turns out to be a wiser choice than the train) nestles between Fei’e Park and an intersection. The lake is not actually called west lake though why fix something that isn’t broke. It works in Hangzhou, why not here?

Soon into my promenade I notice an ornate station building. As there are no tracks, it’s right beside the lake and it’s the main tourist area I unwisely assume this is some sort of heritage building indicating a station from past times which they’ve tarted up for visitors, the signage however seems strangely new. Sure enough a quick peek inside the opening of this structure reveals a glossy marble floor and operational escalators. I descend into this very new subterranean world to find it is indeed a station, not a metro – a real Chinese railways set up much like Futian in Shenzhen, only smaller. If this is not a metro then what line is it?

Some initial enquiries lead to much mirth among the Chinese staff who tell me I can’t get to Guangzhou from here. ‘Yes, I understand but… where does it go?’ It takes the translator on my phone to do this. Eventually I learn it is a Dongguan to Xiaojinkou line – in other words a de facto metro that connects part of the city to Dongguan, ingenious! Xiaojenkou is itself – in all but name – a metro station for Huizhou station where I eventually end up.

Between my arrival and my unfortunate appointment at its rail station (at least I know to avoid it in future) is another day trotting around, discovering the city which is rather nice. In my writings I often give reference to cities being alike which is very easy to do in China as a lot of them look similar – the same as the identikit towns of the UK. Shenzhen is notable as its river is not such a prominent feature as they are in many of the other Guangdong cities. However there are similarities in Huizhou’s modern central axis of the arts and culture centre, museums and central place with Shenzhen’s convention centre, book city and library complex. When the builders are done sculpting the dirt and tar Huizhou will be one of Guangdong’s most liveable cities.

The first museum belongs to science and technology (all in Chinese) but free to enter. For me the roof garden is one of its nicest features with stones depicting the zodiac. Only on closer inspection do I notice the dates don’t tally at all with the western ones. Next door is the city museum housed in a square box with dazzling design (again free to enter). There is some sort of function going on so I climb into the top floor and work my way down. Sadly the urban planning rooms are closed and the rest is pottery much the same as in Qingyuan, though this is a much nicer building and will most likely be better developed in the future. Adjacent is Central Place and financial street. The mall has much in common with Coco Park in Shenzhen.

Hours earlier, my arrival was met with hazy sun which made a nice change from the rainswept grey of Guangzhou. By the time I make this part of town the sky, a blend of  winter white and eggshell grey had reasserted itself though the temperature remained a reasonably balmy 21. There are some hello’s from the electricians working on the mall and the girls look at me askance to see if I’m looking at them. I was of course, how could you not be impressed with their Asian beauty; so natural, modest and kind. We both smile as we walk beyond each others field of view. Around the corner is another mammoth new structure in the convention and exhibition centre. Just to the East and across imposing Huizhou Avenue is Beihu Park and I cross for a rapid snapshot. White sky, check. Serenity, check. Water, hmm rust brown – goes well with the ageing trees.

Travel is often littered with tough decisions and errors of judgement. So smitten with the idea of the metro that isn’t a metro I return to Yunshan station (beside the cultural complex). The idea is to catch a train back to Guangzhou so I can say I’ve done Huizhou both by bus and train. While it does serve this purpose it is otherwise as mentioned a mistake. Nonetheless my ticket is booked, a mere 5rmb though considering it is only one station kind of pricey; a metro ticket in GZ is cheaper. Alighting I now see the main station is in fact as run down as the bus station and in an area which resembles a wasteland of sorts, very few buildings and in the  dwindling light make the ticket area to queue for an eternity only to find the nearest available train is a two hour wait.

Reluctantly I purchase rather than go back for a bus and decide on something to eat. Mistake two. There are some eateries nearby and I chance on one guy with a dish of egg noodles which will do but I can’t find it on the menu so I say ‘jidan mian.’ Before I know it the woman serving who is working at breakneck speed has dowsed some noodles in boiling water, taken them out, put them with vegetables and a hard boiled egg and further dowsed them in a watery broth. I hoped this was for one of the other  waiting patrons as it not the dish I saw outside or ordered but unfortunately she hands it to me. She isn’t happy on my waving it away. I run outside to take a photo of the dish and its contents still there as the man has left but before it can be captured a table hand boy of about 15 takes it away, thus I have nothing to show the woman. In my utter dismay there’s no choice but to find something somewhere else.

I have been in China five years and still it feels I’ve made no progress when faced with Chinese menus. A little further up the road is a bakery which does for small mercies or at least some plain cake and water. There is still time before entering the train station which is old and has nothing but a waiting room still I’d rather not chance it. Already the new year crowds are forming and this is probably one of the last trips I’ll make before the year of the chicken celebrations take off so to speak. So, visit and enjoy Huizhou, just do it by bus.

*At the time of going to press the line mentioned from Dongguan to Xiaojinkou is not mentioned on Wikipedia so I am proud to be among the first to report this.

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