Monday, 9 December 2013

Detours to Old Xiguan Houses - 28 Nov 2013

There're some traditional cultures we can't miss in the older parts of Guangzhou downtown. The Lingnan architectural styles of Qilou buildings and the old Xiguan houses which are features of southern Chinese characteristics. They can be found around the Shangxiajiu Walking Street in Liwan district. Sadly, we didn't get to those popular, must-see attractions. With kids in tow, it's easy to get distracted or lost in the labyrinth of alleys and lanes. So close yet so far....

The old Qilou or arched buildings with covered pedestrian walkways were influenced by the Cantonese migrants who returned from other Southeast Asian countries. They've a blend of the East and West culture. The Baroque style of architecture and decoration in Qilou buildings is common in Shangxiajiu Walking Street.

I was more intrigued with the old Xiguan houses in Liwan district. The area Xiguan or the west gate of Guangzhou, which already existed in Ming and Qing dynasties, is still in use today. In the past, mainly the rich businessmen or officials could live in Xiguan houses. We're so fortunate to find some old Xiguan houses of common people at Duobao Road.

A spacious community courtyard before we entered into the alleyway.

Many Cantonese-style arches were erected along the alleyways. These arches were built to pay tribute to those who have made great contributions to the society in the old China.

Most of the old Xiguan houses have been torn down by property developers... sadly this is too common everywhere. Those that remain today are hidden in some alleyways, most of them are left in dilapidated state, unfit for occupation. 

The facade of an old Xiguan house: the main wooden door (back), a Tanglong (horizontal wooden bars) in the middle and cafe-style outer doors at the front.  

An occupied old Xiguan house

The building is generally built with grey bricks. It's quite unusual to see a restored facade of a Xiguan house.

Most of these Xiguan houses at Duobao Road have been rented out to those who work around the downtown areas or used as storehouses by merchants. Quite an unlikely gem here surrounded by high-rise commercial buildings.

 We met this old grandma who rents out her Xiguan house to different tenants.

She's so kind to allow us a peek into the interior of the house with dark, musty, narrow hallway and partitions of small rooms. The ceiling is high with wooden roof, and we even saw a hanger of waxed meat being air-dried on the ceiling.

Few elderly people still call this place their home, and they're a reminder to us of the old Guangzhou.

A sign of 'dangerous building' showed the dilapidated state of most houses here.

Facade of some other Xiguan houses here. They're a far cry from those grand Xiguan houses showcased as museums for tourists in the Liwan district.

The windows gave us a glimpse of the once glorious past of Xiguan houses.

"Mashi", ie the old stone slabs of pavements. The authorities have tried to remove these flagstones, causing a constant battle between local residents and the authorities. They're historic, and also practical in a place of rain and sunshine cos they won't grow any moss. 

Like the Xiguan houses, there're a lot of problems regarding how to balance history and modernity in the city. I think places like Duobao Road is a living museum, it has the charm and beauty of the Cantonese culture, and it would be a shame if it follows the road of destruction in the name of development.

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