Shaoguan, our Northern Frontier

From natural scenic beauty to vast history & culture, Shaoguan is ideal for a weekend getaway in Guangdong. Between best man duties, Baijiu and the Biezhuan temple, Aalix reveals all.

We are returning to our own backyard this month with an insight to one of the many lesser known places our province has to offer. Shaoguan may be unfamiliar to some readers, but it is essentially the last main stop in Guangdong before crossing the border north into Hunan. My experience on this escapade was slightly different though, as I was fortunate to have the privilege of being best man at an authentic Chinese wedding.

Naturally Shaoguan has its own elements of local history, more notably when Matteo Ricci established the first ever Jesuit mission there in 1589, utilizing Shaoguan’s convenient location on the north-south travel route. My own initiation of the city began with a group visit to the renowned Nanhua temple, which was founded by “Zhiyao Sanzang” (an Indian monk in the 4th century), with its main highlight being the preserved body “Huineng,” the sixth patriarch of Zen Buddhism.

Cultural activities over, it was time for best man duties. I had attended Chinese weddings before, but this was the first time I had been to a mixed wedding in China and been so heavily involved. The cultural differences between western and eastern weddings are quite striking. Credit to the English groom, he donned all the traditional attire and undertook all appropriate rituals expected of him throughout the day.

Naturally Shaoguan has its own elements of local history, more notably when Matteo Ricci established the first ever Jesuit mission there in 1589, utilizing Shaoguan’s convenient location on the north-south travel route.

The most intriguing thing for me was when he had to sing a love song to enter the bride’s room and once inside, had to find her hidden shoe in order to lift her veil. The official ceremony in the evening was also captivating, as he escorted her over a flame towards the main stage and then had to lift her veil with a sword before confessing his eternal love. I somehow made it through the best man speech and feel no shame admitting there was a lump in my throat in that moment.

Rings on fingers, it was finally time to party and the Shaoguan local cuisine did not disappoint. I have been to many places in Guangdong but it never ceases to amaze me that I still come across unique foods I have never seen before. In this instance I came across a delicious dish that slightly reminded me of quiche, except it had small diced fried potatoes on top. Naturally the food was washed down with copious amounts of baijiu, which in turn delivered the inevitable hangover.

The morning after the night before everybody was making plans to head home so I dusted off the cobwebs and set about exploring the famed Danxia mountain geopark. This was actually about 30 km outside Shaoguan city, but well worth the effort. The scenic area contains hundreds of various stone peaks formed over the eons by nature, many of which shapes resemble the human body, birds and animals. The numerous peaks are rhythmically interspersed among scenic spots, making for a sculpture garden of red sandstone rocks. Contrasting against a clear blue-sky backdrop, the mountain was indeed the perfect picturesque panorama.

The day continued with a myriad of unique flora along the mountain trail, in-particular the “Dharma orchid,” which was only discovered in 1987. At the foot of Zhanglao Peak, sits a grotto temple that was built during the Northern Song Dynasty over 1,000 years ago. The Biezhuan Temple, which lies in the middle of Zhanglao Peak, is apparently one of the ten most notable temples of Guangdong. To end the trek, I crossed the river to see Yangyuan Hill, renowned for a special shaped stone, which—well let’s just say is a phallic symbol.

As another weekender drew to a close, it was time to get back down south. The high-speed train was super convenient going directly from Shaoguan to Humen, taking just over an hour and costing under 300 RMB for a return. Hotel prices ranged from 140 RMB per night for a budget option to 600 RMB in the Ramada if one was looking to splash out. Like all my adventures, I wished there was more time to explore, but the trip presented yet another option to get out of Dongguan on a Friday and be back in time for work on Monday.

Category The Weekender