It turns out that Zhuhai (珠海), dubbed by its own municipal government as “one of the world’s most romantic cities,” is the perfect place to spend American Thanksgiving. While I might not go so far as to describe Zhuhai as “romantic,” it certainly is a much more pleasant city than Shenzhen or probably any other city in Guangdong Province.
Because not everyone knows where this city of just under one million people is located, I’ll help by providing a map. All of the area outlined in red is Zhuhai, though the city proper hugs the coastline on the easternmost part of the sprawling territory. Zhuhai surrounds the former Portuguese colony of Macau and is a 70 minute ferry ride from Hong Kong.
The purpose of our trip was to visit old friends (we lived in Zhuhai for four years) and to eat a big Thanksgiving dinner, a dinner which included great conversation, plentiful stuffing, happy children and delicious lemon pie.
The next morning we walked off our turkey dinner by re-visiting some of our old Zhuhai haunts.
During every step of this Sunday spent wandering, I was reminded of the three Chinese constants: smoking, selling and playing.
Emerging from the elevator and onto our hotel’s non-smoking floor, I instantly smelled cigarette smoke. This was not surprising as smoking in non-smoking areas is a national pastime.
The smiley face pressed into the hallway ashtray sand was the kind of special touch that wins hotels extra stars in their reviews.
The back-of-door room signage includes tips for safely preparing to sleep after smoking and entertaining in the non-smoking room.
Outside the hotel, my nose caught a different smokey scent: the smell of burning charcoal and roasting sweet potatoes, a common wintertime street food.
Passing the old-school street vender, we came upon a modern snack seller: Starbucks. The particularly funny thing about this Starbucks location is that when we lived in Zhuhai (2005 to 2009) this very spot housed a copy-cat Starbucks called “SPR.” Now the real deal has come to town!
When the clerks don’t want to bother with your foreign name, they simply write “Sir” on the cup (my husband did the ordering).
As commercial turnover is swift, the sign for the fast food chain Kungfu remains over this “pop-up” clothing and shoe store.
And finally what would commerce in China be without an advertisement promoting money, status and class that features a white douche bag in front of a knock-off Napoleon painting?
The residents of Zhuhai do not only smoke, sell and buy, they also play and we spent a wonderful few hours in Hai Bin Park playing with them. Miraculously no one asked to take pictures of our children or touch their hair (a true first in China for us) so we were free to blend in and enjoy the park just like everyone else.
Lots of parents and grandparents were very happy to ride the little cars.
The playground was also full of families.
Many trees were blooming and photo opportunities abounded.
Adding to the festive feeling, buskers played romantic music and this man was giving away free crowns of flowers to anyone passing by.
When it was time to leave, we boarded the ferry to Hong Kong with smiles on our faces. Zhuhai was a great place to live and is now a great place to visit. Friends, turkey stuffing and lots of great people-watching: what more could one want from Thanksgiving weekend?