When a friend or relative is in the U.S. foreign service and stationed abroad, they only get U.S. home leave once a year. If you want to see them more often than that, you must either travel to their post and vacation together from there, or rendezvous at another vacation destination.
So in late September 2014 we flew to Guangzhou, China (formerly known as Canton), where our daughter and son-in-law are stationed in the largest U.S. visa processing center in the Far East. It is also one of the oldest diplomatic posts in Chin
Guangzhou is the capital city of Guangdong province in South China, about 75 miles northwest of Hong Kong and 90 miles north of Macau. The city is a major trade, commercial and manufacturing center. With a population of 12.7 million it is the third largest city in China. It is not really a tourist destination per se, but it is representative of China’s great economic success. Culturally, they produce exquisite sculpture of jade, ivory, wood, and other materials. They also make pottery and embroidery folk art. The most unusual museum we toured was dedicated to leading practitioners of Kung Fu martial arts, Ip Man Tong and his disciple, Bruce Lee. It is always interesting to see what a culture wants to showcase to the world.
The Consular work that my daughter does is very demanding, with tough visa processing quotas translating to long hours on the job. Foreign Service workers are in turn given Chinese and American holidays off as well as other rest and recreation time, and they typically use it to travel beyond their post.
Hong Kong is only a two hour train ride from Guangzhou, and my daughter and her husband spend many weekends in this slower-paced, civilized city. A former British colony, Hong Kong is a place where “East meets West”, reflecting a cultural mix its Chinese roots with influences from its time as a British colony. It is truly cosmopolitan in terms of cuisine, cultural amenities, educational attainment and entertainment.
Hong Kong is well known for its expansive skyline, deep natural harbor and extreme population density of 16,000+ people per square mile, fourth behind Macau, Monaco, and Singapore. The city has developed into a major global trade hub and financial center. Its limited flat land necessitates a high density infrastructure, earning Hong Kong the title of the world’s most vertical city and a center of modern architecture,
On July 1, 1997 the sovereignty of Hong Kong was transferred from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China, marking the end of Hong Kong’s 156 years as a British colony. Nevertheless, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy, as its political and judicial systems operate independently from mainland China, with the exception of defense and foreign affairs.
Cambodia was our last stop before returning to the Guangzhou Consulate. The country gained independence from France in 1953, and has had a long history of warfare. The Vietnam War extended into Cambodia, and in 1975 the Khmer Rouge captured the capital Phnom Penh. This marked the beginning of the Cambodian genocide lasting until 1979. The Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge and established the People’s Republic of Kampuchea, but the Khmer rouge continued to resist the change in the Cambodian-Vietnamese War from 1979-1991. Tens of thousands of people died or were displaced as portrayed in the movie ‘The Killing Fields.”
We visited the modest War Museum situated in a jungle setting. It was rife with rusted, discarded weaponry, a depressing site indeed. Our guide had been captured by the Khmer Rouge when he was 13 and forced to fight his countrymen. When he became a casualty, he was an outcast from Cambodian society for siding with the rebels.
Today, Cambodia has a combination communist and free-market economy with a relatively authoritarian coalition ruling over a superficial democracy. Our guide said that Hanoi keeps the country under its thumb. Cambodia faces numerous challenges and sociopolitical issues, including widespread poverty, pervasive corruption, lack of political freedoms, low human development, and a high rate of hunger.
These economic conditions are somewhat offset by bringing in tourist dollars. Their Cambodia’s ancient temples attract tourist dollars, but are in disrepair. Angkor Wat pictured above is by far the largest and most impressive.
Buddhist temples are popular attractions, principally Angkor Watt, a World Heritage Site. The temple complex is breath-taking but nearly overrun by the masses, with few ecological or preservation measures in place. Other aspects of Cambodian culture carefully cultivated for Western tourist appeal are dance and theater, which are colorful and imaginative, and traditional crafts.
All in all on this trip I experienced the formidable Chinese economic tiger in Guangzhou, the genteel atmosphere in Hong Kong, and the fragile, struggling economy in Cambodia, a country rich in ancient ruins.