Expats in China always experience a bit of a quandary when it comes to Spring Festival (or Chinese New Year, as it’s called in the West). What to do, what to do? While the option of going to a Chinese friend’s hometown is there, it’s usually not a crowd favorite and it can be awkward for your host. In my experience, the only foreigners who spend Spring Festival with Chinese people are the ones married to Chinese.
But to travel at this time? Insane. That would be insane. It’s 人山人海 everywhere.
I live in Guangdong Province about 2 hours from the big city of Guangzhou and this is my third Spring Festival and this year I really, really wanted to photograph some lion dances. But how to know where to find one? Lion dances aren’t scheduled out on a calendar in China and although they typically happen on New Year’s Day morning, WHERE they happen is a bit of a haze for me. When I’d asked my friends before about knowing where to see a lion dance, they kinda just shrugged their shoulders. I get the impression that seeing a lion dance for Chinese people is something that’s done so much or so often, it doesn’t really follow a schedule (that and the Chinese don’t really get so OCD about scheduling things as Americans do).
So I was on a mission and I did the only thing I knew how to do: I crowd-sourced my students and came up with a consensus among them. They suggested Foshan city, Guangdong. (Some of them also suggested Zhaoqing city, but most of them were for Foshan).
So I hit the interwebs and discovered that Foshan is famous for lion dances. (Lion dances involve martial arts and Foshan is famous for that. Duh. I had noticed that the Starbucks city feature mug for Foshan featured a lion dancing but I didn’t put two and two together at the time).
But you know what else? Foshan is an awesome city to spend some time in. Not only is the Ancestral Temple pretty cool but right nearby is Foshan’s Lingnan Tiandi which is this commercial area that’s been developed while preserving some traditional style Lingnan architecture in Zumiao district, so you have these beautiful historical buildings AND Starbucks (and Costa Coffee and Pacific Coffee and a bunch of cool restaurants) and museums and shrines and wedding halls and all that.
Foshan is mostly famous for martial arts, ceramics, and food. Shunde, a neighborhood in Foshan is famous for putting out a lot of famous chefs in China. While I was in Foshan, I had 双皮奶 (double-skin milk) a famous local food, which is basically like a milk pudding, but really creamy and good.
Alright, so on to lion dances! Altogether on New Year’s Day I saw about 6 lion dances. The Zumiao area that I stayed in was absolutely crawling with lions. But by far the best one happened right outside the A11 mall (which is RIGHT outside Zumiao Metro Exit B and across the street from the Nova mall).
There is a big Tourist Center for Foshan right next to the main entrance for the Ancestral Temple (and by the way the temple is 16RMB but what is 16RMB?)
I stayed in a place called Bodun International Apartmentwhich was literally 15 SECONDS from the B Exit of the Zumiao Station. It’s not the best hotel (the bathroom smelled terrible and they tried to overcharge me) but for location, you can’t beat it (I wouldn’t pay over 200RMB though and they might try to charge you close to 300 if you’re not careful but I was already booked on ctrip!) If you want to spend the money, everyone is all about the Marco Polo Lingnan Tiandi Foshan.
Near the C Entrance to Lingnan Tiandi (near HONEYMOON DESSERT and CRUMB) right across from Liyu Square in front of the Zumiao museum (the square has tiles in the shape of koi) if you go RIGHT-ish (or basically find Godiva in Lingnan Tiandi) there is a tourist office and they have English maps with helpful little bits of information if you’re into that like I’m into that. Also according to my map there are guided tours of Jian’s Villa and the Marriage House and some poetry society but I only got the map when I was about to leave.
Zumiao Museum is across the street from Lingnan Tiandi (it’s between Lingnan and the Ancestral Temple) and they have lots of lion dance paraphernalia and I bet information on lion dances when it’s not New Year. Also Wong Fei Hung Lion Dance this place but I don’t know how to get there.
NOVA mall which is close by has some great food options and the restaurants on the top floors have balconies. It’s cheaper than the food in Lingnan Tiandi. Also, the Starbucks in the bottom of this mall is HUGE and has it’s own bathroom. It’s a nice place to escape, especially since the Starbucks in Lingnan is always packed.
You can get to FOSHAN easily by taking the GUANGZHOU METRO. Just get to Xilang (西朗） station on Line 1 and then transfer to the Guangfo Line. Zumiao station is on that line.