Queen of Heaven

Nicholas Quirke was introduced to another of China’s mythological giants, Mazu with almost as much magnitude as The Jade Emperor on 1 April 2021 when they visited a temple dedicated to the Queen of Heaven. Despite a history of over 2,200 years and having been a major terminus of the maritime Silk Road, Guangzhou was not renowned for its relics. It still serves as a major port and transportation hub, and Mazu (媽祖) also known as Tian Shang Sheng Mu (天上圣母) or Tian Hou (天后) Chinese Goddess of Sea and Patron Deity of is a Chinese sea goddess. She is the deified form of the purported historical Lin Mo a Fujianese shamaness whose life span dated from 960 to 987 and was revered after her death as a  deity of seafarers, including fishermen and sailors. Her worship spread throughout China’s coastal regions as she was thought to roam the seas, protecting her believers through miraculous interventions. She is now generally regarded by her believers as a powerful and benevolent Queen of Heaven. The temple located by the Nansha Harbour area was a 2 hour subway ride from their location and after a swift hotel breakfast they left early. It was of course, rush hour and in one of China’s 3 largest cities with an estimated urban population of 14,904,400 the station was teeming and they actually had to queue to get onto the train. Fortunately not many were travelling to the port and after 15 minutes he was able to get a seat and enjoy the journey, most of which was overground and afforded him some good views of the suburbs. The design of the port station was tremendous, echoing an under sea world with lights resembling seagulls and a ticket office in the shape of a galleon. They walked the 1.5km to the temple and found themselves on the the harbour shoreline of the Pearl River Delta from which they could see the city of Shenzhen and lying beyond that, Hong Kong. The cargo ships moored off the coast gave the view across the water an eerie feeling which the grey tinted skies enhanced. The Nansha Tianhou temple overlooking the delta stretched up the Dajiao mountainside and was dominated by a large statue of Mazu which, fascinatingly sported a small jauntily placed shrub and a pagoda at the summit. They climbed through the various halls up a series of steep steps with the view of the waters frowning into the South China Sea becoming more spectacular. When they reached the top and examined the Nanling tower, built as a navigational marker and around the saying ‘Left-cyan dragon’ which, remained an obscure unexplained reference on the guide. They were unable to go up the tower but they were able to enjoy the views from the peak. They ignored the offer of transport and chose instead to climb higher and explore what hat been a strategically placed military base from the 19th century. Though clearly marked it was quite obvious that these were paths rarely trod but the walk around the eight canon bases provided them with not only an education and some wonderful views but shocks and laughs. Lured by Peng into climbing in an alcove with open doors he patiently waited as the doors were shut plunging him into almost total darkness. He knew he would be filmed when the doors were opened but on glimpsing in the half light a number of scurrying creatures around the door he experienced a sudden sharp feeling of fear and let out a cry of ‘Lizards’! as he burst through the portal. He was a little ashamed by his reaction to the harmless geckos but the incident gave them much merriment. The Beijing community contacted Peng while they were there asking for his details in preparation of the inoculation. They followed the undisturbed path and steps down to its logical and marked conclusion only to find the gate locked and covered with barbed wire. Undeterred and determined not to climb back up the hill they scrambled through an gap in the fence and hanging onto branches and finding footholds they dropped down the perilous incline onto terra firma. They explored the shoreline, paddled in the dirty waters and started back the station. Along the way he encountered another stall where the seller was stripping what looked like bamboo but turned out to be sugar cane from which the juice was then extracted. And it was then that he had his first taste of pure sugar water. It’s green hue was not appealing but it was sweet and in the heat very refreshing. They also passed a bold Red decommissioned Cannon which was oddly and strategically pointed at Taiwan. On the two hour journey back they decided to have Tong Sui before going to eat at Mays in the K11 Mall. The 4 hot dishes when they were served were unusually tepid and had to be sent back. On discovering there was a restaurant in the mall where they could get vegan ice cream they excitedly went to the eye catching, theatrical I-Dama. They ordered a dragon fruit and mango ice and a plate of chocolate brownies of the exquisite. They had to wait a while for the cake and were surprised by the offer of a free ice cream. They were given the durian flavour the fruit of which he had never eaten and he was surprised by it’s compelling, almost rancid taste. The walk back to the hotel provided another view of the city and the Canton Tower at night. It had been another day full of visual and oral treats and it was with a well sated mind and stomach that he took to his bed and sleep.

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