Our trans-pacific flight out of Fuzhou to Vancouver was via China Southern Airlines. Guangzhou is the hub for this airline so our flight required a layover in Guangzhou. There was a slight change in schedule, so this layover time turned out to be slightly more than 24 hours, and it presented a perfect opportunity for us to visit Tom’s ancestral village, very close to the Guangzhou Baiyun International airport. Especially convenient for us since China Southern even included a free hotel stay with transfer service as part of the layover.
This was our second time taking advantage of this layover time for the ancestral visit and we were pleasantly surprised on the service improvement from the airline.
After we arrived at the Baiyun airport, we walked over to the China Southern Airline transfer accommodation desk. We were presented with an iPad from which we can choose our hotel for the free stay. There were a great number of hotels to choose from, but we settled on a hotel that was closed to a metro line.
After a 20 minutes wait, an attendant came by and escorted us to a shuttle van that transferred us to the HJ Grande hotel at Huadu, a booming district next to the airport.
We were taken back by the size and grandiose decor of this “free” hotel stay when we walked into the huge hotel lobby with the piano, chandelier, lanterns, etc. But we were even more amazed when we walked into our “free” room with an executive desk, couch, luxurious bath, robes, etc. We shook our head and wondered about the business model of this airline that provides this much for our inexpensive trans-pacific air tickets.
The next morning, after a complimentary buffet breakfast at the hotel, we walked to the nearby metro station of a new metro line that did not exist two years ago when we last visited this area. In two year, a new metro line, hundreds of new commercial and residential buildings have been built. It looked nothing like it was just two short years since our last visit.
Four metro stops later, we arrived at the Longgui metro station, the nearest station to Tom’s ancestral village. From there, we hopped on a motorcyle taxi for Balingzhuang (or Bat Lim Jong in Cantonese) village.
Tom’s relatives welcomed us warmly in spite of the fact we did not give them much notice of our visit. It was wonderful to catch up with them on their health, their children and grandchildren, village progress, and other chit chats.
We paid our respect to our ancestors at the ancestor hall. This was our sixth visit since our first visit in 2006, and we have gotten to know our 2nd cousins better over these visits.
Then we went for a long walk around the village where they pointed out the new lanes, a new pagoda over an existing pond, and new homes constructed since our last visit.
They proudly showed us the new homes built recently by their sons and daughters. We had tea at one of the son’s apartment. It is smartly furnished, well built, airy, spacious, with a great village view. They reminisced about the hard time when they had to work hard on the village land to survive. Now they are land owners with a good income for a comfortable life.
Tom’s father left this village in 1967 to emigrate to Vancouver, travelling to an unknown world for a chance at a better life for his family. He and his wife never had a chance to return to his village home again, let alone see all the positive changes over the years. We are so thankful that today, the ease of oversea travel allow us to renew our family connections and learn about our heritage.
We marvel at the contrast in their lives and how well they have adapted. They live in a village next to farmland, still cooking traditional dishes, drying and preserving vegetables the same way. Yet all around them, high speed rail, airport expansion, highway expansion, hundred of buildings are completed within a few years. Before we realized, the entire afternoon went by and it was time for us to bid our farewell until the next visit. They drove us back to our hotel to retrieve our luggage for our flight home from the Baiyun International Airport.