Feeling like an idiot

While we were in China, our guide kept referring to things Cantonese–food, language, etc. as if it came from the city we were in. I thought this was his pride in his home city showing…that he was attributing things from all over Southern China to Guangzhou.


My mom gave me a Chinese cookbook that had belonged to my dad. It had an old map, from back when Beijing was Peking. I immediately looked for Guangzhou.

It wasn’t there.

But there was another city in the same spot, at the mouth of the Pearl River.


That’s the old name for Guangzhou.

We spent two weeks in the city of Canton. My daughter is a native of the city of Canton. Of course, Cantonese things came from Canton!


6 thoughts on “Feeling like an idiot

  1. Also, there is the difference between Wade-Giles and Pinyin which complicates names and locations in China. Nearly everyone uses Pinyin these days, and so I was surprised a couple of years ago to find a book on China which purposefully used Wade-Giles.

    (I think Taiwan still mostly uses Wade-Giles too)

    • Yes, that does make it harder. A lot of Pinyin letters don’t make the same sounds as English letters (which I’m sure makes it harder for my daughter to read out loud.)

      I just saw a novel that chose to use Wade-Giles, because it took place in the 30s and 40s and wanted to be correct for the time.

  2. Canton & Wade-Giles

    The name hails, if I recall my history correctly, from the Anglicized Portuguese origin, like the Canary Islands, Byron’s Don Jew-Inn, or the British name Sinjin [St. John].


  3. Place names do change. I was in the middle of genealogical research for someone who had lost a link to their family. She knew the family had come from a small Jewish town of a particular name in the 1920s.
    Thank heavens for the Internet. It took a lot of poring over and alternative spellings, but at last I discovered the sad truth.
    That village was made an example of when the Nazis were annoyed with area resistence fighters. All the men were taken out and shot. There were somewhat graphic descriptions. Then the rest of the village was rounded up and sent away.
    After all that happened and the War was over, some survivors did come back to try to pick up the pieces of the now Soviet-dominated village which now had a new name.

  4. My husband’s grandfather grew up as a German Russian in the city of Schwab. He left in 1917. Shortly thereafter, famine claimed the lives of many living in the Volga region. During WWII, the remaining German Russians of Schwab were relocated forcibly to Siberia and not allowed to have contact outside of Russia. My husband’s grandfather, Johann George, thought everyone died of famine, and he died thinking that. When the USSR was collapsing, Russian Germans were allowed to return to Germany. Sometime in the ’90s, some family members tracked us down from Germany. We discovered that we still have relatives in Siberia, who chose not to leave their homes, and relatives in Germany. It’s regrettable that John George didn’t live to realize that not all his family died of starvation.

    The city of Schwab is no more.

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