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Curious Canton

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Cantonese culture amuses me. To someone who grew up on steak, potatoes, and hamburgers, finding any sort of culinary thread connecting the dishes that fall under Cantonese cuisine seems like an exercise in futility.

Even more strange, I seem to thoroughly enjoy Cantonese cuisine as it is served in some areas of China, while in others, well, let's just say I resort to popping peanuts and washing it all down with a cold bottle of Tsingtao.

By the way, peanuts is the new ketchup. Do you know that an unpalatable dumpling or an undesirable chunk of strangely spicy beef tastes really good when chewed with a couple of stout, crunchy peanuts?

Of course the downside is that I am now typing this editorial with a very painful index finger on my left hand and a couple of numb ones on my right. When they invent the technology to remove uric acid from peanuts, I will be one of the first investors. I will probably run over the execs from M&M/Mars.

Although the cuisine puzzles me no end (I get a wild shock each time I try out a new Cantonese restaurant), I am a fan of the architecture.

Cantonese architecture does away with the sweeping, curved roofs of traditional Chinese temples and palaces. The result is more understated, elegant, and serene—although I know some wealthy Chinese endow their homes with the sweeping roofs traditionally reserved for temples. It is a delightful paradox that a straight tile roof makes the heart soar.

For some reason, I find curved roofs atop residences just a tad garish. (Just my opinion. Please don't send me letter bombs or pelt me with tomatoes when we meet if your home happens to have a sweeping roof.)

Cantonese architecture is found all over Southern China, stretching its influence all the way to Malaysia, particularly Penang. One of the earliest trade organizations in Penang was established by Cantonese builders and craftsmen who relocated to Malaysia as temporary contractors or permanent residents.

The organization is called the Carpenter's Guild or Lo Pan Hang, named after the patron saint of Cantonese tradesmen Lo Pan (literally, 'North Duke'). The group, which has always included more than carpenters, was originally located at 5 Lebuh Penang (Penang Street) in 1850. It moved to its current location along one of Penang's most interesting side streets, Love Lane in 1886.

Many heritage sites in Penang, Malaysia hold structures created by guild members, forever bearing the imprint of the curious culture of the Cantonese.


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