If Hong Kong is a little stepping stone, Guangzhou (aka Canton) plunged us right into the deep end from the highest diving board. More of a businessman’s playground than anything else and therefore doesn’t really cater for tourists.
We were thankful that we had a transfer organized from the airport because there’s no way we would have found our hotel – even our driver got lost for a while. Guangzhou takes the title for ‘Urban Jungle’ – an impressive 7000-9000 sq miles of concrete and smog, it’s the biggest city on the Pearl River, hosting nearly 14 million people.
The map we were given was all in Chinese, so straight into the souvenir box it went and we simply ‘free-styled’ it. Guangzhou also doesn’t have any tourist information centers so the metro was our saving grace (names in English and Chinese), both for getting around the city as well as preserving us from becoming road kill. From a country with pedestrian crossings to a city without one, no matter how hard you try, it’s incredibly difficult to make the act of dodging cars across a four lane road look elegant.
To celebrate our survival in crossing our first road, we rewarded ourselves with tantalizing Cantonese food at the Bing Sheung restaurant, quite a contrast to the Chinese breakfast we had in Lin Heung tea house. Decked out in a ‘classy European decor’ (grand pianos, greek statues and chandeliers dripping in gold), we were ushered to our luxuriously huge table by five, super helpful, waitresses.
Ordering was where the fun began, initially they kept talking to me in Mandarin expecting me to translate it to Dave. I don’t actually know who was more confused – me because I don’t understand a single word they’re saying, or them because I look the part so they don’t understand why I don’t understand! Seems that I’m a genuine replica and so begins the case of the fake Chinese… Once they realized this, there was a lot of giggling behind hands and the big picture book surfaced and the delicious dishes started to roll out. We were watched intensely for the duration of lunch, the waitresses amused and amazed by our every clumsy move.
The metro was just as much fun, it was like a portal to different worlds. Each stop we took was vastly and distinctively different, ranging from ‘soviet-eques’ train stations to bustling shopping malls filled with trendy kids and hipsters, to serene and ancient suburbs.
Yuexiu Park was our last stop, a winding forest maze of self proclaimed ‘outstanding paving’ and ‘best scenic views’ which led us to charming little gardens and clearings. In almost every corner, locals were exercising and practicing their hobbies which covered everything from: jogging to ballroom dancing, tai-chi to badminton and even some feisty old ladies playing a game of hacky sack.