. The flight arrived on time but various queues meant it took a good hour before I arrived, sweaty and stressed, to a closed metro station. A smartly dressed lady approached me, seemingly to assist. She took my hostel address and phone number and said there was no answer. I followed her to what I thought was a bus but it transpired she was trying to coax me into an expensive hotel so I retreated back to the terminal. There was an airport shuttle bus, and with a little miming and help from locals I managed to discover that I could indeed catch the last one. The 30km bus ride cost about 3 Euro and left me, somewhere in the district of my hostel. I avoided the crowd of taxi drivers and set off to first of all figure out where exactly I was. A metro station looked like the perfect reference point although it had no name on the outside and when I went inside found that it was all locked up and full of sleeping bums. There were some workers there and I did my best at pronouncing the street name. They pointed my in a direction, with tonal instructions which I assumed were directed at the wall. Their direction was sweet and I got my bearing pretty quickly after that. Next I had to find building number 445 which seemed pretty hopeless in the maze of unmarked skyscrapers. I tried a payphone to call the hostel but was presented with a card phone only having Chinese instructions. Running out of ideas I went to a taxi driver and mime asked to use his phone. He obliged and managed to get through to the hostel. They driver didn’t want to take me there as it was too close to be worth his while so the hostel host graciously agreed to meet me at a nearby landmark and lead me to the hostel. Quite nice of him as it was 3am at this stage. I was never so happy to see the friendly face of Kieran, the Nepali hostel owner and after walking the 10 minutes to the building, and ascending to the 27th
floor hostel I threw myself into my bunk exhausted after something of an adventurous arrival
I slept well into the afternoon the following day and when I woke had to spend a good two hours in the hostel doing a bit of research on the city. Admittedly I had been pretty lazy and not looked into anything prior to my arrival. There were lots of Chinese tourists coming and going and one Danish guy hanging around. I chatted with him for a bit and he had some handy advice after his 2 months in the country. We ordered some Subway to be delivered for lunch, a bit of a pity for my first meal to be something so familiar. Anyway, my first mission was to arrange my ticket out of Guangzhou. The nearby (400km) country village (of 700,000 people) of Yangshou was highly recommended and even referred to as one of the nicest spots in China, so my decision was something of a no brainer. I caught the metro to the train station and when I emerged from the underground I was taken aback by the hordes of people I was presented with. I would like to have squeezed into the station for a look but there was a fairly rigorous security check and a significant queue so I veered away. I booked a night bus for two days later in the coach station nearby and then was free for a few hours to explore. I whipped out my lonely planet to decide what do to next. I headed south to a massive park nearby. I was quite a nice and peaceful haven which they carved out in a plot of land amid the skyscrapers and beeping traffic. There were a few lakes in the park on which people were paddling their pedal boats and feeding the ducks. I grabbed an ice cream and a soda and sat under a pavilion watching some of the locals playing badminton. I continued to explore the park and found the famous (well among locals anyway) 5 ram statue, it was nothing too spectacular. I found a nice little jungle section which although feeling artificial and groomed gave at the illusion of being natural
. There was an old red army tank and plane there too which I found quite cool. The main attraction in the park was an old Ming dynasty building housing the city museum but unfortunately it was closed by the time I arrived. Next I found an amusement park and an adult outdoor gym, something very popular in Asia. It must have been 3 hours by the time I emerged from the park into the chaotic rush hour traffic. It was a bit much for me so I decided to have a coffee and wait for it to calm down before heading back. I hopped into a café and as I took a seat noticed that I was the only non-African customer, a strange surprise in China. The rush did calm by about 7 and I found the metro to head back to the hostel, I remember a great feeling as I knew I had figured out this city, and country at least somewhat…. It was a nice contrast to the anxious feeling I had on the plane the previous evening.
Back at the hostel I met with Arjen, a Dutch guy. Had had met a friendly local guy during the day and was planning on joining him again for dinner. I jumped on board with that and the two of us headed out at about 9. Bo met us and we jumped into a taxi to head to what he called a night market, but I would call a restaurant. We had a whole collection of local dishes which included oysters, clams, some strange looking fish and a stew made from frogs. I ate everything and it was actually quite delicious, even the frog meat. We washed the food down with a couple of local beers. Chinese beer is brewed with rice and designed for the Chinese liver, meaning it has about 3% alcohol, so it was a bit of a waste of time to drink. The conversation was flowing and it was pretty awesome to get some local knowledge and perspective. Bo had lived in Oz for a number of years and it was absolutely hilarious listening to him. His Ozzie accent only came out on certain words (e.g
. Chiiiiinaaaa) and Arjen and I would just burst out laughing. After the extended meal it was about 1am. We were all in the mood for another beer water so we jumped into a taxi in search of a suitable venue. Every time we stopped at a place Bo would jump out to investigate… it turned out that most places were KTV bars (karaoke) which are in some way associated with prostitution here too. Eventually we did find a club open but the bouncers wanted a minimum spend of 250 Yuan each (while a local beer is 8 Yuan). We ended up heading home after that giving up on the search.
The next day was a lazy day… spent arsing around the hostel trying to figure out what exactly I will do with my time in China. I had dinner in a nearby 'Uncle’ restaurant (kind of Chinese Wagamamma) where they had English on their menu). That night I was hanging out with Kieran, a guy for Alaska and a few Chinese tourists. One of the Chinese girls had perfect English and acted as a bridge in conversation between the groups. We chatted for hours over a few beers and again the local view point was really interesting. She told us all about the problems facing her as a Chinese citizen. For example how in later life, her and husband to be will have to take care of 4 parents with no help from the state. She went on abut how difficult it is to get our of China both financially and with the ridiculous bureaucracy
On my last day in Guangzhou I wanted to get off my arse and experience some of the city. I jumped on the metro and headed south to a small island where traffic and building had been restricted. Indeed it was a peaceful place and all the buildings, no more than 4 stories, resembled those found in southern Europe. There was a small park there which seemed to be full of various statues of western looking folks engaged in various activities; I found that a little strange. I sat by the Pearl River and people watched for a while, getting an appreciation for how truly strange Chinese people are. Then I walked along the river bank for about 2km. It was quite nice along the river bank, slightly removed from the chaos of the city. I headed back towards the center to seek out a cathedral nearby. I arrived there just in time for it to close and just got to stick my nose in for a moment. It was quite a nice cathedral seemingly modeled on those in Europe but clearly a very modern structure. After that I wandered around some back streets looking for a Taoist temple. It took me a good hour to find the temple, which was closed, but the wandering was a worthwhile experience in itself. It seemed that there were entire districts filled with shops that were all exactly the same. A few blocks selling neon and LED signs, a few selling clothes and so on. It seemed a bit bizarre and pointless to me
. I headed back towards the hostel on the metro and grabbed dinner again in the Uncle restaurant. This time I ordered a local chicken dish and I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was presented with a whole range of chicken parts in it. I thought my chicken anatomy was pretty good but I couldn’t recognize most of the bits. I was hungry so I figured it was best not to think too much about what exactly I was eating. At this stage I thought my chop stick skills were pretty good but it became quickly apparent that I had met my match with this particular meal. Trying to dissect the various chicken bits, separating the edible from the inedible was quite a challenge and I sure the locals were looking at me in humor and pity. Then it was back to the hostel to pick up my gear and then onto catch the metro to the bus station. It turned out that the last metro ran at 10:30 and I missed it, mainly because I didn’t have the right change for the ticket machine. I went back to the street to try and flag a cab and it seemed every time I crossed the road, to change my flag point, a stream of empty cabs would pass on the other side. Eventually I did manage of get one to stop, but he hadn’t a word of English, and couldn’t understand my destination from my ticket, so he shook his head and drove on. Finally I got one which knew where to take me and I made it to the bus station after an ordeal not unlike my arrival in Guangzhou.
Travelling in South East Asia is something of a dream. The western tourist and even the unshaven unshowered backpacker in rags is king. Everything is laid out at your feet and the people bend over backwards to win your favor and your dollar. From talking to fellow travelers I had met I knew that China would be an entirely different experience. As I sat on the budget Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Guangzhou I felt a feeling in my belly which I hadn't experienced for quite a long time. I knew everything would be different and was not sure how I would react to the whole new world. Something similar to the feeling I had when I was flying from Dubai to Kathmandu. My apprehension wasn’t helped by the fact that I was due to arrive just after 11 o clock and face a dash to catch the last metro into the city. As we approached the airport I gazed out the window at the sprawling blanket of city lights which reached the horizon in every direction. Guangzhou (formerly Canton) was a city I had never heard of but turned out to be a significant 12 million people and one of the business powerhouses of Southern China