Trip Start Feb 04, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of China  ,
Friday, May 6, 2005

Guangzhou reminded me very much of Hong Kong. Even though it is much larger than Hong Kong, you will find the usually congested roads and overcrowded streets. People tended to congregate in small pockets of the city (usually shopping centers). And if you were near those areas, you will have to weave through a river of people just to get anywhere.

Shop till you Drop

Shopping centers are everywhere in Guangzhou. You can find almost anything under the sun, from designer clothes to pirated DVD movies. There are areas devoted entirely to a particular market, such as jade, computers, electronics, office supplies, etc. I once walked down a street where all I could see were shops after shops selling only jade jewelries.

The most popular merchandise is textile. Gone were the days where everyone in China wore the same dull peasant clothes. You will find all sorts of varieties here. It is not uncommon to see ladies wearing designer clothes carrying a Christian Dior handbag.

Not only will you find the latest fashions on display, but you will be pleasantly surprised by the sticker price. I brought a pair of jeans, at the popular Shangjiu Lu shopping center, with free alterations for only 65 yuan ($8).

Watch Your Belongings

Guangzhou has one of the highest robbery crime rates in the nation. Having only 2.6 police officers for every 1,000 citizens in Guangzhou doesn't help either. It is not unusual to see questionable characters lingering in the streets. They frequently work in groups and the robbery usually happened so fast that the victim didn't know what happened to them until it was too late.

Consequently, you wouldn't see a lot of smiling faces. People are naturally suspicious of others and guarded their belongings with weary eyes. But occasionally I did experience moments of kindness from strangers once they accessed that I'm not a threat to them.

I suspect that most people in Guangzhou are decent inside but had to put up a rough exterior so as not to be victimized.

Foot Massage

My aunt and I went to a local foot massage parlor for a much needed R&R after walking around the city for several days. The cost was 30 yuan ($3.75) each for 80 minutes. It also included neck and back rubs. The establishment was clean and had very comfortable leather chairs.

Our masseurs, who looked like in their early 20s, were very friendly. They were quite talkative too. They weren't hesitant in telling us the massage business. For every customer that comes through the door, they get only 12 yuan out of the 30 yuan the company charges its customer. If there are no customers, they don't get pay. On average, there are 30 masseurs waiting in queue for the next customer at a time. They work 12 hour shifts and a typical day will net them 3 or 4 customers. Ok, let's pull out the old rusty calculator. If we look at the best case scenario of 4 customers per day for 30 days, they would bring in 1,440 yuan ($180) per month. I was told this is on par with the average worker's salary in Guangzhou. Makes you appreciate your pay in the U.S. doesn't it?

The two ladies did a great job. It was well worth the 30 yuan.

An old familiar sight

Begging is everywhere in Guangzhou. Some people purposely exposed open wounds or whatever that ills them to gain more sympathy. I usually drop a few coins when I passed by them. As heart drenching as that could be, what really troubles me is the abundance of children beggars. They aggressively seek out passer by and would not let go till they get something. I witnessed this first hand when Yoyo and I took a stroll down a popular walking path by the Pearl River. A five year old girl, who was selling flowers, grabbed hold of Yoyo and would not let go. She hugged Yoyo's leg and looked up at us with sad frightened eyes. We told her we would buy her flowers if she would let go but she wouldn't budge. We then offered to give her some money instead. She took the money and ran off quickly into the night.

While the Chinese government is busy trying to impress the rest of the world by preparing to host the 2008 Olympic, I think it seriously neglected its own people's basic needs. There is just no excuse for allowing children to starve or beg on the streets when the government had the power to remedy it.

Baby on board

Since coming to Guangzhou, I saw on many occasions Caucasian families pushing Chinese babies on strollers. No place more predominant than on Shamian Island where it is not uncommon to see Caucasian families taking their newly adopted Chinese babies out for a walk. Most of the babies were girls of course. Due to China's one child policy and the Chinese culture of favoring baby boys, there is now a thriving market for baby girls to be adopted by foreigners.

You are among family now

While in Guangzhou, I stayed with my aunt's family. They took good care of me. They treated me like a member of their family, which I'm very grateful. They kept telling me I'm among family now.

Traveling can be lonely at times especially in a rough town like Guangzhou. It is comforting to know that I have people who I can rely on in times of need. Since the start of my travels, I have gained a greater appreciation for the value of family.

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