Worst city in the world?

Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
Trip End Dec 31, 2011

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Flag of China  , Guangdong,
Sunday, September 21, 2008

I am not sure what it is about Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton, but whenever I am there I get the urge to get out quicker than you can say 'Vegetable Chow Mien'.

So this week when I found going via Guangzhou was the most convenient way for me to get to Hong Kong, I was somewhat anxious about the prospect of staying there overnight. Why? The last time I stayed in Guangzhou happened to be around the time of one of those Canton Trade fairs, when every dodgy dealer from all nations on earth head to that hellhole to arrange exploitative sweat shops to supply them with cheap, shoddy, soon-to-be obsolete things for soulless consumers who think that by buying something crappy they might be happy.

Hotel prices go up around this time, but my friend who wanted to see me, managed to find a friend of a friend who had a hotel that was opening the very day I arrived. It was so new, it smelled of strong vanish and carpet glue. It was so well located, that I could look out onto lanes of traffic and overpasses and underpasses and circular roads linking other highways on multiple levels. Not even the carpet glue aroma was enough to put me to sleep above the noise of the traffic.

So when I checked, I found I could take an earlier flight from Kunming to glorious Guangzhou and hopefully arrive in time to get out of the airport into the city and then out of that city before all transport operations closed for the day. For a mere US$20, it seemed to be money well spent.

When our plane touched down in Guangzhou, every other passenger ripped off their seatbelt and readied to exit the plane - even before we had finished slowing down on the runway. This involved getting up, grabbing overhead luggage, barging forward toward the door and talking on one's cellphone in barks.

I got the airport bus into town (18 yuan) which arrived at a huge construction site - that turned out to be the airport bus terminal next to the railway station. Guangzhou's railway station is notorious and used to be crowded with pickpockets and peasants who seemed to live there, awaiting cheap train seats to other places. These days, the authorities have done something to cordon off areas, but it is still a place where you want to hold carefully onto your belongings and know which way you want to go.

Even after darkness descended, it was still bloody hot and humid, and I eventually found the ticket counter for Shenzhen trains and got my ticket - around $10US. That was easy, I thought.

I then went through the security checks to the waiting area, but for the life of me, couldn't find waiting hall 1. At one stage I ended up in the subway and had to go into the station again. Despite vague directions with the wave of a hand, I was none the wiser - and running out of time. Eventually I found out that I had to exit the main part of the station, and follow an unsigned route into a waiting area, especially for the Shenzhen train.

To be honest, the 93 minutes I spent in Guangzhou was 93 minutes of my life I will never get back.

The train itself was new and modern, with comfortable seats and a screen which said outside was 33 degrees, inside was 23 degrees. Within minutes we reached 200 km an hour, slowing for a few stops along the way to let off triad members, sweatshop owners, girls with too much makeup and jewellery (and their pimps with tatoos) and a guy who played some Gameboy with the sound up, so all we could hear was 'slap, slap, slap' as he got beaten - or did some beating.

I was worried that in Shenzhen the foot border would be closed and I'd have to take a taxi to the 24-hour border, but luckily it was still open and after negotiating my way up and down and around, eventually I got to the place for foreigners to leave China.

Then the walk across no-man's land with its razor wire on fences, and into Hong Kong, where they screen you for nose temperature - an indicator of fever or cold.

Hong Kong always seems so ordered compared to the chaos of China. Heavily regulated - yes. Bland and bleak - no.

Can someone tell me how to nominate Guangzhou as the worst city on earth? I have lots more evidence . . .
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