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Published: January 30th 2011
En route to and from India, I had the dubious pleasure of spending a 12 hour transit stop in Guangzhou on each leg, courtesy my chosen carrier of China Southern, this being by far the cheapest available flight to Delhi, given my short lead time for booking. Interestingly enough, I’ve been to Guangzhou on several occasions before, but always on business and always escorted around, so had never before had the opportunity to ‘see the sights’. I obviously didn’t choose the ‘tourist trail’, if there is such a thing in Guangzhou (previously named Canton). I didn’t see another Westerner in all my wanderings - in fact there were so many Chinese everywhere, I thought I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up in Chatswood! While it wouldn’t rate as my most exhilarating stop ever, it was reasonably enjoyable and allowed me to get a good feel for the progress of ‘westernisation’ in this region.
I spent most of my time on the first leg around the Shamian Island area – this was the original enclave of all foreigners when the Chinese wanted to keep them well segregated. The island comprised some great architecture, with many of the original colonial buildings
having been carefully restored, and both churches fully renovated and opened up again to worshippers after a long period in mothballs. A park with shady walks has been created in the centre of the island, and this was a meeting place for a mass of locals, whether to chat, walk around, or the ever-present exercise regimes, especially tai chi.
Following that, I headed north into the Qingping market area, where the central alley contained stalls selling huge volumes of dried medicines, grains, herbs and spices. There must have been over 200 of these stalls, almost side by side, selling the same full range of products, and you seriously wonder how any of them can make a decent living. I moved on from there to the Jade market, which was interesting from a perspective of the huge variety of shapes and sizes of the jade products. But again, with seemingly hundreds of stalls and few customers (one would assume the locals don’t buy jade souvenirs, and there were no other tourists around), I wonder how they would make a buck. I really must get out of my habit as assessing the value of eastern businesses according to western values!
Given it was pretty cold all day, I decided to head back to the airport early, for its warmth if nothing else. However, on the Delhi flight, which left in the evening, we were ferried out by bus from the terminal to the plane, which was sitting out on the tarmac, and dropped off at the stairs to the plane. Only after the bus had departed were we advised the plane wasn’t ready to board, so we all had to stand for over 20 minutes at the base of the plane, waiting the call to load. So, ‘what’s the problem?’ you say. The problem was that by then it had dropped to almost zero degC, with a biting wind, and we weren’t exactly dressed for such an occasion. Only in China!
I lost my sense of adventure on the return leg! It was bitterly cold when I arrived in Guangzhou, I had picked up a head cold a few days earlier, and I was pretty knackered from the overnight flight from Delhi. So I booked a room at an airport hotel for the day, slept the morning, and then watched first Asia Cup football then Aussie Open tennis on
the local box. I think the greatest excitement I had for the day was going into the hotel restaurant where there were some 200 locals dining, and not only was there no menu in English but not one of the staff could speak English. But while I wouldn’t put what I ate in the banquet category, I survived, and overall don’t regret catching up on some R&R for the day.
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