Our trip to Guangzhou is starting to fade into distant memory, so I better eject as much of it from my mind as I can now. Hopefully, it will land on this page, and you will enjoy reading it, especially after the pretty long drought in posts from Adrianna and I.
First off, the bad. Guangzhou is a much more difficult city to get around than Hong Kong. There is little to no English, the subway system–though pretty sprawling and constantly expanding–is much more difficult to navigate and offers relatively little assistance to the traveler. Restaurants are a bit harder to find, as is English language information. If you speak Mandarin though, don’t be too concerned: I found relatively little Cantonese floating around the city. In general, Guangzhou is bigger, badder, and inestimably more intimidating than Hong Kong.
WIth that said, Guangzhou has a lot going on. There are dozens of historical sights, and the two days we spent there were only enough to scrape the surface of Guangzhou’s historical heritage.
Our favorite stop by far on the heritage train was Shamian Island (沙面岛). This island used to be home to a lot of the foreign dignitaries, and the architecture reflects it. We found a little shop/restaurant/tea cafe with “Susan” in the name, and had some tea with the owner and his cats. It was a nice break, as he spoke largely fluent English, and the tea was delicious.
The rest of the island was beautiful, and for some reason (maybe it was for a magazine) there were probably 25 couples that were shooting wedding pictures. It made for a fun morning and some great pictures.
We also made a stop into the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King, a pretty cool historical site even if almost all of the information was presented in Chinese. The tomb was discovered in the middle of Guangzhou when a construction company was trying to dig out the foundation for a new apartment complex. After maybe thirty feet, they struck historical gold, and though they weren’t allowed to build that apartment complex, they did discover a tomb dating back to the Western Han Dynasty. We took a lot of pictures, and they will tell the story much better than I will.
The only other major site we visited was the Canton Tower. Formerly the tallest building in China, the Tower is a huge, twisted metallic net lit from within by an array of multicolored lights. From its base we were able to look across the river into the heart of Guangzhou, and got some nice pictures of this huge city. The ticket to the top of the tower was over 100 yuan, so we decided to stay at the base, and ended the night traveling back across the river for a couple of drinks before turning in.
Coming out of Guangzhou, we were left with few epiphanies and more concerns. The city is enormous with a population of 12.78 million. There is a lot of shopping, but it seems like the shopping we saw was just one block of stores replicated several dozen times. There was a lack of diversity, at least in the areas we visited, and when the uniformity was coupled with the massive crowds, walking through Guangzhou began to feel more and more like a case of deja-vu. The city is also pretty green, and their are lots of urban parks and trees all over, which is helpful since you can’t go anywhere without seeing a new skyscraper under construction. All told, Guangzhou is a vast and vibrant city, and one that needs more than the two days we gave it in order to be truly understood.