Over the weekend, we traveled to Guangzhou with our friends Grace and Geoff. Guangzhou is a big place. It’s the third largest city in China with a population of 12 million people. For comparison, New York City has 8 million residents. Yeah, Guangzhou is THAT big. It also holds an important place in maritime history. As early at the ninth century, it was engaged in trade with Arab merchants. By the 1500s, Guangzhou was trading with the Portuguese. Today, it’s the capital of Guangdong Province (which includes the city of Zhuhai) and a major commercial and industrial center.
We started out by taking a bus to Guangzhou on Thursday evening. The ride was pretty comfortable–the bus was only half full and we made good time. We’d been warned about Guangzhou’s traffic but we seemed to escape the worst of it. After getting situated in our hotel rooms, Grace, Geoff, and I went out for dinner while Joel volunteered to stay in with Simon. We explored Beijing Street, which is the main pedestrian shopping center in Guangzhou. It features block upon block of western-style shopping. Lots of trendy clothing stores, ice cream shops, and restaurants. We arrived after dark and it was beautiful to stroll the street, with everything lit up and the crowds window-shopping.
The next day, Joel and Simon stayed in again while Grace, Geoff, and I went to Yuexiu Park. It’s over 200 acres of ponds, hills, and attractions. Local people gather there throughout the day, but especially in the morning and evening, to exercise and socialize. As elsewhere in China, we saw many people doing tai chi, ballroom dancing, aerobics, and calisthenics.
There is so much to see at Yuexiu Park. I think a person could devote 2-3 leisurely days to just seeing the whole place. One of the highlights is Guangzhou’s old city wall. It was built in 1380 and the only remaining portion is within the park.
Later, we met up with Simon and Joel for the first of several dim sum meals we had in Guangzhou. Dim sum is a traditional Cantonese food consisting of small bites of things–typically dumplings, steamed buns, and the like. It’s a bit like tapas in that you get to taste little samples of a whole lot of things. The full dim sum table experience can last for hours, but we tended to make our meals faster because of Simon.
That night, Joel, Geoff, and Grace headed out to experience the nightlife while it was my turn to stay in with Simon. I didn’t mind–I was beat from all the walking, and they never did find the dancing that they were looking for. All the same, Simon and I were the only ones up for breakfast the next morning.
Our hotel was right on the Pearl River, so Simon and I took a stroll down the riverfront. It was a busy place. One of the first things I had noticed about the riverfront were the kites. I could see them from the hotel windows, but I never saw the kite flyers until our walk. The kites were very simple things. Small, pink or orange squares, they were clearly designed to be expendable, and many could be spotted in the nearest trees. These kites went high, though. The flyers had special pants with velcro running down the fronts of the thighs. After they put on these pants, the men would attach a block of wood to the velcro. As the flyers pulled the kite spool up and down , the spool would run along these blocks of wood. I’m not sure if they were to provide extra resistance, or simply to prevent their pants from developing holes, but several of the men were wearing these.
It was Saturday morning and many other people were out on the riverfront as well. We saw the typical suite of exercisers (tai chi, group aerobics, cyclists) as well as several joggers. In Zhuhai, the only people I ever see jogging are Caucasian, so I was surprised by this. We finally got to a large underpass with public exercise equipment underneath. These sets of heavy-duty, all-weather exercise equipment are also quite common in China, but this was the largest set I’d ever seen and I thought it was a clever use of the underside of a bridge. Simon played on the kids’ equipment for a while. As usual, everyone was fascinated by the little blonde boy. At one point, he walked over to watch a group of ladies doing aerobics. They were working hard, dancing to music, but of course he caught their eyes. Just as the song was over, Simon let out a yell and clapped his hands for them. Everybody squealed in excitement–it was pretty cute.
Later, we met with the rest of the group and had dim sum again. We briefly visited a huge temple–the biggest I’ve seen so far.
After that, we went to explore more of the city. After thinking it was closed, Geoff managed to find the entrance to the Museum of the Nanyue Palace. Built on the archaeologial site of the Nanyue Palace, the museum details the 2,000+ year history of the region. Long before it was known as Guangzhou, this region was the capital of the Nanyue Kingdom from 203 BC – 111 BC. There is evidence at this site to document governments of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. – 206 B.C.), the Han, the Jin, the Southern, the Tang, the Song, the Yuan, the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. That’s a lot of history, all on one site.
I totally geeked out on the drainage systems. Over 2000 years ago, people were managing rainfall on the grounds of this palace. (And Guangzhou gets a lot of it!) Archaeologists have found multiple levels of drainage systems in area.
Then it was time to part ways: Geoff and Grace had to get back to the Zhuhai for work, but Joel and I had a little more time to spend in Guangzhou. Unfortunately, we had a little hotel issue. We had hoped to just extend our reservation at the place we’d been staying, but it was booked. And so was everywhere else, it seemed. It turned out that we were on the cusp of the Canton Fair, billed as the largest import and export fair in China. I’m going out on a limb and saying that might just make it the largest import/export fair in the world. Anyhow, after a few hours of effort and much help from Grace and Geoff, we finally found a new place to stay. We said good-bye to our friends, settled into our new hotel, and crashed for the night.
(Next up: Guangzhou Getaway, Part 2)