I took the train from Hong Kong to mainland China. For a country, which gives off the impression of total control, you would assume that the border crossing would be long and arduous but that couldn’t have been any further from the truth. It was an absolute breeze.
Arriving in Guangzhou, I took the subway to my accommodation. And what a subway it is. Air conditioned, tons of space, English announcements and people were queuing in an orderly fashion to get on! London Underground could learn a lot.
Guangzhou is something like the fourth largest city in China and on the first day I went through it blissfully unaware of that fact. First job was getting a bus ticket on. My lovely accommodation wrote down what I needed in Mandarin and so after finding the station all I was required to do was hand it over to the lady behind the counter and then she gave me a ticket.
A certain element of trust was needed here as I could see when I was departing, but as for the rest – well it was anyones guess. It was, though, a problem for another day. On my way back, I popped into the Mausoleum of the Nanyue King. In many ways this museum summed up my first experiences of mainland China. Wonderfully well organised, spotlessly clean, everything displayed in immaculate fashion, with endless politeness from the people and yet quite confusing for a lone backpacker.
Despite having staff point me in the ‘right’ direction, I found myself in a fascinating exhibit section, full of a vast array of pottery and a number of postcards. After several minutes, I turned to my Sherlock Holmes skills in deduction to work out that the numbers were not for exhibits but instead prices and the lady tailing me through the exhibit was not a helpful museum worker but a saleswoman. Yes I had found the gift shop. I then proceeded to walk quite confused around the museum in the wrong direction, until I was accosted by a English major and history student who was volunteering in the museum. She then guided me around the rest of it and helped me to reorder what I had seen into something resembling sense.
On her recommendation, I took the subway to Canton Tower in the evening. It was, I later found out, the tallest tower in the world in 2010, before being surpassed by the CN tower in Tokyo and a few others I’m sure from Dubai. Exiting the station, I was blown away. Not by the tower itself. It was nice, although it felt a little bit like a cheat due to being very thin. Instead I stood around gawking at all the other towers.
The levels of development and modern architecture was stunning. I expected it in Hong Kong, but this really took me by surprise. I walked around staring upwards and enjoying all of the bright lights with thousands of other Chinese tourists.
The next day, I killed a bit of time waiting for the night bus to Yangshuo. In the evening, I joined Song Xiao Chen, a tourist from Shanghai, for some food. We went to a small little restaurant, which served up a superb dish, which apparently Guangzhou is famous for. I can’t tell you much more about it other than it was delicious. The highlight though was walking through the main shopping area. I’ve never seen, or indeed heard, anything quite like it. Every shop was as you would expect a shop to look like in the west, except each one had at least one person outside making as much noise as possible. Some shouted into microphones, some hit cow bells or football clappers, many just clapped continuously and some shops resorted to playing music as loud as possible. Song seemed able to fade it out, but the ADHD in me went into overdrive and my head darted in every direction. It was totally bizarre, quite horrific, but no less fascinating.
I discussed it with Song, who seemed perplexed that this was something not done in Europe. It felt as if we were in a classic hectic Asian market, but not surrounded by rickety shacks and portable stalls, but instead in the middle of a fancy, modern street. It was as if everything has developed terrifically quickly and yet the tricks to get people buying things has stayed the same. People always talk about how fascinating it is seeing China’s development and even in these early days I can see why!
At 10pm, I made my way to the bus station and come the morning had it confirmed that my ticket was to exactly the place that I wanted to be. So far so good.