Tuesday I went up to Guangzhou (Canton), with John and also Zack, a friend of his from the UK. With about 12 million people it’s an immensely huge city, bigger than Shenzhen, twice the size of little London and ten times the size of Prague. I’ve often been warned that he place is cramped, polluted, scary and not on the whole a fun place to visit, which is probably why it’s taken eleven months for me to see it for myself.
We took the coach up and saw the city about an hour before we reached the centre of it, despite clear roads the entire way there. Halfway from Zhuhai the farms started to become denser, with occasional larger buildings appearing through the haze. These got thicker and denser and even thicker and even denser for another thirty minutes of so until the road became a flyover, jutting through tower blocks in an endless spaghetti junction. Another half hour of this and we finally descended to the ground-level bus station and walked through a sea of people to the subway, which seemed as clean and modern as the suspiciously similar system in Hong Kong.
We went to the old colonial island of Shamian for lunch. It’s a strange little Chinese-European anomaly from the nineteenth century, all embassies and greenery, and could feasibly be almost anywhere in the world. I had some Taiwan pork-rice and a hot chocolate and watched the foreigners go by, then strolled down the river for a bit, stopping off briefly at a Spanish restaurant for some Thai beer.
In the afternoon we wandered around the main shopping centre and found ourselves standing under one of the strangest buildings I’ve ever seen. At the base is a modern glass-fronted tower block, but perched on top is a faux-gothic eastern-European-style castle. It seems there’s a different city entirely 50 metres above street level. Without really heading anywhere we then wandered around side streets and back streets, finding a deserted world-standard sports stadium, a set of cages full of snakes and what looked like a bright blue palace. Eventually we found an entrance to the famous Yuexin Park and marched, wheezing, up a couple of hundred steps to a statue of five goats, who supposedly carried genies that flew down from heaven. Apparently it had to be on top of the hill, as it was here, many, many years ago, that they landed, founding the city.
By the time we climbed down again the sun had set, so we headed back to the shopping area to get some Indian food before dashing back to the station to get the last bus out of town. The city didn’t seem cramped, polluted or scary at all while we swept over and through it in the dark, a million lights twinkling below, but to be fair what we saw in a day couldn’t amount to so much as a tiny fraction of the place.
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