GUANGZHOU

After a delayed flight and almost zero conversation with anyone I finally arrived in the city of Guangzhou feeling a little anxious as to what to expect after Beijing. What a pleasant surprise. The people are friendly and helpful , the streets though still as busy as ever are not as crowded as Beijing and although it rained most of the days it did nothing to dampen my spirits.

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Guanghzou is considered to be the birthplace of dim sum, bite sized Chinese dumplings traditionally served in small steamer baskets carted around the restaurant for customers to choose their orders. It is known  in Cantonese as going to ‘drink tea’ Yum Cha as tea is typically served with dim sum.

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The city is an important trading port which is closely situated to both Hong Kong and Macau with a population of  just over 14 million. With more and more business travellers coming to its shores, I was interested in finding out more of what there is to do in the city.

The Canton Tower

Building began in 2005 to open in time for the opening of the Sixteenth Asian Games in 2010.  It is 600 metres high making it the third highest tower in the world and the highest in China. With breathtaking views over the city a visit to the tower is a ‘must’. There are a multitude of activities you can do here, like, the Bubble Tram. The Sky Drop or the Spider walk. Not for the fainthearted. At 433metres above the ground there is also the worlds highest ‘Glass Walk’, where you can walk out on a glass platform and see the ground way, way below you. I am a coward, I did not attempt this. In Guangzhou, this seemed to be the ‘spot’ for those ‘pre-wedding’ pictures.

Pearl River Cruise

Absolutely spectacular at night, and though this is common in other cities, like Shanghai or Hong Kong, this one was quite different. The entire experience was in Chinese. From buying the tickets at the terminal to the ‘tour’, fortunately, I was in the company of a Guanghzou resident who translated for me. This is probably the only negative for visitors, if your Chinese is poor to non-existent you may not even find the tour office.

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The Chen Clan Academy

One of the Top Eight sites in Guanghzou, this is a true marvel of ancient skill and technique. It was founded in the fourteenth year of the Guangxu reign (1888) and completed in 1893.

The funds came from various clans in the Guangdong province with the Chen surname and served as short term accommodation when members of the Chen clan came to Guanghzou.

It covers an area of 15000 square meters and is a well preserved example of wood, brick and stone carving of the age.

The individual units are connected by long corridors and courtyards. Here you can find beautifully preserved artistic works.

Guanghzou had a long history of ivory sculpture until the prohibition of the ivory trade in 1989, but to preserve the tradition of the craft, there is a vast display of the intricate works available to see.

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Shamian Island

Meaning ‘sandy surface’ in Cantonese, this area was once the French and British Concession. With tree lined avenues and historical buildings in various states of repair you can get a glimpse into what was once a thriving community of Europeans. It is a popular ‘Sunday Outing” for locals and has many bars and restaurants serving Western style food and drinks.

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There are only two access points to the ‘island’ and traffic is strictly controlled making it an ideal place for a stroll.

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The mansions on the island are the best preserved,European style buildings in China and many have become government offices or apartments. There are still many consulates on the island and it is also home to many Western couples who reside in the city. The beauty of the island is the pace and atmosphere. Completely different to the rest of Guanghzou. Each building has a plaque telling of its former purpose and I found this particularly interesting as one could only wonder as to the stories they could tell.

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Beijing Street

Absolutely great for shopping.  As Guangzhou is not yet overrun by tourists that are not Chinese, the prices are relatively good, even without too much bargaining. But the most interesting thing about this street that is closed to vehicle transport is the unique preservation of the original street remains.

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Excavation has discovered street remains dating back to the Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Song (960 -1279AD) dynasties, the site is preserved in a glass case.  There is also a scaled down model of the original city.

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The Huaisheng Mosque so known as the Lighthouse Mosque  because of its minaret which is 36 meters tall with a pointed tip, it is said to have been used as a beacon for boats. It is one of the oldest mosques in the world having been originally built over 1300 years ago. Old Chinese Muslim literature states that the mosque was built by an uncle of the Prophet Mohammed in 627AD. The mosque was rebuilt in 1350 and then again in 1695 after being destroyed in a fire.

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I asked Jer, my companion in Guangzhou, how it was that the people were so different from Beijing and he explained that the people of the North were traditionally more surly and brusque and it was nothing personal.  He also told me that as China is so large and their tourists came mostly from around the country, (although we think that us Westerners are a large part of the tourist market, they do not see it the same way) they did not necessarily need to concern themselves with Western expectations.

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Yet, in Guanghzou, the attitude was completely different. Although, most things are in Chinese/Cantonese and I am pretty sure if I was alone I would surely have struggled, people are willing to talk to you and are so proud to tell of their traditions and show off their city. The transportation system is excellent, whether it be the underground or the buses or even the taxis, who are not out to get you.

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Guanghzou is a popular city for South African businessmen due to its proximity to Hong Kong and more and more of them are beginning to visit the city. Just a word of caution to any new visitors to China, coming here for business: Jer tells me that it is customary for businessmen to be offered a cigarette or a drink or both. Young Chinese men learn these habits as young as sixteen years old. The tipple of choice is Moutai, believe me, this is more potent than tequila, so go easy on it. It is a type of prized Chinese whisky where even the cheapest bottle can set you back around $340. Moutai is the world’s only socialist luxury brand.  The Chinese are also big on French Cognac, so much so that the product is often on allocation as the newly rich in China continue to indulge. It is seen as a ‘status symbol’ in the country.

China is the home of the Litchi and I have never seen such giant ones before! Of course I had to have some, I bought a variety of sizes which all competed with each other for sweetness. The giant one’s had the smallest seed and were divine, the medium sized one’s had hardly any seed and were for me, the most delicious!

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Although Guangzhou is a much newer city than Beijing, with its wide boulevards and tree lined streets, it still retains it’s quaintness. You can buy anything from the biggest name brands like Kate Spade and Christian Louboutin at any of the great big shopping centres springing up around the city to traditional Chinese clothing  in the markets or at the stores alongside the road. I thoroughly enjoyed this city.

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