Huaihua.

I only came here to fly to Guangzhou. I had about nine hours before my flight and decided to wander around the city. Before coming here I hadn’t even contemplated the relatively poor condition of the city. There is absolutely nothing to do here. Nothing at all.

During an hour’s walk this monument was the only point of interest I came across.

Square at the exit of the bus terminal.
Square at the exit of the bus terminal.

The market is the liveliest place here, full of people, cheap clothes, toys and food. Women sew on-site in the markets, if someone needs their pants shortened – no problem. Elsewhere, people look like they just sit on the streets and do nothing.

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In the city and rural areas alike, people are poor, which is the number one problem here. White people are rarely seen and so the locals don’t just glance at them, they stare, their eyes drill through to your soul, their gaze following you as you walk past. Sometimes they even follow you, out of curiosity about where you are heading. Because of this tourists don’t really stay here.

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After leaving a local eatery, I was followed by a woman for a couple of blocks, she was then replaced by a guy, and he followed me for much longer. I decided to leave the place as soon as possible. In fact, I bolted when I realised that I had been followed from block to block for an hour.People mainly come here by bus or train. The airport is tiny and although it was only opened 10 years ago, looks more like it opened 60 years ago. The airport has one toilet and no power sockets. As a result of the “following” incident, I ended up leaving the city 6 hours before my flight and waiting for my tiny propeller plane in the airport.

Guangzhou.

Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, after Beijing and Shanghai. Since its founding it has acted as a springboard city for trade, cultural exchange and many revolutions and reforms.

A visit to the city is a must if you want to understand what has shaped modern China. The town is well developed and when the city name is mentioned, Chinese culture often comes to mind. Being isolated from the more “typical” Chinese influence, has seen a greater contribution from the outside world to its unique lifestyle of liberal ideas, a distinctive cuisine and great wealth.

Most travellers come here to shop and to eat, because of which the city is filled with countless markets, specialising in “Made in China” products. Retail and wholesale of tea, clothing, electronics and toys has become possible at cheap prices. It’s no wonder that the city is visited annually by a huge number of young businesspeople. They come to the trade fair here and purchase stuff in bulk to sell back at home. One newcomer told me how he is conducting a worldwide trading business and would be taking home a huge container of GoPro accessories.

The China Fair is held twice a year and is the largest exhibition in China, showcasing a large range of products and garnering the largest attendance. Local “Made in China” manufacturers provide a price list, with prices dependent on the quality of the product. It reminded me of the post-Soviet era, when a rush of Chinese fakes appeared on the market creating a wave of complaints that the watch that had been purchased only worked for a year. It became clear that the quality of the product was dictated by the money offered, later stimulating the growth of fakes, low wages and a competitive workforce in China.

Local restaurant.
Local restaurant.

Similarly to Shanghai, Guangzhou boasts of its mix of old and new. In addition to having one of the oldest temples in China, it’s also home to a line up of envy enducing futuristic buildings running along the river.

Skyscrapers of Guangzhou.
Skyscrapers of Guangzhou.

For the lovers of architecture Guangzhou is an inspirational place. On the banks of the Pearl River, the Opera House creates a striking silhouette amidst the former docks of this buzzing Chinese City.

Guangzhou opera house was designed by Zaha Hadid Architects.
Guangzhou opera house was designed by Zaha Hadid.

Because of its gigantic population, China is brimming with high-rise blocks. Unlike the flat, tasteless and boring cube-like Korean and Russian housing blocks, the Chinese versions are approached with taste in mind. Here the housing design features more varied forms, it is arty, incorporating convex or rounded sills and roof canopies.

The other side of Guangzhou very much reminded me of my home town.

Residential house on the Guangzhou university campus site.

When I briefly visited Nanning, I noticed that the Chinese often walk with umbrellas on sunny days, and in Guangzhou I finally figured out what was going on. They would also attach the umbrella to their bike to block the sun when cycling.

The Chinese have a saying “one white covers up three ugliness” meaning, a white complexion is powerful enough to hide all other flaws.

Students with umbrellas in Guangzhou university campus.
Students with umbrellas in Guangzhou university campus.

The Chinese do not like to tan, this is not because of ultra-violet rays or even personal preference. In fact, for the Chinese tanning is a sign of poverty and so someone’s skin is tone representative of their socio-economic status. For example, farmers that work under the sun may have brown skin, hence they are poor. The principle is this; “Poor? Walk.”

Similarly, in India, being suntanned or excessively thin makes a person a less attractive marriage prospect. In western countries a tan is more often equated with having enough disposable income to enable you to take a holiday in the sun.The black community also seems to find certain caucasian characteristics more appealing. For example the preference amongst black women for using hair straightening techniques. Comedian Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” focussed on this very issue. Today, we are less likely to see black women with their hair left “natural”.

As well as avoiding a sun tan, Chinese women also like to create the illusion of having bigger eyes by wearing contact lenses that make their eyes appear larger.
As well as avoiding a sun tan, Chinese women also like to create the illusion of having bigger eyes by wearing contact lenses that make their eyes appear larger.

The city never stops and there are almost no traffic jams. This is because of the massive express highways that run through the city. These highways, built on top of each other, are like something out of a science fiction film.

Compared to Hong Kong, Guangzhou isn’t densely populated, however some areas under bridges have been repurposed as local shops or playgrounds.

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Ping pong players in a gym under the bridge.
Guangzhou park.
Guangzhou park.
Guangzhou opera house staircase.
Guangzhou opera house staircase.
School children with card labels in their lesson outside.
Evening on the bridge.
Evening on the bridge.
   More Guangzhou photography

Zhuhai.

Zhuhai only became a city 20 years ago and is generally considered to be an exit point from Mainland China. Essentially, the Chinese only come here to get to Macau, which is exactly what I did, since I found the city to be a place of absolute emptiness and boredom.

Main square opposite the train station.
Main square opposite the train station.