I survived! Actually I thrived I think. Despite the sketchy hostel (with stains on the sheets!) and the traditional chinese mattress (imagine sleeping on top of your dining room table). I survived Guanzhou. I actually really enjoyed it. I ended up in Shiaman which is a little island/backpacker area. Despite the ramshackle internet room with the ancient computers and the loft that the semi-naked dude descended from giving me a scare. And I’ve never been anywhere that you could use the internet and then purchase a full-sized sword while you’re paying the bill!
A little about this lovably curious little place, Guanzhou is an area where many Americans and Europeans come to adopt children. There’s a US embassy, lots of businesses catering to these types of growing families and a pretty good chance that you’ll stumble across someone who speaks enough english to point you in the right direction. But I still don’t know what this sign is all about…Mexican siestas? Sad people of Latino descent? Sombrero store?
So after a night of red wine and pringles at the local 7-eleven with about 15 other multi-national knuckleheaded travelers, I can say that I am willing to go (almost) anywhere and try (almost) anything once. Katie and Jess (The Canadian sisters pictured in previous photo) scooped me up the next day and we wandered around. The park was full of locals playing hacky sack, dancing the tango (I swear I’m not making this up) and working out on these strange public exercise machines (think monkey bars and see saws with a health related twist).
We were near the canal so it was nice and breezy which made the walk around town pleasant. We checked out a huge church where there were some wedding photos being taken, the local statuary which was amazing, this one was my favorite, but there were quite a few stunning statues. I also found the greatest boot.leg. CD/DVD store on the planet and a place that sold pretzels and mini quiche to supplement my growing love for Chinese noodles and beef.
We worked up an appetite and stopped for lunch at a little place that didn’t look like it had a large crowd and despite the delicious food, we had to wonder if it was the Celine Dione CD that they were playing that kept business at bay? No matter to us, it was all about bottled water and fresh squeezed juices. We laughed and got to know each other over Indian, Chinese and European dishes that we shared without hesitation. Curries giving way to Cordon Bleu.
Both of them are amazing young women who have taken a 6 month sabbatical to travel Asia as they trace their father’s cultural heritage (they are half Chinese). We parted ways late afternoon so that they could catch their sleeper bus south and I could catch my train north. We hugged, traded e-mails and I made a tentative promise to meet them in Mexico later this year.
Unfortunately I couldn’t get a flight out of Guanzhou under $350 US, so I bought the last train ticket to Beijing leaving on an overnight 22 hour train. I guess this little independent side trip was going to go from bad to worse! I thought the train left at 8pm and fortunately I had to show the ticket to someone to ask which station I needed to go to and she pointed out that the train left at 6pm – crisis number 23 averted! I was also a bit proud of the fact that I had a regular sized back pack and my nikon d50 case, which meant that I was adhering to the backpacker moto (that I can never manage to follow) “never carry more than you manage at a dead run for a half mile and keep your hand free”. Score!
So I stuffed my newly acquired Blackeyed Peas “The Remixes” and the much talked about “Lily Allen” CDs next to the Chinese Hip Hop I had tracked down (not hard) and shoved pretzels and a ginormous bottle of water into my pack. I stuffed my towel into a stuff sack and strapped it to the outside of my pack and bid Guanzhou and its ill timed Trade Show Zai Jian (goodbye in Mandarin). But not before these students pulled me aside to ask me to complete a survey on the detrimental affects of beauty pagents on the self-esteem of Chinese youth. Because you know, that’s my area of expertise.