We have seen versions of this sky every single day since we arrived except one: the first day. Guangzhou is a port city, nestled into the head of the Pearl River delta. In this way, it is not so different from Philadelphia, the city in which I grew up. It is also a southern city, more like Tampa in its seasons (9 months of summer).
The rain is not ever present, but always at the door, and could come in at any hour, and stay, like an uncle, for 10 minutes or 10 hours. I look forward to some sun.
Legend has it that 2000 years ago, Guangzhou was a city of hard working people, who suffered only because they could not grow enough food. Five immortals came to the city in the form of rams, and each ram held sheaves of rice in its mouth. They gave the people the rice, and afterward, the people prospered, finally relieved of the burden of not enough food.
The sculpture of the five rams is the centerpiece of Yue Xiu park, which is also the symbolic center of Guangzhou.
so, the “World of Fables and Idioms” this must be. In the midst of perpetual construction, a French superstore
that is built for four floors beneath the city street, and “Wall Street English” school, there is also the deep sense of something so impossibly un-modern that it holds 200 acres of the city sacrosanct.
We stopped in the park to take photographs,
and we were stopped by a family who wanted to take a photograph with us!
Our American cities are pantheons to the International style in architecture: great glass boxes stretching skywards; verticality accentuated by thin ribs like pinstripes. It is the style that emerged in the 30s and ate skylines in the 40s and 50s (and beyond).
Here, a student of architecture of the past 50 years would gaze into a textbook. Cement facades overtake glass and steel adding textures and colors to the cityscape.
The skyline is riddled with cranes, sweeping high, and reconstructing the city in the image of the present, which is also the image of the hoped-for future.
The China Hotel’s walls are incised with illustrations, and those drawings are repeated on the 18 story towers flanking the central structure of the building. The pictures tell the story, taken from fairy tale and history, of princes and princesses and caravans. It is the story of trade, which is the master plot of Guangzhou.
It’s Sunday in Guangzhou, which means construction. Always construction. There is a jackhammer attached to an excavator (think steam shovel) making dust out of out foundations in the lot beside our hotel.
Our adoption coordinator explained that even though Guangzhou is 2000+ years old, little in the city is more than 100 years old, and most post dates 1949. Here, the new is valued over all. There are museums for the past.
In 24 hours we will meet Shi Hui, whose name could be pronounced one of three or four ways. We have been saying “Shee Wee,” but it could be “Shuh Way,” or “Way Way,” or who knows? All we can do is learn.
And did you learn, while you were growing up, that everyone in China rode a bike? They don’t. Some streets have “No Bicycle” signs, and it is clear that on the streets of Guangzhou, bicyclists are either daring or endangered.
Shopping for glasses? The prices here are well below those in the states. The advertising in the shop has nary a Chinese face; our coordinator explains that this shows the freshness of what the shop sells.
Guangzhou is not a tourist city. This place is a business center. Rows of wholesale shops: leather, hair care, glasses. The streets are relatively narrow and densely packed with trees. Even though it is raining today, we barely need umbrellas as we walk from shop to shop.
Katherine is constantly stopped and spoken to in Chinese. I explain, “only English,” to various helpful, curious shop workers. Nonetheless, she is freaked out by the attention. Here she looks like everyone else, and is singled out with her strange Anglo parents.
Breakfast is amazing, because there are 300 people from all over eating at the same time. Yes, about half come from China, but since there is a huge international trade show in Canton (Guangzhou) right now, there are heads of all different sizes and shapes, and skins of several hues, and all the languages that toppled Babel.
And while the food is laid out like an American buffet, there are a dozen different noodle dishes, freshly baked croissants, pineapple preserved with lemon and chili, Brie, dragon fruit, and four different kinds of sausage that all look exactly alike.
Organizing everything is a staff of at least forty to cart away plates, rearrange the pyramids of Fuji apples, and assist the Iranian businessman who wants his coffee blended with a teaspoon of cinnamon.