Thursday, October 25, 2007

One Night In Canton

So there I was, accomodated, showered, refreshed, and stuck in a strange town until 4pm the next day.

So, sticking to the tried and true Ben Shaw Method Of Finding Fun in a Strange City I went in search of Canadians. And found them, at the appropriately named Strange Brew. After a satisfactory attempt at a burger, a few fancy German beers (a welcome departure from China's Lager standard, and the horrendously overpriced suds of Hong Kong) and some light chat with an attractive Chinese barmaid, one of the owners showed up, announcing that they were closing early and heading off to a friends newly opened Irish Bar (some things every city needs, no matter where on the earth). I'd ingratiated myself sufficiently by this point to be invited along.

The rest of the evening was of the standard 'ex-pats congregating in a foreign city' binge drinking kind, with various odd Irishmen, loud Americans, shifty elderly British fellows and jovial Canadians (+ one road weary Kiwi).

At some point in the evening though, we collected westerners were given a stark reminder of the superiority of the local stock, with the entrance of a tall, incredibly well muscled Chinese guy. You could hear the beer-bellies being sucked in. He turned out to be extremely fluent in English, and quite proficient in French also (not to mention Mandarin and Cantonese of course). Every man in the room instantly loathed him, particularly because he was one of the most likeable people you could ever meet. He eventually made his apologies and joined the band on stage, cradling a saxophone in his huge arms (which he, of course, played superbly).


Note also that lustrous mane of hair.

A few too many pints of Kilkenny later, I managed to crawl into a taxi, and thence to bed. I woke up the next day, head pounding, and wallet considerably lighter, having spent most of the money that I'd scrimped by living cheaply in Hong Kong.

Such is life.

With 6 hours or so till my train left, I figured I had ample time to sample the touristy treats that Guangzhou had to offer. The first challenge was to find the metro station, which wasn't helped by my hotelier pointing out a place about 3 blocks north of where I was and saying "this hotel is here". With that navigational head-start, I walked out onto the main road, under the shadows of the ever present fly-overs, and tried to work my way out of the leather district (a great place if you like handbags and jackets, not so good if you're a tourist on a budget wanting to be anywhere but the leather district).

My wanderings were considerably hampered by the arrival of the daily rains (the word 'torrential' doesn't really do them justice) and I of course had neither umbrella or coat. The rain came in bursts, meaning that one moment I was sweltering in malarial heat, and the next I was shivering and huddling beneath inadequate shelter in a drab grey housing complex.


Guangzhou holds the dubious distinction of being founded by five goats (magical goat deities I'm sure) and after correcting for my hosts helpful advice, I found my way to a statue commemorating this.


A metro station was nearby, so I set off for the south part of the city, and Shamian Island. The island was originally a sand-bar in the river (the direct translation is 'sandy surface') and was conceeded to the US and British who built a bunch of warehouses on it and generally enlarged it into a sizeable haven of colonial splendour and whatnot. Nowadays its mostly famous for being the place to go to see wealthy American couples pushing Chinese infants down the bund in strollers as they await the outcome of adoption proceedings. The colonialism continues unabated, albeit in a modern form:


I was forced to shelter under the eaves of that very Starbucks for about an hour during another downpour until I realised, to my horror, that it had gone 3pm, and my train left at 4.

From the other side of the city.
And that I needed to stop at my hotel first to pick up my pack.

With the prospect of yet another night in a hotel that I couldn't afford, and an unrefundable train ticket, I set off at pace to the subway station. I bolted out of the train at the nearest stop and made a run for my hotel. I'm sure the sight of an absolutely sweat drenched laowai, sprinting madly down a crowded street in 38 degree heat, stopping only to suck from a water bottle and gasp for breath occasionally will live on in local legend for years to come.

I made it back to the hotel with about 15 minutes till departure, elbowing my way through a group of Indian businessmen attempting to negotiate their check-in in a language that neither they nor the hotelier were particularly proficient at (ie English). I managed to flag a taxi on the street, and bundled in, soaking wet and with blood pressure that was probably audible. He asked what time my train was leaving. I told him. He laughed. I asked if it was doable. He said something to me in Cantonese that I took to mean "There is absolutely no way in the 7 hells that you are going to make that train you big stupid foreigner".

At the front of the train station, 8 minutes till departure, I hit the usual queue for the metal detector (yeah I have no idea either) and was forced to fall back on 10 months of accumulated 'queuing' training to elbow my way to the front and through into the foyer. Swatting elderly women and children out of the way with my pack, I pushed through the crowd looking for a sign that might indicate where my train was leaving from. I eventually found the helpful student, who seemed sure that I'd already missed it. I asked him to humour me and show me the gate anyway, and with a bit more pack-bludgeoning, toe standing, and generally using my obnoxious western bulk to full advantage I found the platform, still blessedly inhabited by a train.

Exhausted, saturated with both sweat and rain, and at the fringes of sanity I made it to my berth, dumped my pack, and collapsed. The train pulled out moments later.

Take that skeptical Guangzhou taxi driver. Never underestimate the power of a highly stressed laowai with a heavy bag to swing.


Anonymous said...

Publish this shit.

-Tony from the MCF

Anonymous said...

You should compile all these wits into a book, and earn some real doe out of the LaoWai's sweat. Sure better than Harry Potter, though getting closer to Indiana Jones. Even Kangaroos (These are Australian Pets, for those not familiar, and may be eaten) will squirm reading this decadent LaoWai's trip on the wrong Silk Road.
Have fun while it last.
Who knows what gives down under?
Third Eye God

Anonymous said...

Your blog is funny. Will it end when you go home? I hope not.

Ben said...

actually I am home, and trying to get motivated to get this up to date. Nothing particularly decadent happening at this stage that's write worthy.