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Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Arrived in Guangzhou (pronounced guan-jo) from Hong Kong yesterday on a sleek new train. I had no idea where the baggage area was. Had paid as much for the baggage as I did my ticket! Then, as I emerged from the immigration check area, from out of nowhere came a man with my two checked bags. Then luckily headed down the escalators with a duffel, a backpack, a carry on and my personal bag without turning head over heels.

Hundreds of people with bags, buckets and sacks full of I don’t know what were sitting and squating on the dirty floor…trying to get to their families during Chinese New Year. Remains of food, paper and boxes were strewn everywhere. Apparently they had been here awhile waiting for trains further inland that had been canceled by the snowstorms. I had forgotten how the Chinese throw their garbage on the ground to be swept up by the next little old lady or man with a broom and shovel. Had also forgotten how loud and aggresive the language sounds. I fleetingly wondered how long it took Josh and Amy to get used to China.

No taxis to be seen. Apparently you have to walk down the street from the station to find the taxis but before I could do that I was approached by a man who offered taxi service. This little man took off, practically running, with my bags as if they weighed nothing. He never looked back as he left me scrambling to keep up several yards behind. But his car was no taxi. I suspect I paid handsomely for the cross town trip to the Hotel Elan. But I didn’t care. No way could I carry all those bags all the way down the street. And he knew it. Travel Tip:  Walk out to the street and get a normal taxi with a meter. On the way he pointed out all the places I could buy different goods. I didn’t tell him I wasn’t here to buy anything.

Guangzhou, in this southern part of China called Canton, where most people speak Cantonese-not Mandarin, is a comparatively rich wholesale marketing area. Huge multi-level buildings harbor the latest trade fairs with goods made all over China. Nice hotels abound for buyers from all over the world. Down the street from me is a 6 story building with nothing but underwear! I thought to myself that the market niche for designers could be unending in China but they just copy.  To get to the underwear building you cross the street through a huge underground tunnel with more underwear. Turn a corner and you can continue down the street, underground, for as far as the eye can see…all underwear! And that is just my neighborhood!

My hotel was listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook as a medium-priced one. No more cheap Chinese guesthouses with no heat for me in the winter! This is a brand new one, cheaply made, tucked in between noodle and tea shops on a busy side-street. It is a smallish boutique hotel, art deco style…roomy with all the latest bathroom fixtures…but best of all free WiFi. It has all the amenities…hot water kettle, refrigerator, safe, queen sized bed with 4 down pillows and blinding white sheets and comforter. I am going into some detail because this would be a 4 star hotel in the states. I am paying $40 a night with an elaborate buffet breakfast for no extra charge.

It is raining and yukky outside. Last night the ATM at the Bank of China around the corner was out of cash. Travel Tip: Apparently you have to go early in the day so this morning I scored some yuan. So aside from eating at an open noodle shop next door where I am starkly reminded how the Chinese spit their bones and other detritus out on the table beside their plates and bowls in front of them, or on the floor, I am staying inside to nurse a brutal dripping head cold.

I am discovering how much China has changed in the two years since I was last here. Where before there were maybe 4-6 TV channels there are now 70. One is listed as English language but only part of the time and then it’s full of propaganda. But you can watch dubbed U.S. sports events!

With luck I fly out to Beijing tomorrow night…30 miles to get outside the city to the airport.

To Guangzhou China

Friday, November 22nd, 2002


Friday November 22 2002 Hong Kong to Guangshou
Across the street to noodle shop for breakfast. Sat with woman who worked as a buyer for a British department store & whose English was very good.

When Bob tried to get Hong Kong dollars from an ATM the message he received was that his account was empty eliciting possible cardiac arrest; went to internet again and, panicky, checked his account through the internet. All was well.

Picked up our passports with Chinese visas right on time from the hotel receptionist and checked out…no messing around…the maid was right there at 12:00 sharp asking us to be out. Think these places have been conditioned by unscrupulous backpackers.

Took taxi to train station for new fast two-hour train to one of mainland China�s big cities of commerce, Guanzshou in neighboring Guangdong Province.

Three China Travel Service (CTS) guys met us in the Guanzshou train station; Biggest Professional Hustle we�ve seen yet; with great confidence and aggresiveness they took us to a desk where they explained the train route from Guanzshou to Guilin; they took us to CTS office (state sponsored China Tour Company where they ran in and bought our train tickets… on the way telling
us they had a cheaper hotel on Shamian Dao Island-the tourist section-but we declined. So they took us to a modest Chinese run hotel near the big international hotels. Probably paid a commission for the train ticket but it would have been a big hassle to try to communicate to the railroad ticket seller which ticket we wanted and the ride to the hotel was free so all in all we felt OK about being touted that day.

The ($30 hotel room had three beds, worn carpet, but had TV with no English programming and a telephone; the bathroom was grimy with mold on the floors and walls. All they had to do, Jana and I told each other, was douse the whole room with bleach! A lady at a desk outside the room kept our key and gave us hot drinking water in a thermos for tea (as they do at all Chinese hotels).

Saturday November 23
Buffet Breakfast at upscale Garden Hotel; I looked for American Press and Cultural Club that was listed on a hotel kiosk but couldn’t find it; we laughed-thinking the club was a cover for the CIA!

Took taxi to the Shamian Dao Island-the tourist area with shops and cafes. Bob made friends with Sherry at Sherry’s Place and bought two T-shirts (one saying “No Money” and the other saying “Love” in Chinese) and cap with Chinese lettering saying Macho Man (Hero). What else is there to say? Saw kerchief with marijuana leaves on it…we laughed and told her what it was…she looked it up in her Chinese dictionary and was mortified.

On the street in front of the shop talked to a friendly outgoing older guy with suspenders and pot belly from Indiana and his young Chinese wife he met through a friend living in China; he had written to her for awhile and then made the trip to China and brought her over on a fiance visa…married 7 years with a 4 year old boy. The 65 year old gu said he had the easiest job in the world at Chrysler (probably sales) and had no plans to retire. Wife used to have a shop in the upscale White Swan Hotel on the island where Communist Party heads used to meet.

Orange squash drink and iced coffee at Lucy’s Cafe; Bob made friends with Paula the waitress. Bob and Jana entertained a group of school girls 17-20 who wanted to practice English.

Watched large group of young kids…some with wanna be baggy pants and stocking hats… all waiting to enter an MTV karaoke hall.

Practically every male smokes…difficult to get away from it.