Chinalog VI: Guangzhou with a Bullet

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I can’t believe I was still asleep when the alarm went off this morning.  Even though I had slept a good eight or nine hours I could have stayed down for quite a bit longer.  I guess I’m back into my so-tired-I-can-fall-asleep-in-thirty-seconds zone.

We didn’t have much of a day planned.  We woke up, packed up and walked to the train station.  I got turned around and thought it was one way, m’lady thought it was another.  

She was right.  

Had I insisted on leading the pack we would have gone in the exact wrong direction, but (if I can try to save a little bit of face here) I didn’t.  Rather, I dutifully deferred to m’lady and followed her straight to the train station and did not in fact get us lost one bit.  So really, I went the right way on the first try.

Arriving at the station somewhat surprised and with a feeling of satisfaction (respectively), I and m’lady bypassed the busy and confusing (to me at least) ticket booths and searched for our platform.  We had already purchased our tickets a few days before so we simply cruised through security and waited for the train to arrive, which it did, exactly precisely immediately on time.

The train jettisoning us away from Hong Kong towards the mainland was nice, comfortable and modern.  And roomy too; there wasn’t that many people on board so m’lady and I were able to change to window seats.  What we saw was city, city, city, with a few very brief patches of greenery in between.  We had each brought a frosty beer with us for the ride which we enjoyed with Pringles, purchased from a passing conductor.  Less than two hours later we were in faraway Guangzhou.

We transferred over to the subway and got off at the stop closest to our hotel.  Spoiler alert: it turned out to be much closer than we thought.

Emerging from the subway tunnel, the first difference we noticed between Hong Kong and mainland China was a whole lot less English signage and a whole lot less English speakage.  The second thing that we noticed was a lot less taxicabs, like almost none.  We circled the large train station looking in vain for a taxi stand, our eyes darting constantly to the busy street hoping for drive-by’s.  M’lady was reluctant to try walking to our hotel – we hadn’t the least clue what direction it was in and we would have to lug our luggage with us and whattya know, eventually she waved down a taxi.  It took a while but the payoff was the super-cheap fare the cabbie quoted to take us to our hotel.  We discovered that the fare was fair; our hotel was basically across the street from the station.  By footbridge at least; by car it was actually a bit of a drive.

Our hotel was super-nice.  We checked in and went up to our room but our key wouldn’t work.  Down to the lobby I went.  The lady told me not to touch the door when I enter the room.  I tried to explain that I couldn’t enter the room at all.  There was certainly a language barrier going on, one that was acutely exacerbated by my evaporating patience.  Eventually she had a maid come up to help.  It turns out you have to hover the key about an inch from the door-sensor to make it unlock; if you actually allow the key to touch the lock it won’t open.  Ahhh, I see.  In retrospect I could see the sense in what the lady in the lobby had been miming to me but in the same retrospect I assure you that I had little to no chance of truly getting her drift without an actual demonstration.

I dropped our suitcases and quickly marvelled at our super-nice room and its grand stone balcony before bee-lining it to the liquor store I had noticed nearby.  Perusing the shop’s wares I spotted and purchased a bottle of Jack Daniels for about $30, much cheaper than the duty-free bottle we saw at the Hong Kong station (yes, they had a large duty-free store at the train station leaving Hong Kong).  We had a drink or two on the pleasant balcony before heading out for a walk around the neighbourhood.

Though you wouldn’t really know it if you didn’t know it, our hotel and the surrounding area is on an island; it’s surrounded on three sides by a fairly narrow canal and on the fourth side by a bay.  This was the colonial area back in the day and all the buildings are nice and ornate and official looking.  We did a brief perusal of the main drag and took in the sights, including a restaurant with a huge display out front containing tank after tank of the craziest critters you would ever want to eat.  They had giant crabs that looked exactly like aliens, large and small (though mostly large) fish of every stripe, and there was even a bucket of worms, all of it priced by the pound and ready to be delivered to your table via chef Chopsalot.

This is a major and very visible difference between China and North America.  Back home we tend to try and separate our dinner from any thoughts of the animal that made it as much as possible, whereas in China the front of each shop proudly displays all of the creatures on offer, living or dead.  Bleah.

We stopped into a restaurant called Lucy’s and had Western food for dinner; I ordered the beef stroganoff.  I managed to push the image of dead, raw stroganoff completely out of my mind and it was the best meal I’d had since we left Canada.

(Though as one who has eaten stroganoff where it was invented – at the Stroganoff Castle in St. Petersburg – I really should know better than to ever, ever order it again.  Though my meal was super-tasty nothing lives up to The Real Thing.)

After dinner we decided to play it safe and take the subway to the south train station (not the same station we had arrived at) to pre-purchase our ongoing tickets to Yangshuo, which turned out being fairly easy and also probably not necessary.  The effort was still worthwhile if only because it’s better safe than sorry, especially when one is travelling to pre-booked hotels – as we were – and missing a train could throw things rather askew.

As we were waiting in line to purchase the tickets m’lady pulled out her Mandarin phrase book.  “Maybe I’ll brush up on some phrases in case she doesn’t speak English” she said.  She was repeating a phrase over and over and I asked what it meant.  

“It means ‘Do you speak English?’” she told me.

“That doesn’t really seem necessary, does it?” I asked.  When she asked what I meant I explained that if she merely posed the question in English she would likely find out the answer just as easily.  I was more trying to be funny than anything but truth be told, if there was one thing in the whole phrasebook that could go, that would be it.

“You always contradict me,” she said.  How is one to respond?  Correct: I didn’t.

After we bought the tickets we rode the subway back to our ‘hood and walked over the bridge to our little island – no taxi for us this time.  We decided to call it a night and took advantage of the nice, large, comfortable room.  I poured a drink and parked myself on the balcony typing travel logs while m’lady lounged inside with a deep dive into her book.  

Then (he says, predicting the future) I finished typing this entry, shut off my computer and went inside to pour a final (but really, who can say?) nightcap. 

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