Not much time to do anything this morning, as we needed to get our gear together and make it to the train station by around 11AM, for our overnight trip to Guangzhou.
We did go walking around the hutongs in search of breakfast. We ended up at a neighborhood buffet counter type of deal where we could point to what we wanted and ordered some stuff, the name of which I know not… except for the sticky buns (baozhi), my favorite.
After that, to the train station. Chinese trains have up to five classes of seating on an overnighter. Hard seats & soft seats which are exactly like they sound, soft seats being more expensive of course. Hard sleepers are open compartments with six bunks and no bedding. Soft sleepers are doored compartments with four bunks and bedding is provided. Deluxe soft sleepers are doored compartments for two people. We went soft sleeper.
As you can imagine, the soft and hard seats sections are pretty bleak on an overnight, cramped to the gills with Chinese families (including babies/kids) planning to sit upright for a 22 hour stretch. During the holiday season these are so full that people will stand in the bathrooms.
Even in the sleeper sections, there are no frills (other than two pillows and a comforter). Every once in a great while someone would speed by with a tray of something (fresh fruit, bottled water, packaged meals). These guys moved like a rocket though, too fast to see what was on the tray and by the time you figured out what was going on they were half-way through the car. The in-cabin entertainment consisted of a TV screen that seemed to randomly play 30 minute clips of … whatever… without ever finishing anything. The Hollywood movie Broken Arrow started playing a few times, they would show 10 minutes worth and then stop to go into some news program or circus footage… eventually... the same clip of Broken Arrow would start playing again.
The dining car was spartan and definitely not designed for any socializing, except among the train staff which always seemed to have a very heavy concentration here. The food was reasonably good though.
A good deal of the time was spent reading, watching the unusual scenery provided by the farmland and rural villages we passed, glaring at the silent tv monitor, talking amongst ourselves, or having broken & awkward attempts at conversation with one of our Chinese compartment mates who found us quite fascinating.
The train trip brings to mind another good travel advisory if you come to China, that I don’t remember bringing up before. This falls somewhere after bringing plenty of Imodium… always bring your own TP, as well as some kind of ‘wet wipe’. Outside of what you’ll find in your hotel room, you will not find any TP at any of the ‘pop & squats‘ in China, so don’t get yourself stranded… bring your own. Also, your typical restaurant napkin does not exist over here. If you ask, you’ll get some kind of flimsy Kleenex. Do yourself a solid and just bring some individually wrapped wipes with you everywhere… they’ll come in handy throughout the average day. No TP on the overnight trains :o .
Most of day on the train. Made it to Guangzhou and it's hot and humid beyonf belief. With regard to the weather, at least today, I’d put it right behind New Orleans as the worst I’ve experienced. However, New Orleans can be nice on occasion and air conditioning is not all that hard to find there (unlike Guangzhou). I was told this was a great week in Guangzhou. Oy!
We decided pretty quick that we’d depart here a day earlier than scheduled to spend time in more hospitable locations… no offense to Gaungzhou. It is not a treasure trove of high profile historical sites though and since doing any physical stuff would be a very low priority in this heat, a couple days getting to see the city life around the waterfront (Liwan district) would have to do.
After checking in we went walking randomly in the Liwan district of Guangzhou, west side of town & south of the Pearl River, for 3-4 hours. It’s amazing the things you will find in China by not planning anything and just making sure to have a good set of walking shoes. Some of it fun, some of it just unusual, and some of it really offensive to the western psyche.
There is very little of street level urban china that is not occupied by an enterprise of some sort and in places like this that translates to some kind of small store every 15 feet, even in residential areas. I guess that’s what you get when you have a significant population of people who meet the majority of their household needs with whatever they can find within walking distance.
In the smallest of alleyways, between old tenement buildings, we found all sorts of repair shops, convenience stores, grocery stores (usually focused on a specific type of food), bakeries, tailors, clothiers, etc. Even a pet store, but one you would have been very sad to see as the animals were not kept very comfortably. As we entered into some areas of more modern, and taller, apartment buildings we found net cafes (saw a guy playing his level 72 WOW character here), salons, and alleyway pool halls.
All this eventually fed into an organized outdoor market where the ‘fresh’ food was available. Like Fulin in 2007, but marginally cleaner, there were long aisles of outdoor butchers with their product hanging in the heat and produce venders. Around the margins were the duck and chicken butchers. Their live product was lined up on the sidewalk (ducks) or stuffed into cages (chickens). In one case, 5 or so chickens would have their feet rubber-banded together and then be deposited in a pile with other groups of chicken. Once ordered, the proprietor would take the chicken or duck back into the barely ventilated and unlighted stall to do the dirty work (per specifications of the customer I assume).
In the evening, we met up with LinJuan (who worked at the Morning Sun Hostel in Yangshuo during the 2007 trip) and her friend Kelli for some hotpot right down the street from the hostel).
We stayed at the Riverside YHA which is on the Beitan bar Street in the Liwan district and faces the Pearl River, directly across from Shamian island. It’s a good hostel, provides daily cleaning of rooms and fresh towels, and is in an ideal location. On the downside, you have to do your own laundry and the wireless access is not available from the rooms. Also, the service while not bad is a little standoffish and there is little obviously available in the way of tourist assistance, except for bike rentals.
Next... more HOT stuff from GZ.