Guangzhou had always had a place in my memory as a sleepy, stretched out metropolis; a place of reunion, and also loss. This wasn’t an altogether positive image, but nor was it particularly accurate: I was the one doing most of the sleeping last time, and I was determined not to let the same thing happen again, despite the jet-lag.
Reaching our hostel was a blur of metro stops. I vaguely remembered the way but had forgotten how dense the foliage was along the narrower streets. Trees and hanging ivy gave the feel of having a ceiling, and yet the effect was much less claustrophobic than the gloomy overpasses of cities like Ürümqi. Lazy Gaga itself was just as I remembered: laid back, and tucked away from the street – easily missable unless you’re on the ball.
After diving straight in with a lunch of Lanzhou pulled noodles (Xinjiang-style), the rest of the afternoon was given to relatively boring admin. I got myself a Chinese SIM for that sweet sweet roaming data, and although I was almost definitely (100%) overcharged, unlimited 4G will be a blessing out in the back of beyond (and apparently it’s not a contract, so there’s no end date…). Despite our exhaustion we also collected the first bunch of train tickets, and returned home (via a supermarket) where I promptly flopped before even 6pm.
Apart from Evie choosing to boil a kettle at 2am, we all slept through until relatively late next morning and brunched on Dim Sum from a nearby restaurant. A variety of dumplings, buns and noodle soups later (also jelly cakes, but my advice is to avoid), we splashed our way to the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees, me in my hastily-acquired flip-flops. Canvas shoes are not great when the roads are basically 2-inch canals. Rain aside, the temple was a tranquil collection of pagodas and towers, intricately carved and intensely calming to wander around. Some temple ladies lent Kirsten an umbrella, but insisted that she keep it as we left!
Next was Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Memorial Hall, an impressive octagonal opera hall built nearly a century ago on what was then the edge of Guangzhou (now fairly central). Evie had to run after her umbrella and Kirsten was papped by some very friendly ladies on the stairs, but by this point the streets were turning into churning rapids (shoes would not have coped) so we decided to move on to the Chen Clan Academy – somewhat too late, since said churning rapids had already reached it, leading to an early closure. I don’t blame them; we could only just see the “Caution: Wet Floor” sign above the water line.
Tea was Hainanese Chicken Rice on the way home (bit of a mixed bag – lemon rice was excellent, slightly bloody chicken not so much), after which we called it a day, apart from a brief wander around the block.
The next day’s breakfast was also Dim Sum, followed by a much more successful visit to the Chen Clan Academy: a compound of exhibitions, corridors, and courtyards around which we loafed for several hours. The rain had all but vanished overnight, leaving little trace of the previous day’s deluge, but in the Academy grounds it was easy to keep cool in the shade.
We had a late lunch of beef noodle soup followed by a brief stop at Canton Tower. The plan was to walk across the Pearl River to a good vantage point, but by this point I’d been carrying my bag a while and we were all sweaty and tired. The metro was much quicker and easier, despite a slight scare in which we almost lost Kirsten to the (weirdly silent) sliding platform doors. Some speedy shoving between Evie and a bemused bystander got her safely onto the train, bag and all.
Guangzhou Railway Station is probably my least favourite part of the city (that I’ve visited), so it’s a shame it was my last impression of the place. Crowded and poorly lit, I didn’t enjoy the sensation of being leered at by not-entirely-friendly Chinese men. Standing with the bags (since we’d arrived too late for a seat) made me feel like I was in some sort of bizarre spotlight.
Eventually we were given the signal to board, and just as with the starting gun of a race, we were off, piling down the corridors and up the steps to the platform. I slipped up on the residue from an abandoned bottle (bloody flip-flops) but we made it in one piece. I was tired, slightly stressed and unbelievably ready for that bed. Next stop, Zhangjiajie.