From Xiamen, I took a 26-hour train ride to Guanzhou, the capital city of the Guandong Province and one of the five centers of the Pearl Delta (others being Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, and Zhuhai). This is the ancestral province of the people from Hong Kong and the home of Cantonese. While I do not consider myself Cantonese (far from it), my great-grandmother is from this province.
I shared a sleeper compartment with a family with two girls. How they managed to have two kids in the one-child policy is beyond my understanding. I thought only rich people could afford to pay the penalty associated with having extra children, and here they were sharing the cheap hard-bed compartment with me. I suppose I had a lot of time to ponder this question, given the girls were talking through most of the night and keeping me up. Actually, part of the fun of taking a train in China is overhearing the conversations. The people in the adjacent compartment were talking about the crime rate in Guanzhou, which apparently has the highest rate of armed robbery. A woman was talking about someone who had been robbed right in front of the police station. I started wondering why I was going there.
The next day I arrived at the Guanzhou train station. I promptly went to the nearest subway station where I caught a very nice subway train. Despite the fact that there are only two subway lines, I managed to transfer onto the wrong line (later I did the same mistake; I think I was beginning to get traveler’s senility). Eventually I made it to Shiamen Island, which was given to European colonists so many years ago as their trading outpost. Nowadays, Shiamen Island no longer trades in porcelain, tea, silk, and opium. Instead, the current trade involves human beings. That is, this is the home of the U.S. Embassy, where everyday people form long lines to get visas. Also, this is where American and European couples come to adopt Chinese girls. For whatever reason, they all stay at the White Swan Hotel. In the park, I saw many white couples with their newly adopted Chinese babies. Seems like this is the latest fad. Perhaps someday I will come and adopt some myself.
Weary from all the travels, I plopped myself down at a café and used their internet service to catch up on some travelblogs. After that I took a random bus to another part of the city. Having gotten lost, I started strolling the city. I found a large bookstore, where I bought some English books. Actually it was rather difficult and expensive in China to find good English books to read. I was quite excited to find some second-hand ones that were cheap and actually interesting. I also found some bilingual books about city planning, my first profession.
Eventually I found the shopping area and proceeded to look for clothes. Contrary to what I thought, I didn’t end up finding too many good deals on clothes I liked aside from some socks and a polo shirt. Either I have been in China too long and thus was becoming more price-conscious, or they just have really ugly clothes in China. To be sure, the clothes in department stores were not much cheaper than similar items in the U.S. I was disappointed. I had more fun strolling through the local markets, where creatures of all kinds were for sale. The markets of Guandong Province are rather famous, partly due to the fondness of Cantonese for exotic creatures, which unfortunately also bring their exotic diseases. In fact, many of the world’s flu viruses originate in this part of China. Knowing this, I was less than keen on trying the local foods. Instead, I bought myself a plate of spaghetti at the internet café so that I could use the internet longer. Considering that this was the home of dim sum and the famed Cantonese cuisine, it was a rather sad decision. I really believe I had become quite weary of being in China.
At the hostel, which was perhaps the worst I had ever stayed at in my long traveling career, I met a middle-aged English guy who had spent most of his life on the road, while doing odd jobs. He is one of the breed of foreign tourists who have never gone home from their first trip. He was extremely cheap, though quite knowledgeable about the world. Perhaps he was the only one person who has even heard of the graduate school I was heading to in the Netherlands.
The next day I headed to Shenzhen, which is known worldwide as one of the primary centers of the Chinese economic boom. It is the most entrepreneurial place in China. Unfortunately for me, the weather had turned for the worse, with a hurricane passing through some distance to the south. I was stuck at the train station, until an old lady approached me to sell an umbrella. Her offer price was about $1.50. Despite that, my instinct was to bargain her down. Luckily my brain kicked in for once and reminded me that really I had no bargaining power given the rain and the short time I have in Shenzhen.
Despite the torrential rain, I ventured around the city. As there was not much to see in Shenzhen besides tall buildings and malls, it was not so unfortunate that the weather was so bad. Perhaps the most interesting thing was walking through to the border with Hong Kong. Only a gully separated these places. There was quite a flood of people coming and going, as mainlander could now easily go to Hong Kong, where they can shop and get a taste of the outside world. Unfortunately the signage was not so good, even in Chinese. I wondered how foreigners got around the border, as it was a maze. While I was sad that my trip to China had come to an end, I was happy that I was closer to being in Taiwan. I missed being around friends and family.