We left Hong Kong on Thursday night. We had been under the influence of a fairly strong monsoon system all week that had appeared to move off by the time we left, and hoped that it had moved away from China altogether. It hadn't. The rain started about half way through the train trip, and by the time we got to Guangzhou East Station, torrential would have been a good way to describe it. We toyed with the idea of getting a taxi, considering the weather, but after seeing the line, hopped on the metro. The metro actually runs to Foshan now, a concept that was a wishful dream during my time there, but as I was unsure if I would still know my way round, we caught a taxi part of the way anyway. Of course, that involved finding a taxi in the rain, but oh well. By the time we got to our hotel, at 11:50 pm, we were soaked through.
We got the pleasant surprise of a free upgrade on checking in, and after some room service (thank goodness for 24 hour room service), we went to bed. We stayed at Swissotel Foshan, a fairly new and very nice hotel. When I was in China in 2005, the building was an empty and very creepy skeleton and had never been finished. Quite a shock to find it a glossy luxury hotel.
In the morning, we headed off to start exploring. My friend, and former colleague Candy called me to say that we were invited to lunch by one of the leaders at Shimen, so off we went to Shishan. In the daylight I surprised myself by not only still knowing my way around Foshan, but also remembering which bus I needed, and where to get it. The bus ride from Foshan to Shishan was one thing that hadn't changed a bit. The road was the same, the buildings were the same, the stray chickens could well have been the same, and the Luocun canal still looks like a place where walking on water wouldn't have been such a miracle.
On arriving in Shishan, the first things we saw upon getting off the bus was this. A multinational branded hotel. In Shishan. This, more than anything else, tells me what sort of place Shishan is supposed to become in the next ten years. The previous Shishan Hotel was torn down during my time there, and was a dodgy looking place with rumours of prostitutes using it to ply their services. This slick Aloft hotel couldn't be further from that.
The park which I walked through nearly every day to leave the school has been renamed, from Shishan Town Park, to Nanhai Central Park. Shishan is due to become Nanhai's new centre, and I suppose that a lot of things have to be changed to reflect that.
On our wander towards the school, I was pleased to notice that the duck farms in the park are still there. I became rather attached to these ducks, and was always quite upset when they got loaded up and taken off to become dinner. The problem was, of course, that they would be replaced with cute little yellow ducklings and I'd get attached all over again. I love duck, but I never ate it in Shishan.
Monument in Guangzhou. He was fenced off due to road works, so I couldn't get up close to see who he was, but my best guess is the communist hero, Lei Feng.
Seller: missy, watchy watchy
Me: No, I don't want it
Seller: Bag? Bag?
Seller: You want a watchy? Bag?
Me: For goodness sake, no I don't want it, leave me alone.
Seller: You don't want it?
Me: I really don't want it.
Seller: Really don't want it? OK
Aside from the watch sellers, and the big brands on the street fronts, Beijing road has a lot of little side markets. You can find some really good things there, but the sellers were particularly pushy, and the markets were particularly crowded, so we ended up not buying much. I found a couple of scarves I liked, and when I asked the seller how much, she said "120 yuan". I told her no, and that I'd bought scarves for 25 earlier that day (I wasn't lying), and walked away. As I walked away she said "OK, fine 25 yuan then" and then asked me if I was Russian. I have to wonder how many people are stupid enough to pay more than 60 for one of those scarves...
After we finished with the jewellery market, we attempted to leave the jewellery market. This is where I made a discovery, that the jewellery market is joined to another mall, that is exactly the same as the jewellery side, but sells normal malls things. Somehow, we got so turned about that we ended in completely the wrong place. I knew where I was, but not how it connected to where we needed to be. Summoning up the best of my Chinese skills, I asked two young women where the subway station was. They pointed in a direction and said "that way, but we're going there too, so follow us." And off we went. As we went, one of the girls turned and said to me "It's quite far", to which I replied "That's OK". She wasn't wrong, as it turned out. We wandered along some very interesting streets for a while where you could buy just about every sort of art and craft supply you might ever want (I must find this place again). Eventually the girls stopped and asked a little old lady where to go. They were lost too. The lady pointed back the way we had come. The girls said no, that can't be right and asked an old man. He too pointed back the way they'd come. So off we went again, with the girls apologising profusely. I pointed out to them that I hadn't known either. The girls wove through the streets at an impressive pace, but always checked to make sure they hadn't lost us, and eventually we got to the subway station some 40 minutes later. Many thanks and laughter all round.
And so, after a leisurely afternoon in Natural Disaster square, we headed back to Foshan to catch the train home. It was such a short visit, but only confirmed that I want to spend more time in China, in that area, and around the rest of the country too.