This is one of China’s megacities. With a population of 10-12 (depends on how you count) million people GZ is a big city (half the population of Australia)! I arrived here a week ago via train from Kunming. I have been here once before, four years back, but this time I was determined to take a closer look, check out the teaching situation, and generally find the lie of the land.
GZ is not only big, but old, as in two thousand years or so old. Also a trading and business city. Once the terminus for the silk road stretching between Europe and the far east. A connection still underway. The city is a major part of China’s growing and busy economy.
The city is a working city, there is little real frippery. People are into the work ethic. Not a great deal of real tourism, as compared to lets say, Thailand.
Crowded, it is crowded. Lots of people, towering architecture, and noise, a constant background hum that one soon learns to forget. The subways, there is an extensive subway system covering the city. It is fast, but it is—you guessed it—crowded. Even when it is not crowded there are still lots of people, but when it is crowded there are lots and lots of people, and they are not always friendly. In packed stations and on packed trains people push and shove, terrified of missing their destination. A great improvement would be to make the subway free, remove the turnstiles and other obstacles, and let people move more freely in the stations.
I spent my days at a Starbucks, sampling the fine coffee and getting work done. Then wandering by foot and subway around the city. It is possible to buy a one and three day pass (20 and 50 yuan respectively) so as to ease your underground travels. In the city centre, on the Pearl River are the cultural aspects of the city. Around and about are the busy work areas—glossy commercial buildings and unobtrusive accommodation. The two are merged together. The accommodation is far less pretty. In fact, almost invisible, the darker colours and lack of glitz draw the eye away. A clear indication of which is more important.
Two aspects of Chinese architecture I have noticed, first, limited public space—there is no space for people to gather, e.g. the South Kunming Train Station, it is a-massive edifice with lots of restaurants (paid space), but no seats. People are not encouraged to hang around. Same elsewhere. Is the Chinese ruling class terrified of another Tiananmen Square?
I stayed at a China Youth Hostel. Fun stop, unfortunately, it was undergoing refurbishment during my stay, so I did not see it at its best, however, fun. Most of my fellow residents were Chinese students enjoying a few days of freedom away from university and parents. They were all eager to visit Australia, a land of perceived cleanliness and wide-open-spaces. More generally, Chinese folk prefer to buy their personal care products (everything from vitamins to skin cream) from Australia. I wished the students well. A year exchanged in Australia would be great for them.
My next destination is Hong Kong!