Subways in Guangzhou

The fastest, most efficient, and safest form of transportation in Guangzhou requires you to go underground. Yes, the subways can be overcrowded during rush hour... and you have to be careful about "pick pockets". However, they are a much better alternative than dealing with the madness above you (cars, buses, taxis, traffic jams, collisions, pollution, etc). The subways in Guangzhou are an extension of the MTR system in Hong Kong. They are clean, efficient, and temperature controlled... wish Boston had subways like this when I lived there.

The Chinese Restaurant - "Eating Zoo"

For those that have never been to a real Chinese restaurant (in China), the best way to describe it is as an "Eating Zoo". Chinese people like food to be as fresh as possible... and in order to guarantee that the food is fresh, they like to see it alive before it's cooked. Therefore, if you're ever in China and want to see live animals, just go to the nearest non-western restaurant. All of the animals will be on display for your viewing (and eating) pleasure.

These particular photos are from the "aquarium" portion of the restaurant. There were all sorts of marine creatures on display: giant fish, exotic fish, octopus, crabs, shrimp, lobsters, alligators, salmon, snapper, snails, etc..
(bonus video at the bottom showing a giant fish that was cut in half... the beating heart you see is proof that it's fresh and ready to eat!!)

China... Home of the High Speed Rail

China did not invent the high speed rail, but they certainly have come to embrace it the most. The bullet trains that operate in China can reach speeds of up to 300km/hr (which I got the opportunity to experience first hand) and there are plans for over 40,000km of track by 2015 (the most in the world). The plans would probably be even higher, but a fatal crash happened earlier in the year (due to faulty construction and corrupt officials) and the expansion drastically reduced. Regardless of the incident, high speed rail is still the primary method for long distance travel in China. In many instances, it is more efficient and safer than airline travel. Although, your ears actually "pop" a lot more on the train.

All in all, it's a pretty impressive feat (wish we had better trains in the US).

I thought hacky sack ended in the 90s??
Waiting for our "bullet train"
Can someone translate? 
Airplane terminal or train terminal?

The Canton Fair

The Canton Fair is the largest trade fair in China... over 22,000 exhibitors and 180,000 buyers from around the world attend this event over a 3 week period. If something is made in China, there's a high likelihood that you will find it here: Electronics, Household, Electrical Appliances, Hardware, Tools, Machinery, Vehicles, Spare Parts, Building Materials, Lighting, Equipment, Chemical Products, Consumer Goods, Gifts, Home Decorations, Textiles, Garments, Shoes, Office Supplies, Cases, Bags, Recreation Products, Medicines, Medical Devices, Health Products, and Food.

These are a few photos of the convention center and the Westin Hotel (which is designed to look like a "peacock") next to the convention center. Apparently, this particular Westin Hotel is quiet for most of the year... the only exception being the Canton Fair. During that time period, it will actually be the most expensive and crowded hotel in Guangzhou... recommend avoiding that time period. Other than that, it's a very nice hotel.

China... A Work in Progress

In Southern China, everything is covered in a layer of dust (never paint a building white). The main reason for the dust is because the cities are still being built (every time I go back, there is a new giant building). As you travel around the Pearl River region, you will see giant cranes on the horizon, skeletons of buildings, and new roads being built. Guangzhou is constantly expanding outward (as are the cities of Dongguan, Shenzhen, Zhaoqing, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, and Zhongshan). Eventually, all of these cities will merge and China will have the world's largest "mega city" with a population of 42 million people. The numbers are mind blowing. I'm not sure if China's plans will work (they need better roads)... but the infrastructure, high speed rail lines, and public mass transport will hopefully reduce the need for cars.

The Golden Arches

Regardless of where you travel in the world, you can never escape the "golden arches". This photo was taken at the Guangzhou East Railway Station. I did not order any food from here (haven't eaten at a McDonald's in years)... However, I did get a coffee. Unfortunately, the other American export (Starbucks) had not made its way to this location yet. 

Partying With the Locals in Guangzhou

In China, you will not find that many traditional bars or pubs (like you would find in the US or Europe). Yes, there are a few... but they are typically filled with westerners. This is because people in China generally do not drink alcohol casually. Therefore, there's no reason for them to go hang out at a pub. In my experience, drinking alcohol in China is a group activity... and people drink to get drunk or they prefer to not drink at all. There's not much of a middle ground. Also, when you do take a drink, you need to drink with another person (can't just take a sip of your beer by yourself)... and the drink increments are in the "two dollar" (half) or "four dollar" (full) range. This is why I recommend requesting beer at dinner (not much fun "chugging" wine). The only time you get away with a sip, is if you do a "cheers". There's also a protocol for pouring drinks (hold your cup with two hands if the pourer is your elder, don't pour your own glass)... and it's popular to play weird drinking games that the westerner usually loses.
This all might sound a little complicated, but don't worry... the outcome is always the same: You get drunk.

Anyways, in these photos, you see where some of the real locals go to hang out. I saw large groups dancing in the public square (like an outdoor dance club, but free), people lounging by riverside, street performers doing tricks, families having picnics, teenagers causing trouble... it was cool to check out (and I only got stared at a little bit). Do you think this would be more fun than hanging out at a bar?

Lounging Riverside in Guangzhou

Lounging on the riverside in Guangzhou and enjoying a cold Tsingtao "Gold" in the hot/humid climate. There are a few interesting comments I have about these photos.

Tsingtao beer is one of China's greatest exports. They have several different varieties... the most popular/plentiful/cheap is the green label. The green label is a standard pilsner beer and is similar to a Budweiser in flavor. It is brewed all over the country. If you're at a more fancy restaurant (or happen to be up North in Qingdao), you can get the gold label. The gold label is still brewed in Qingdao and uses mineral water from Laoshan Spring. This gives it a more unique flavor. I actually quite enjoy the gold label (if I can find it)... and as you can see from the photos, I was lucky on this particular evening.

Another interesting thing to note in these photos are the Christmas-looking lights in the background. There's a common joke I've heard from several Westerners living in Southern China related to these lights. If you walk around Guangzhou (at any time of the year), you will see what looks like Christmas lights all over the place: buildings, trees, restaurants, bridges, etc... and as you might know, China is good at copying things (technology, hand bags, shoes). The joke goes that a city planner for Guangzhou decided to travel to several western cities (just as his city was starting to explode with growth) to get a better understanding of how they were developed. This planner went to London, Paris, Munich, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco... and came back with many great ideas. However, he went during the month of December... hence the Christmas lights.

The "Party Pier" in Guangzhou

One nice area I've discovered in Guangzhou is called the "Party Pier". From what I gathered, this area used to be an industrial shipping yard (you can see the remnants of this past life as you walk on the boardwalk). It's been transformed into an area with modern architecture, nice restaurants, and trendy/stylish bars. You can come here for dinner, party at one of the small clubs, or just relax on one of the outdoor patios and enjoy the view. I've only eaten at a couple of the places... but my favorite is a spicy sichuan restaurant called Ami's Inn (warning: the peppers in this type of food cause your mouth to go numb). There is also an International Beer Museum that I hope to go to one day... and apparently there is a Mexican restaurant that is supposed to be not awful.

These are a few photos I took after dinner one night.

Guangzhou... the Los Angeles of China

Over the last ten years, I've gone on many trips to Guangzhou. At first, I didn't much care for the city... there's bad air pollution, it's over crowded, I heard stories of people getting robbed, not many people speak English, it can be difficult to navigate (cab drivers like to drive foreigners in circles so the fare is higher), and the "western restaurants" are not so good (had the pleasure of getting food poisoning from one). It can be an intimidating place to be. However, once you accept all of that and make a few local friends, it can actually be rather pleasant. You will appreciate the city even more if you like Chinese Food... which is amazing there.

People back in the US often ask me to describe what the city is like. At first I struggled to give a proper explanation... but I've come to the conclusion that Guangzhou is China's version of Los Angeles (without the hamburgers and movie stars). There is a sprawl of freeways, giant shopping malls, smog, traffic jams, diverse ethnic population, relatively high crime rate, lots of entertainment options, international trading hub, world class galleries, extreme wealth, extreme poverty, many different types of neighborhoods/districts, massive sky scrapers, exhibition places, city parks, etc... Guangzhou is also one of the most liberal and cosmopolitan cities in China. Yes, you will still see people spitting on the ground... but you can also enjoy a nice glass of wine or cocktail at a gourmet restaurant overlooking the Pearl River.

These are a few photos I took when walking around the city one night. If you ever spend some time in Guangzhou, I would encourage you to get out of the hotel room and explore it (it's a lot safer than many large western cities).

The Entrance to Enlightenment

This will be my last photo of the Shaolin Monastery (ironically, it was also the first photo I took while there). Can anyone translate the Chinese symbols on this stone?

Everything you see in this photo is actually outside of the monastery... they've definitely built up the entrance to make it look/feel more like a theme park. There are shops to the left & right, a couple places to eat, and an area to buy tickets and hire a tour guide. Nonetheless, I thought this photo came out pretty well... gives a peaceful atmosphere to the location.

Hope you enjoyed the Shaolin Monastery! 

A Spitting Tiger

In this image, a tiger is spitting into the mouth of a frog (water sporadically came out of the tiger's mouth). I'm not too sure if this is supposed to symbolize something... or where the water was coming from (although, I had a few unsanitary ideas). However, I thought it was best to NOT drink the water... or touch it. 

Enter At Your Own Risk

I saw this stone carving in front of one of the temples with a closed door. I have no idea what the writing means... but I would like to think that behind the closed door are monks having kung fu battles. Perhaps the writing means, "enter at your own risk"?
I really loved the details in this photo... heavy texture on the stone carving, bright red door in the background, a dusty floor in the foreground, two different types of bricks stacked together, a shiny surface reflecting light...

Thanks to a Chinese friend, I found out that the word means "a kiosk where someone stands in the snow"... it comes from a story in Ming Dynasty which tells a monk consult Buddhism to Buddha someday was snow.

A Confused Tree

Temples at the Shaolin Monastery

The temples at the Shaolin Monastery are very beautiful... bright/vibrant colors, intricate carving details, and textures aged to perfection. Each building has its own unique features, but is in unison with its surroundings. These are a few photos I took while walking around.

Enter This Door to Enlightenment

Stone Creatures

At the top of each building at Shaolin Monastery, little stone creatures stand guard. Each creature has unique features and they are positioned at the building's four corners. I couldn't quite understand why they were there or what their significance was... but they appeared to be acting as guards to scare away evil spirits. 

Burning Incense

Burning incense at the Shaolin Monastery. People would make a small donation, grab an incense stick, and then walk into the temple to pray. The group I was in tried to do the same thing... but we were blocked by the monk from entering the temple. I think there was a non-white people policy (or at least they didn't believed we were buddhists).

Selective Focus

Getting a close up of some of the textures that have been created over the last century. In the top photo, a woman peaks through a narrow passage way.