I’m holding five Starbucks mugs on two hands and my credit card is not freakin’ working. Can you try again? I asked politely as I start to lose hope of bringing these souvenirs back home. It doesn’t work. Next! We were at Beijing Road, the shopping district in Guangzhou and it was a Sunday. And apparently, Sundays here mean that the forex shops are closed. And I have zero Yuan on my wallet. And my credit card just wasn’t working. And this, cannot be happening.
|FAME AND BEAUTIEUL!|
|CLAY POT FOR COOKING|
It was my first time in China as I joined Star Cruises’ inaugural trip from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. And as we flew in, my first taste of Guangzhou literally was at the Fame and Beautieul Café Hotel. That’s an e instead of f. It’s even printed on their tissue box, so it is as it says it is. Beautieul.
Even back in the Philippines, I’ve always adored Chinese food; I was quite excited that I’m finally having a taste of the legit stuff here in mainland China. I was quite surprised then that it tasted almost nothing like the ones I’m familiar with. Its flavors are more subtle; too subtle in fact that I was immediately looking for a plate of Chow King lauriat on first bite, lol.
|RURAL SCENE AT NANSHA DISTRICT|
We then sped off to the Nansha District, which was almost two hours away by bus from Guangzhou’s central district, to board the Superstar Virgo for our cruise. The cruise is, of course, extremely glitzy and a foodie’s delight; in fact, my shirts seemed one size tighter as we went back to Guangzhou after two nights on the high seas.
|GOOSE, NOT REALLY MY FAVORITE|
|OFF WITH HIS HEAD!|
And once again, the first order of business was food. We dropped by E. Gong Cun Goose Village, which our guide assured us serves the best local cuisine in town. And you guess it, they serve goose. And I’m not really that inclined to goose nor any animals with heads still attached even after cooking.
|NOW, THIS IS MORE LIKE IT|
The place is quite nice though, with dining tables set across ponds and what-nots, plus they do serve a mean dish of thick stir-fried noodles, delectable abalones and garlicky lobsters. Okay I’ll revise my statement, I’m not really that inclined to any animals with heads still attached after cooking except seafood.
|TYPICAL APARTMENT AROUND GUANGZHOU|
With still an hour of bus time, our guide rattled off stories and facts about Guangzhou that I found quite fascinating. I was totally unaware that Guangzhou is actually the Canton that I was more familiar with. It is the largest city in South China and its metropolitan agglomerations is considered to be one of the largest concentrations of people on Earth. Wow.
I was just wondering where all those people were. The streets and roads seemed bare of pedestrians.
|THE FAMOUS CANTON TOWER|
Soon, we were all alighting from our bus and walking along a tidy little park called Huacheng Square to have a look-see of the iconic Canton Tower. With its twisting form soaring 600 meters into the hazy sky, it is indeed a building worthy of at least a single selfie; of course you’d want an Instagram of what once was the tallest tower in the world.
|SKYSCRAPERS AROUND HUACHENG SQUARE|
But turn your back on it and you’d see a more spectacular show of Guangzhou’s modernity. Rows and rows of sleek vertical forms take to the heavens. It felt very sci-fi-ish except after park photographers started selling us instantly-printed copies of our group photos. They were quite fast, and not to mention, very sneaky in taking our photos too, haha.
|SHORT HIKE TO THE FIVE RAMS STATUE|
|CHINESE BELL SOUVENIRS AT YUEXIU PARK|
With limited time, we quickly hopped back to the bus and drove to the Yuexiu Park where the Five Rams Statue is located. We were told we’d have to hike through some stairs to get to the mountain, and that sent groans all around the bus. Fortunately, that mountain turned up to be just a small hill and those stairs took less than five minute to climb. Let’s go then!
|THE FIVE RAMS STATUE|
And tadah! The rams.
I wasn’t as impressed as much as I was expecting to be. The rams, which represents the creatures ridden by the city’s mythical founders, although beautifully sculpted, seemed to be made from interconnected concrete material or something similarly less-than impressive. It’s a bit of a shame, really, since it has now become the icon of the city. In fact it is the image printed on the Starbucks mug that I was rarin’ to buy—like, right now.
|TREE-LINE BEIJING ROAD|
And yes, shopping time came just right after.
We were dropped at the Beijing Road walking street, a major shopping area in Guangzhou and were given two hours to go crazy with our yuans and credit cards. Sadly, most of us didn’t anticipate that the money changing shops would be closed and we would be left to spend our afternoon using credit cards. I was warned too late that China is quite picky when it comes to credit cards.
So yes, no Starbucks mug for me. Not even ref magnets nor cheeky t-shirts. With zero buying power, I did the next best thing, which was to simply walk around and actually see the place.
|THE OLD BEIJING ROAD PAVEMENT|
Dubbed as Beijing Lu by locals, this network of roads covered overhead by a canopy of huge banyan trees date back some 2,000 years before our time. One can actually see the bricked surfaces of the old streets on glass-covered pits a few feet below the actual road.
This place was and would still probably be the shopping center capital of Guangzhou from the Ming Dynasty up to the age when the Chinese would be selling cheap warp drive knock-offs on store fronts.
|FOOD HAWKERS ALONG BEIJING LU|
The area has a total of 150 shops, not including the small ones that can be found on side streets, mostly selling cheap electronics and clothing. It is also a food haven and I for one was having a hard time resisting the urge to sit down and try the dimsums being hawked along the sidewalks; these ubiquitous Chinese snacks came from Guangzhou after all.
But yes, as I had to remind myself over and over and over again. I do not have any money.
|OLD AND NEW STRUCTURES AT BEIJING LU|
|A TRADITIONAL TEMPLE ALONG BEIJING ROAD|
|HUGE GOLDEN BUDDHAS AT ONE OF THE TEMPLES ALONG BEIJING LU|
But underneath all that steel and glass and the metropolitan bustle of Beijing Lu, with its posh shops, multi-storeyed malls and busy food stalls, it wasn’t hard to find that distinct character I always associate with China. I just turned off the main avenues and was quickly rewarded by that familiar smell of incense. Following it, I found a gate leading to a temple housing three huge golden Buddhas, and then some more.
Well, it’s not a bad way of spending two hours of shopping time without a single yuan if you ask me, my lack of Starbucks mug to bring home, notwithstanding.
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