Monday 18 March 2019
We arrived in Guangzhou yesterday afternoon after a fairly social week in Singapore, attending the Mars awards gala on Thursday night.
We then had dinner on Friday evening with Sylvia’s colleague Radi and his wife Caroline, and on Saturday evening we headed over to Sentosa Island for dinner with our friend Clare and her son Alex.
Looking out the window from our room on the 20th floor I can barely make out the Guangzhou tower through the thick polluted air. Checking the net I find it’s sitting at just under 200 (unhealthy) on the dirty air scale. Good is under 50. Looking down on the street below people are walking around normally so having procrastinated enough I headed out.
Heading west on Tianhe Rd, then south on Guangzhou Ave Middle I crossed a bridge onto Ersha Island and then another over the Pearl River to the much larger Haizhu Island.
The Pearl River is China’s third longest river at 2,400 kms and the second largest in volume, reaching across southern China and even into Vietnam.
I have to apologise here as this thick smog is not the best for pictures.
On the island I turned right, heading west along a wide path along the waters edge. The path is well kept with many cleaners with long straw brooms ensuring it stays that way.
Fish and turtles, caught fresh by various means from the river, were on sale on the path.￼
Along the path were pagodas and parks, all well kept. As I rounded the west end of the island several groups of blokes sat in a pagoda drinking beer and playing cards. I stopped briefly and had a sign language laugh with them.
As I headed around to the south side of the island the nice path disappeared and I was pushed away from the water through newly built apartment blocks.
Eventually I ended up on a main road that ran up the centre of the island. Interestingly where we are staying and in the area around the Mandarin Oriental Hotel there are lots of signs in English, here there are very few. Not surprisingly I only spotted one European on the island. It’s a really busy place with lots going on. People even pull carts up the busy streets amongst the cars, buses and trucks. There are lots of small stalls and shops.
There are old and new apartment building all mixed up. I headed down a side street at one stage where some of the buildings looked quite rough but the streets were always clean and the people took no notice, not even giving me a casual glance as though I didn’t exist.
Eventually I headed north on Jianghai Ave, like many of the major roads here built up in the air. Underneath there were piles of broken yellow bikes – a big problem for every city in China.
Crossing the Pearl River again, on a footpath attached to the suspension bridge, the road took me back to the hotel. I headed to the lounge on the 24th floor and enjoyed a few glasses of water and a couple of sandwiches.
Tuesday 19 March 2019
I had a bit of work to do so spent the day around the hotel. A massage at the spa was the highlight of the day and wow was it good.
I had been trying to figure out just why the service in this hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, is some of the best I have ever experienced. Interestingly I had been having a chat recently with my mate Travis, who opened a new great bar, Fantail and Turtle at Smales Farm on the North Shore in Auckland. He was saying how people in the industry in NZ have trouble finding career staff in hospitality, which lead me to chatting to a few of the middle managers here. In the Loft Bar I got chatting to Young, the bar manager, who had asked me where Ms Burbery was tonight. He recognised me from the previous night. It turned out that they had all been briefed on the Royal Canin conference and that Sylvia was the boss. Chatting to Young I discovered he had borrowed a lot of money to go and learn his trade in Switzerland. They really take it on as a career here.
We had access to the Oriental Club on the 24th floor, which hosted us for breakfast, afternoon tea, and cocktails and light meals in the evening. John and Lulu are two of the staff. John, originally from Korea and having lived in Turkey as a youth, entered the same training school in Switzerland as Young to pursue a career in hospitality. Lulu, of Korean and Mongolian heritage but raised mainly in Kazakhstan (where her mother worked for Doctors without Borders), leaving school had studied in New York and Pennsylvania and is now pursuing a career in hospitality.
Chase, the concierge supervisor, worked for the hotel from 2013 to 14 then went to Dubai to gain experience and came back in 2015 to continue his career. I had gone to make inquiries about a trip to Macau tomorrow and in no time at all he had fast train tickets sorted along with details on how to get to the Guangzhou Southern Station. Zara who had checked us in on Sunday also jumped in to make sure all was in hand.
Wednesday 20 March 2019
I had the option of taking a taxi or the Metro to Guangzhou South Station to catch the fast train to Zhuhai next to the Macau border. I chose the metro as the station was just through the shopping centre next to the hotel. Through security they have a bomb pot, which amused me as I imagined someone finding a bomb, chucking it in the pot, locking the lid, then the bomb exploding inside the pot like something in a cartoon creating a massive fragmentation grenade.
Sorting out a token on a machine I headed to the platform. The first train came in and it was so packed that there was no way anyone was getting in. The next I managed to force my way on. There are no manners here like in Singapore or Japan where people wait for everyone to dismount before getting on; here they push their way in ignoring the signs on the floor.
One change and I had made it to south station, probably slower than the taxi time. Soon I was on the slow (200kph) high-speed train heading south. I am always intrigued at how they manage the infrastructure in these places to keep all these people alive. Guangzhou has 13 million and the Pearl River Delta economic zone some 50 million. That’s a lot of just rice alone to be delivered every day. The 100km journey is pretty much non-stop housing with the odd rice paddy struggling to survive in the urban sprawl.
Arriving at Zhuhai I was herded, along with hundreds of others, through sheep like yards to immigration, ending up in the wrong place with the guy processing me anyway then telling me “special”, so on the Macau side and on the way back I used the diplomatic lane with no queue. I had been advised that there were free buses to the casinos from the border. The place is pretty small so I decided to walk and explore the town. As I stepped on to the street I suddenly realised the cars were coming from the other direction; it’s right hand drive here.
Macau with its around 600k population was founded by the Portuguese in 1557, becoming the first and the last European colony in China when they left in 1999. It is now a Special Administrative Region belonging to China but still with its own currency. Wandering through the streets I eventually hit the fishing port, then cut through some back streets, which were super clean comparing only with Tokyo.
Eventually I came across a Street packed with people, many of who queued for food at what must be well recognised places. Then from behind a tall building appeared a monstrosity – although I am sure the person that designed it didn’t feel that way.
I had found the casino area! I headed inside where there was floor after floor of mainly tables, not the dominant presence of slot machines one sees in Vegas. I found a restaurant on the 6th floor and had a rather average Thai beef salad. The staff were friendly and attentive. I had not seen any alcoholic drinks or drinks in general on the gaming tables and asked if it was a dry casino? “No just most people don’t drink here when gambling”
Back outside I caught a bus across one of the three long bridges to Taipei old village on one of the islands.
A bus back on another bridge dropped me off by the heliport where large helos ferry tourists in and out of the country. I strolled past some more casinos then around the edge of a large reservoir and along a few streets back to the border.
￼Using the diplomatic queue I was processed and through in no time but now had 3 hours to kill to catch the train. I got in a queue to change my ticket, which killed an hour. A helpful lady in the queue who was giving me advice via google translate found out we were catching the same train and were in the same carriage. She and her friend escorted me to the train and at the other end took me to the taxi rank to make sure I didn’t get ripped off. Thank you Qi Ling.
The ride back was quicker than the metro and I got to see the city lit up as we crossed the Pearl River back into the city centre.
Sylvia and her team were having a gala dinner that night and all dressed in cultural attire representing their countries .
I was invited to join some of the team for a catch up after the event. They are a great bunch and it’s always great to enjoy a few drinks with them.
Thursday 21 March 2019
Several hours of the day were spent making two trips to the East station to collect our train tickets to Guilin on Saturday and Hong Kong on Sunday. The station is only 15 minutes away by metro but the queue was an hour plus each time. In the evening Sylvia and I took a taxi and headed to Morton’s Steak House, near the river and at the back of another flash shopping mall.