October 6-7, 2018
“Won’t have to drive too far, just ‘cross the border and into the city”.
And that’s how we got to Guangzhou. Well to be completely honest, we took a high speed train. Travel time from HK to GZ was jut under two hours, and we saved about $200 CAD/person by taking a train instead of flying. Two adult tickets cost $39 USD ($50.52 CAD)/person, which came to a total of $78 USD ($101.05 CAD). There are a few perks to taking the train: you don’t have to check your bags (you can take them directly onto the train), noteworthy leg room (this helps when you’re traveling with long-legged individuals), the train is quiet, and there are two outlets for you to charge any electronics you may have. Getting to China was very easy, and I would recommend traveling by high speed train over flying to anyone who enjoys their comfort, and wants to save a buck. You can book your train tickets online, which makes life so much easier.
Background context of why we wanted to go to China:
Originally, Ryley and I were not certain about stopping over in China. What would we do? How far in to the country would we go? Ryley had a friend living in Guangzhou (Ashley), and they had been in communication since January. Part of our travels were going to include stopping in at Colliers International branches around Asia (the commercial real estate firm Ryley works for), and uncover similarities and differences between the Asian commercial market and the North American commercial market. What a great way to learn about the Chinese market, plus Ashley was willing to host us in her apartment during our stay. SOLD.
Before you enter China you should:
Get a Chinese voltage converter
Download a reliable VPN (Virtual Private Network). Most apps/sites are banned, so you will need a VPN to create your own private network to access to Google, Facebook, YouTube, Netflix, Instagram, etc. I would highly recommend ExpressVPN. It does cost $12 USD, but it is so worth it. The most reliable locations are HongKong-2, and Los Angeles-3.
Download WeChat, and get a Chinese SIM card upon arrival. This will be a game changer.
Upon arriving in GZ, Ashley had arranged a driver to pick us up and take us directly to Clifford Estates (about 45 minutes outside of the city centre). Her apartment is situated in the cutest suburb full of a healthy mix of locals and expats. She left us colour coaded instructions to everything we would need to know about staying at her apartment. AND! Ashley made us a list of recommendations for activities we should tackle during our stay. What a treat.
We were on our way to being hangry after a morning of intense travel, so we plopped down our bags and ventured outside. Buses run in and out of Clifford Estates (it’s a gated compound) constantly, and there are tons of local and americanized restaurants within walking distance. The buses in the area are free for residents, which makes getting around so much easier.
After a bunch of stumbling around trying to figure out where the best place to eat lunch might be, we found this tiny hole in the wall on the side of the street. No english menu, and no spoken english. No problem. Our server had no idea what we were trying to say, and we were so hungry that we didn’t care what we ate…we just needed food. There was a couple sitting at a table close to us, and they were munching on two different noodle bowls. I pointed to their bowls, and said “that one”. She nodded her head, and we sat and waited to see what was going to be put in front of us. It ended up being one of the best hangry experiences I’ve ever had. She placed two giant bowls of noodles in front of us. My bowl consisted of thin noodles with a firm consistency, ground beef, fresh cucumber, ginger, minced garlic, skinny carrots, and tiny spicy peppers in a noninvasive sauce. Ryley had thick, lasagna like noodles, cubes of beef, and tofu in a light sesame sauce. We inhaled our meals in silence, and agreed that it was the best noodle bowls we’d ever had. The fresh ingredients exploded pockets of flavour onto our taste buds with every bite.
We nearly pooped ourselves when we got the bill: 34 Yuan ($6.40 CAD). $3.20/person to eat a delicious lunch. We were mind blasted. Your dollar goes so much further here with food, than back home.
GZ Culture Fact: When eating out, don’t tip. Tipping is not part of Chinese culture. We come from a culture where the quality of your service can depend on how much you are spending or willing to tip. It is the complete opposite in China. You may be charged for “dabao [dah-bow]”, also known as take-away. There can be a service charge for packing the food to go, but it will only ever be 1-2 Yuan ($0.20-$0.30 CAD).
The rest of the day was spent scoping out the markets, window shopping, and becoming familiar with our surroundings.
The next morning, cappuccinos were calling our names, so we invested in an americanized cafe experience, and spent 115 Yuan ($21.66 CAD). Even though it was only $10.50 CAD/person, we knew we could make our dollar stretch even further. Ashley’s apartment had a full kitchen, so why not use it.
Where do the locals get their food? The wet market (a market that sells fresh meat and produce).
Overwhelming, exhilarating, and sobering are just a few adjectives to describe the sensory overload of what we experienced from foreign perspectives. Stands full of vibrant fruits lined the entrance to the market, and the further back you went, vegetables began to appear. Every vegetable you might know the name of, plus Chinese vegetables covered a great amount of square footage of the market. And everyone wanted to sell you something. The far right back corner was where the egg lady resided. Her entire stand was dedicated solely to eggs, and I wish I had taken a picture of it because it was an incredible sight. Over 30 types of eggs (6 types of chicken eggs, quail, duck, goose, turkey, and the list goes on). Move back even further, and the entire back wall was coated with tanks upon tanks of fresh seafood (10 different types of fish, eel, crab, shrimp, jumbo shrimp, squillas, muscles, clams, oysters, and unfortunately soft shell turtles).
GZ Food Fact: I have seen live seafood swimming in tanks before. But what really caught me off guard were the turtles. My western self recognizes turtles as a pet or a wild intelligent animal, but so do the Chinese. The only difference is they eat them. Of course I had to do some research on this topic to gain a better understanding. The Chinese associate turtles with longevity, and good health. Throughout history, and still in practice today, turtle soup has been a delicacy in China and Singapore. Other countries within Asia eat turtle soup too. In the early 1800’s, Europeans and American colonists also indulged in turtle stew and turtle soup. They indulged to the point of gluttony, resulting in many species of turtles being endangered today. Parts of the Orient, North America, and Europe have all had their fill of turtle soup at one point throughout history. Not my cup of tea, or should I say my cup of soup.
2 bagfuls of vegetables, two fillets, a dozen hand-picked eggs from the egg lady, and a bag of rice later, we were on our way to our apartment to cook our first meal. In total we spent about 300 Yuan ($56.00 CAD), but went home with a weeks worth of groceries. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that total price included our beer.
Two great things about beer in China:
1.) Domestic beer is CHEAP. A 600 mL bottle of Tsingtao (which became our favourite very quickly) was 5 Yuan ($0.94 CAD). We bought these bad boys in bulk. Sometimes they’ll go on sale, and be offered at the price of 3 for 10 Yuan. So when that happened, we bought 8. Another domestic brand called Harbin sells beer by the can for 3 Yuan, so before we discovered Tsingtao we bought a 12 pack for 36 Yuan ($6.75 CAD). Thank you beer Gods, and China.
2.) It is quenching as hell. After a 33 degree day that is mostly humidity, there’s nothing like a cold beer to help cool you down. The alcohol content is quite low, so drinking a few of these with dinner, or after dinner won’t make a mark on you.
Eating out has its perks, but being able to cook your own meals at home is a game changer. Especially breakfast. Breakfast around the world differs, and having the option to be able to cook what you enjoy at home is very satisfying. I do believe in trying local breakfasts to find out what you like, and to explore what other cultures eat in the morning. Many delicious meals were to come from our little apartment kitchen, during our 10 day stay in Guangzhou.
October 8, 2018
A day dedicated to preparations.
After breakfast, we headed down with intentions to pick up a slab of meat for our Friends Giving dinner. But first, Ryley would get a hair cut from the local barber. Our visit to Colliers was only a couple days away, so a fresh haircut was due. Ryley presented the barber with a picture of what he wanted. The man gave it a good look, and began to snip snip snip away. Everything seemed to be going well, until he started to shave through the beautiful fade he had just created. THEN he took a straight razor to Ryley’s hairline, and I nearly peed my pants. My man came in with a normal hairline, and left with a widow’s peak. Ryley looked fresh, this was just a new and much shorter haircut then he would usually get. #egglife
It was time to get bubble tea and laugh off what the hell just happened.
Again, we found ourselves at our favourite place: the wet market. We decided for dinner we wanted to try cooking something we’ve never cooked before. A few strips of sirloin, and 6 fresh crabs. The fishmonger cut up the crab for us into manageable pieces, which helped during the boiling process. The rest of the menu would consist of roasted asparagus, coated in a thin layer of salt and lemon juice, and homemade fries. It was such a treat feeding our amazing host Ashley, and her boyfriend Chris. We shared multiple Tsingtaos, and when we ran out they took us to the convenience store to buy more (yes, you can buy beer, spirits, and wine at your local Chinese convenience store). Whilst at the store, Chris asked us if we had ever tried a Pomello (cross between a grapefruit and an orange), and we hadn’t so we threw that into the cart to add to our after supper libations. He showed us how to peel it, and we were pleasantly surprised at how the citrusy flavour explodes in your mouth, but you aren’t left with a messy aftermath. The night ended by planning our next dinner: traditional Chinese hotpot. We couldn’t wait for supper to come the next evening.
October 9, 2018
The amount of food and beer we consumed the night before called for a much needed sleep in.
Ryley and I worked and strategized our next steps to Vietnam, and planned what we wanted to see/how we were going to get there.
Later in the afternoon, we took one of Ashley’s recommended activities and tackled Dafu Mountain Park. Let me tell you, I was not mentally prepared for the amount of stairs we were going to have to confront. It was a cardio work out, but the views were absolutely worth it. Ponds fully of lily pads, shrines, and lush greenery surrounded the area. It really opened my eyes to how beautiful Guangzhou is, and how freaken out of shape I am.
5:30 PM came rather quickly, and we all know what happens next.
Jesus take the wheel.
We scootered over to Wonderland, which is where the new shopping/entertainment district in Clifford is located. A few of Ashley’s expat teacher friends came too, and we ordered food like it was going out of style. A giant pot arrived separating the 3 broths we chose: tomato, bone, and spicy Szechuan. The boiling pot taunted us, as we patiently awaited the arrival of our 10 plates of to-be-cooked food. Overall, it was a fantastic experience.
Ryley and I LOVE hotpot back home, but there are some distinct differences. Instead of choosing from 14 sauces, you are given a bowl of minced garlic, cilantro, and green onions. A bottle of hoisin is readily available, which I really appreciated because I love dipping my meat in it. We both preferred being given our flavouring ingredients, because it keeps things simple, delicious, and fresh. The three ingredients act as a wonderful base, and this way you have a lower probability of messing up your hotpot experience.
One warning, the spicy Szechuan broth is ridiculously spicy and quite oily. Szechuan style cooking originates from Sichuan province. Spicy numbing peppers are a staple in the cuisine, and can be an assault to the senses if you have never experienced it before. I love spicy food, but I did not enjoy the way the broth numbed my lips.
GZ Restaurant/Bathroom Fact: Most restaurants don’t have napkins, or they will charge you extra for them. As well, most public bathrooms don’t have toilet paper. So, save yourself and bring a package of napkins for wherever you go…just in case.
After supper, Ashley showed us around the rest of Wonderland and explained our bus route for our adventure the next day.
October 10, 2018
The day that everyone had been hyping up for us: The Canton Bike Tour.
We met our guide Andrew, and rounded up 10 others for the tour. I am not exaggerating when I say every moment of the tour was memorable and enjoyable. I did not know what an important role Guangzhou played in the historical development of China. The architecture told a story of 3 different eras (pre-cultural revolution, cultural revolution, post Mao) all politically influenced. I had to put my democratic biases aside, and open-mindedly dive into understanding the historical effects and functions of communism. From architecture, to censorship, to the ban of Wing Chun kung fu. The things that Canadians just don’t know, unless you visit the country or do extensive research.
My favourite part of the entire tour was visiting Ip Mans granddaughter’s Kung Fu studio, where he taught as well at one point. I love martial arts movies, and to be in the same studio that a close descendant of The Ip Man was so powerful. Bruce Lee was one of Ip Man’s most famous students, and he also practiced in this studio. I fan-girled way to hard.
GZ Martial Arts Fact: During the Chinese cultural revolution (1969-1976), the practice of traditional martial arts was discouraged. Martial arts were to be regulated to the rules of the Maoist revolutionary doctrine. Wing Chun was banned, and instead the Wushu (a Chinese martial art, and full contact sport) Association was created to regulate the practice and teaching of martial arts. #control
Also: Wing Chun was invented by a woman.
Another eye-opening highlight on the tour was the authentic wet market. Ashley and her friends had mentally prepared me for what I was going to see, which helped to take some of the edge off. It was numbing to see so many dead animals splayed on chopping boards, along with live animals waiting in unfriendly conditions to be butchered and sold. Authentic experiences aren’t always comfortable.
Halfway through our tour, our guide stopped at a few street vendors to purchase snacks. Star fruit, dragon fruit, flakey Chinese pastries filled with sweet yam and green bean paste, peanut cookies, and a banana flavoured mochi like treat (I can’t remember the name of it). We ate a big breakfast on purpose, and had a small snack before our tour started. Eating large meals helps to keep your blood sugar level, which helps to keep hanger outbreaks to a minimum. Those can be scary.
The tour was supposed to end at 5:30 PM, but we ended up finishing at 7:00 PM. One of our last stops was on the Pearl River, with a great view of the Canton Tower. We were glad the tour went longer than expected, because we didn’t want it to end.
An exhausting hour long trek back to our apartment, and off to sleep we went. We would need our rest for the next day, as it was going to be a busy one.
October 11, 2018
Another adventure downtown, but this time for our meeting at Colliers International, Guangzhou. We left early, because we wanted to give ourselves enough time to get downtown and have lunch. Time flies when you’re trying to navigate a new area, and decide on a place to eat lunch that wasn’t over priced. Finally, we found a restaurant that resembled a Chinese version of Sunterra Market. Panic started to set in AFTER we ordered, because we knew we were running low on time. Silly move on our part.
BUT. It was all worth it in the end. The food was delicious, and it came out quickly. It was too bad that we had to scarf such an enjoyable lunch, but we did it to ourselves.
Off to hunt down the Colliers office, which was right beside the mall we ate lunch at. The building was quite intimidating. Over 100 floors, and security armed every entrance and elevator. Nothing like back home.
The meeting went very well. A lack of English between the Director and us created a wall of shyness, but was broken down with words of affirmation and an explanation of how awful our Cantonese and Mandarin abilities were.
Chinese Business Etiquette Fact: When exchanging business cards, present and receive with both hands. Make sure the writing is facing the participant. I noticed this almost immediately, upon my first business card exchange.
Ryley interviewed and filmed for an hour, while I assisted. During the interviews, I took notes and built a question template to use for the next Colliers office we visit.
The business-y part of the day was over, and now it was time to adventure. We spent some time walking through local neighbourhoods, and ended up in a park very close to the Canton Tower.
It was time for dinner, and we had decided to take a recommendation from one of the expat teachers we met at hotpot: 13 Factories. Creole cuisine takes China. Up until this point, we had been eating mostly authentic Chinese cuisine. Why not stray off the beaten path. Plus, this place received glowing reviews.
First of all, trying to find this restaurant was an absolute nightmare. Our Maps.Me - this is a lifesaving app that lets you pre-download any map in the world on wifi, and use it offline - could not locate it, and we felt as though we were walking around in circles. I had screen shotted vague directions off of a trip advisor forum, but they ended up not being helpful at all. After some serious frustration, and our hunger levels rising, we found it. I was in the process of trying to latch onto some free wifi, and in the list of available wifis 13 Factories appeared. We turned around and it was hidden behind the corner. Both of us were hoping this restaurant was amazing after all the bullshit we had to go through to find it.
Man, douchey restaurant owners seem to exist everywhere you go in the world. What a shame. The owner: a Chinese-American man from Texas, bringing Creole food and hand crafted cocktails to Guangzhou. It was a unique idea, but catered to the expat crowd. The food was mediocre, and the owner’s attitude was cringe-worthy. Nose high up in the air, giving the most expensive recommendations on the menu, and then debating what “real” gumbo actually was. Just an overall entitled and slightly creepy dude. 1/10 would recommend; the 1 accounts for how tasty the cocktails were.
We couldn’t wait to get home, and hop into bed. It had been a long, but eventful day. We would need our energy for the morning, because we were about to jump into a room full of bite sized, busy body, humans.
October 12, 2018
What a better way to start your day than with smiling Kindergarten children. Except these little ones were extra itty bitty at 3 years old. Ashley teaches at the Clifford International, and works specifically in the Kindergarten branch. Most of her children would be considered “Pre-K”. They start them between the ages of 3 going on 4, and freshly 4. She invited us to meet her littles, and to hang out in her classroom.
GZ Kindergarten Classroom Fact: Ashley is the teacher in the classroom, but she has a teacher aide and a life care worker as well. The teacher aide helps with activities, and explains things further in Mandarin when they are tackling a complex topic. The life care worker, is in charge of all meals, naps, and bathroom care. There are 3 adults in the classroom at all times, except during lunch and nap time (that’s when Ashley takes her lunch #3hourlunches).
It was incredible to see Ashley in action. She speaks to the kids in English, and places an emphasis on reading interactive stories and playing interactive song videos (which the kids eat right up).
After our adorable morning, we enjoyed a lunch of sushi, pork tonkatsu, and salmon fried rice. We dilly-dallied our way through our meal, and enjoyed a cup of coffee afterwards. Ashley showed us where we would catch our bus to our next adventure: Chimelong Safari Park. The park is 1,333,340 square meters, and is the largest wildlife park in China. Of course we wanted to check it out.
The habitat that has been built for these animals is quite impressive. Most of the animals roam freely, and their living conditions are very well kempt. The park is famous for the Panda exhibit. There are 6 pandas that live at Chimelong, three of them being the famous panda triplets. Their sanctuary is filled with tons of bamboo, and forrest play toys. It was really cute to watch them play, and munch on their panda snacks.
If you plan on going to Chimelong Safari Park or any of the Chimelong Parks, know that it is a full day event. Put on your walking shoes, and bring snacks with you. Also be ready for the wild amount of screaming children.
Perks of the park:
Animal protection and conservation is the core value of the park, which is evident.
It is a base for science and ecological education for youth in Guangzhou.
It does not have a zoo-like feel. The animals are able to roam free and enjoy their habitat.
There is an aerial cable car that will take you from one end of the park to where the exits are (this was a lifesaver at the end of our visit).
The safari on wheels option is so much fun, as you get to see the wild animals roam free up close and personal.
Our park tour came to an end, and the struggle of getting home began. We took a bus to Chimelong, but couldn’t figure out how to get to the other side of the road to take the bus in the opposite direction. There weren’t any cross walks, only underground subway transfers. We knew that a taxi from Chimelong to Wonderland should only cost 20-30 Yuan ($3.00-$5.00 CAD). After hailing a taxi, and struggling to explain where we were trying to go, our taxi driver nodded and confirmed he would take us to our destination. He started driving, but didn’t start the meter.
HOLD THE PHONE.
GZ Taxi Fact (Advice From Ashley): DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT get into a taxi with someone who refuses to run the meter whilst driving you to your destination. Also, DO NOT accept a set fare from a taxi driver. They will rip you off. Foreigners can be an easy target for an overpriced cab ride
Ryley motioned twice for our driver to start the meter, and he promptly pulled over to the side of the road and told us it would be 50 Yuan for the ride. We knew he was trying to rip us off, because we had taxi’d from the same location, and it was 27 yuan WITH the meter running. He tried to explain there was a surge charge, which was absolute bullshit. I saw the bus we took going to Chimelong (10B), and it was going the opposite direction. I realized there was a bus stop right behind where the silly taxi driver had pulled over.
We slammed our taxi doors, and hopped out with a little bit of anger pumping through our veins. Even though he was trying to charge us $9.40 CAD, it was the principle that mattered the most. We knew how much our taxi should have cost, and him not wanting to run the meter was deceitful.
Our bus came shortly after. 4 Yuan/person ($0.75 CAD), and we were taken straight to Wonderland.
Lesson learned: don’t ever be shy to speak up, especially when you’re not sure about something or you feel as though you may be put into a compromising situation. Protect yourself, your travel partner, and your money.
October 14, 2018
10:30 AM - Ashley and I went for coffee and pedicures. My toes and feet were in need of a little TLC from all of the walking we had been doing. It was so nice to hang out with Ashley, and have a girls date.
Ash went to soccer, and I went to fetch a hungry Ryley. We walked down the strip one last time, and enjoyed our accumulation of lunch items from our favourite street vendors.
A quick nap later, and the packing commenced.
We enjoyed our last supper with Ashley and Chris, picked up some bubble teas for dessert, and made our way back to the apartment.
Click, zip, crunch. The final straps and buckles were secured, and we said goodbye to our little pad. Ashley lives with Chris in his suite next door, which is how she was able to host us in her suite for our entire stay. We hobbled over to their suite, and relaxed before we had to go to the airport.
Our flight was at an ungodly hour…3:25 AM. We wanted to save money by taking the metro instead of taxiing. It would have costed us $56.00 CAD to take a taxi to the airport, and only 9 Yuan/person ($1.75 CAD) to take the metro. The downside to taking the metro on a Sunday, was that the train only ran until 10:00 PM. It was a straight shot, and it took us directly to the terminal we needed to wait at. Unfortunately, we would be at the airport for 5 hours. All in the name of the all mighty dollar.
5 hours went by very quickly, as we devoured 3 episodes of Game of Thrones (we started watching it in China, and are on Season 3 - we’re binge pigs). Everything went smoothly, until we were ready to check in our bags.
GZ Airport Sightings: Carts upon carts of brown boxes were lined up in neat rows. Off to the side were the most beautiful and unique looking people - families, couples, old and young. High cheek bones, warm brown skin, African meets Asian islander fusion. Both Ryley and I had no idea where these people may have come from, or what their ethnic background might be. What was most mysterious was that it was 1:00 AM, and there was a long chain of these unknown boxes. We were both so curious. What Ryley discovered was that these people happened to be Malagasy (natives of Madagascar), and were buying bulk goods in Guangzhou for resale back home.
The first issue arose when the lady at the Jetstar counter asked us if we had outbound flights out of Vietnam. Of course we didn’t. We knew that all we needed were Vietnamese visas to enter the country, but no proof of outbound flights were needed. On the other hand, you MUST have proof of an outbound flight out of China or else they won’t approve your visa (#communistthings). She looked at her screen a few more times, and said it was fine.
The second issue: this other woman behind the counter asked us how much money we were bringing into the country. NONE YO BUSINESS. Legally, you are not required to answer such a question. All we said was “we have sufficient funds in Vietnamese dollars, thank you”. She then tried listing off numbers of how much she thought we had in our pockets, and we respectfully told her to fly a kite.
Vietnamese Currency Fact: The Vietnamese dong is highly inflated. The notes come in much larger denominations, so take your time and familiarize yourself with how much you’re working with.
The third and final issue: overweight checked baggage. Again, where airlines get you. JetStar only allows up to 7kg for checked bags, and ours were a solid 10 kgs over. $101 CAD later, and we FINALLY were able to check in. Always double check the airline you book with, as they may allow you to add additional weight onto your checked bags before you take your flight. You don’t want to be caught with surprise overweight baggage fees like we did.
Finally, we were able to make our way through security and find our gate.
LIV REVIEW: Guangzhou was a dream. Having a personal fixer (huge shout out to Ashley) made our experience very comfortable. Knowing the inside scoop was super helpful, and made us feel like we were a step ahead of the game. Huge acknowledgement to the food. You have constant access to fresh ingredients, and your dollar goes a lot farther at the grocery store than back home. The only thing I would do differently next time is get a SIM card. It is uncommon to use cash in Guangzhou, because everyone uses WeChat. Guangzhou is a great city to experience a taste of what China has to offer, and at a comfortable pace.
Next stop: Mai Chau, Vietnam!
*If a day is omitted from the day-to-day timeline, it’s because it was a lazy day. Nothing to report, and I don’t want to bore you with the amount of nothing we did/beer we drank.