Tuesday, April 10, 2012


My expectations for Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton) were considerably lower than they were for Bangkok. Most of this had to do with the opinions I’d heard from friends, saying that Guangzhou was like a bigger, dirtier, less friendly, less convenient, less exciting version of Hong Kong. And honestly, this was the general impression I got of the place. However, I still had a good time visiting my friend Henry, who recently visited me in Hong Kong, and thought it was money well spent. 

Early on Easter morning, my girlfriend and I travelled from Hong Kong to Guangzhou via passenger ferry from the south coast of China up into the Pearl River Delta. The journey was around two hours and not nearly as pleasant as the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry—it actually felt more like an airplane cabin than a ferry. On another note, the population density in this coastal area is absolutely staggering. I’ve read that the population of the delta megalopolis (including Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Macau etc.) is as much as 120,000,000. So basically, that means one in 57 people on Earth lives in this small chunk of fertile land in South China. Whoah. 

After arriving and getting one of two visits checked off my rather expensive Chinese visa, we took a shuttle bus to our hotel in southern Guangzhou. Checking into the hotel immediately brought back memories of my tour through China with the PLU jazz band in the spring of 2009. Everything about the hotel was exactly like all four of the hotels we stayed in during that trip through Beijing, Xi’an, Chengdu and Shanghai. Big fancy lobby with a huge eating area, a whole row of elevators, hard beds, etc. China doesn’t seem to exactly encourage diversity in hotel designs, or at least from my experience.

We met up with Henry at the metro stop nearest the hotel soon after arriving. From there we went on a tour that can be best summarized in Henry’s post here, focusing on the crazy things we saw at the Quingping market. You can call me lazy for linking this, or you can understand that he’s a much better blogger than I am. Essentially, the day consisted of wandering around interesting parts of the city such as Shamian Island, the aforementioned creepy crawly Qingping Market and the beautiful Bright Filial Piety Temple. The day ended with a trip to the thrilling and famous Chime-Long Circus. This was highlighted by bears riding motorcycles, people jumping from extremely high places and five motorcyclists riding in a small chain-link ball. Stressful but impressive. 

The next day, after briefly exploring the ritzy Beijing Street, we parted ways with Henry and headed to the Canton Tower. The Canton Tower is currently the fourth-tallest freestanding structure in the world and now the tallest building I’ve ever been in, surpassing the Taipei 101. Despite this claim to fame, the thick smog made the view from the top rather disappointing. I like the design of the tower, but after seeing the Hong Kong skyline and view from the Peak, nothing else can really compare. And so another holiday ends. But fortunately, I very much look forward to seeing my students again. My job is tiresome and sometimes repetitive, but a day never goes by that I don't feel my heart warmed by these mini Hong Kongers. And so it goes...

BHS grads reunite, eating Middle Eastern food on Easter in South China

At the Bright Filial Piety Temple, known by some as the Bright Feline Piety Temple

Chime-Long Circus

Canton Tower

That's a lot of floors

Our ferry

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Since I discovered this list of 100 Cities of the World, I’ve sort of made it a goal to visit as many of the places listed as I can. With this trip to Thailand, I’m proud to say I’ve made it into the double digits of world cities visited, with Guangzhou about to be number eleven this weekend.

For those interested, that’s:

1. Seattle
2. Los Angeles
3. Beijing
4. Shanghai
5. San Diego
6. Hong Kong
7. Taipei
8. Macau
9. San Francisco
10. Bangkok 
11. Guangzhou (as of April 8th)

It’s not that many so far but considering my total equaled a big fat uno back in 2008, I’d say eleven is respectable. I'm curious to find out how many you have been to, dear readers? Anyway, I spent a couple days in city number ten with my girlfriend for a part of my Easter holiday. 

As you probably know, Bangkok is absolutely massive—even bigger than HK—so spending two full days there was only enough to get a brief taste. Speaking of taste, upon arriving in the hotel, I almost immediately threw up the airplane food. It wasn’t a great start to the trip, but from there on out, Bangkok treated us well.

The first full day was spent navigating through the many golden temples in the historic district of Rattanakosin Island. After climbing up to see the panoramic views from the temple known as the Golden Mount, we made our way by auto-rickshaw (known as the onomatopoeic 'tuk-tuk') to the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is the main attraction of Bangkok and was obviously a highlight of the trip. The Palace was founded by the king of then-called Siam 230 years ago and contains some of the most amazing, elaborate architecture you can find in Asia. Also, inside the palace grounds is the Emerald Buddha, generally regarded as the most famous statue in Thailand. I enjoyed hearing from the tour guide about how this 2,000-year-old statue was found inside a building that was struck by lightning, leading to the belief that this particular statue was given to the Thai people from the heavens. This is one special Buddha, so much so that they even change his golden clothes with the seasons.

That evening, we went on a nighttime tour of many of the other temples and attractions in the area. It was a totally different experience being alone beneath these giant golden spires in the dark compared to the hordes of hot sweaty tourists in the daytime. Despite being in one of the larger cities on earth, you could hear crickets chirping around the Wat Pho temple when we were there at around 9 pm. The temple was home to many sleeping cats and dogs as well, something I found rather charming though I'm not sure why.

The next day was a bit less sight-seeing and a bit more vacation-style luxury. After a brief trip to a temple close to our accommodations, my girlfriend and I found a massage spa that her friend recommended closer to downtown Bangkok. After that relaxing new experience, we went to a French restaurant for a nine-course dinner that served as an early six-month anniversary celebration. Heading back to the hotel that evening, we saw the ritzy, westernized side of Bangkok that included the multi-story Siam Plaza. It turns out Hong Kong isn’t the only east Asian city with an obsession for international-style decadence.

As I mentioned, the trip wasn’t long but just long enough to see that Bangkok is a one-of-a-kind city, albeit with an old heritage meets new fashion feeling similar to China. Our trip was given another memorable twist by the fact that our hotel was on Khaosan Road, also known as Bangkok’s “backpacker ghetto.” Almost everyone we saw there was a foreigner who looked like they hadn’t bathed in a week. It may sound kind of gross but it made for some fantastic people watching. My personal favorite was a man with dreadlocks down to his ankles.

Back in Hong Kong now, I leave for Guangzhou to visit my friend Henry early tomorrow morning. It will be the third city with eight million or more people I’ll have visited in as many days. Hong Kong will surely feel like a village after this. I shall post again once I return to the Kong about my travels through old Canton.

Khaosan Road, known as the 'Backpacker Ghetto'

Part of the Royal Palace

Wat Pho at night

Victory Monument in downtown Bangkok

The Erawan Hotel and Shrine (needless to stay, this was not our hotel)

Bang a Gong (Get It On)