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Jo's Tour of Southern China - Day 2

guangzhous famous ram statue Jo Wedlock
weekday dancing in the guangzhou park Jo Wedlock
prayer temple in guangzhou Jo Wedlock
Guangzhou sights Jo Wedlock

Jo's Tour of Southern China - Day 2

story by: Jo Wedlock

Guangzhou
The next morning dawns bright and sunny with a touch of smog and plenty of humidity!  After breakfasting at what the group has collectively decided is the best hotel breakfast anyone of us has ever had. Did I mention that I now definitely recommend the Westin Hotel in Guangzhou, although I did a quick visit to the new Sofitel and that looks amazing also! We were once again back in the van with our driver and guide.

The first stop today was the regional park.  This park used to charge for entry (10 RMB) for people under 65 but today its free admission for anyone in a bid to get people more 'heath conscious '.  Each Monday the elderly people of Guangzhou who no longer need to work or who fall into the health conscious category (it’s an official title) meet here in the park under the trees for ball room dancing.  They come un-paired up but after 2 lessons are allocated a permanent partner.  It’s an experience and privilege to watch and I would really recommend it as something free that visitors to the city should take advantage of. They have tutors teaching the dances so if you don’t mind joining in, just meet on Monday mornings at the base of the stairs to the 5 Rams statue and get there around 9am if you can.

After dancing, we headed up the 100 steps to the 5 Rams statue.  Again this is a ‘must do’ as well as free activity if you are visiting Guangzhou and legend has it that you aren't allowed to say you have visited Guangzhou unless you have seen the statue.  Apparently back in the days of famine, 5 celestial beings descended to Canton on the back of 5 rams.  They had sheaths of rice in their mouths and after teaching the locals how to plant it the city has now become prosperous! 

It’s now around 10.30 and there has been a burst water pipe in the roads so traffic is horrendous.  Yesterday I was surprised at how good traffic was, but it was Sunday and a holiday as it is the 1st of the month which has religious significance to the Chinese, so congestion is at its peak. Make sure you allow several hours in transit if getting around the city at various stages as it’s not easy travelling if you are stuck in the peak!

We are heading to the spiritually significant Pagodas temple.  Today is the first day of the month in the Chinese lunar calendar which means it is the day Chinese go to the Pagoda to light incense, pray and if they aren’t religious, make a donation and get a wish.  I tried my luck at throwing the coin into the wishing Buddha and making a wish so I will let you know if it comes true!

Once again the temperature is soaring and it must be high 30s. Our ‘smog cover’ which had kept some of the sun off us yesterday has cleared so it is searing today.  Luckily we have an air conditioned car and our last stop before our flights to Chengdu to check out the Toy Factory and meet the Kiwi trio and for a look.  It’s quite close to the airport so it makes sense to do this trip last. 

These three Kiwi entrepreneurs are amazing.  Their story goes that 8 years ago, Mathew from Cambridge, then just 22, started making some paper lanterns for sale in NZ as a kids toy.  It was a great idea and toy stores liked the concept but he couldn’t produce them cheaply enough in NZ. He made the decision to move to Guangzhou after 2 years of research and investigations which involved several trips to China.  As a 24 year old, he settled in a suburb here and the following year was joined by his younger sister Anna. Between them they started a small factory – first just a handful of people in an apartment, but since then they’ve moved 3 times into bigger and bigger factories.  They now employ several thousand people and have a huge factory which produces toys that are stocked by Walmart, Toys r us, and Tescos in the US and UK.  The Warehouse and Kmart in NZ and Australia have just picked them up and their latest toy ‘Schnook’ was the number one toy in the UK at the end of 2011. This amazing story of Kiwi ingenuity from an amazing family remind us that the opportunities for someone willing to take a risk in China are boundless.

Finally at around 4pm we head to the airport for our flights to Chengdu.  The airport is a good size and air conditioned, but we have trouble with some language barriers and our luggage. I would recommend that if you are travelling domestically in China to still be at the airport 2 hours earlier than the flight departs, not the one hour advised as standard. The queues take ages, and security is really tight so everything takes much longer to do.

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