Days 65-68 Lives of Others in Guangzhou, China

Like in Hong Kong, searching for old remains in Guangzhou has been puzzling. Many of the vestiges of the arcaded colonial city have been erased and replaced by newer, taller buildings. We headed to the area where Gee Kin’s relatives live, and what used to be the West Gate. It has been subsumed by modern development and is now considered part of the inner city.

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Yet activity in the area carries on like it did a hundred years ago or before. You see both men and women pushing or pulling hand carts along the road, scurrying and balancing the goods adeptly and efficiently at a pace more like a gallop than a prance. I watched for awhile in fascination, as social consciousness doesn’t seem to inhibit delivering goods this way and better, faster, cheaper.

The neighborhood shops may seem mundane to tourists, but the local market economy appeared to fully support the array (mixed used at its fullest: nuts and bolts fabricators next door to pastry shops, electrical repair next to fast food–you get the drift) of products and services offered.

Each shop relies on street for light and ventilation. That gave me plenty opportunity to poke my curious and annoying head inside. For some reason this reminded me of  Amsterdam’s red light district. The curtainless windows of the Dutch tidy “shops” openly invited customers to have a peak just like these shops in West Gate (Ximen Kou) did.

Shop assistants check their WeChat accounts frequently in between serving customers. You get a distinct impression that it’s not a bad system for the full employment act, even if the shopkeepers are bored and inattentive at times. The use of cell phones to combat boredom is nothing new throughout the world, but it’s remarkable if you look at the regularity and density of shopkeepers with cell phones staked in this area.

Earlier in the week, we visited one of my star architecture students who now lives and works in his home town of Guangzhou. Lam is a talented designer who is a partner in his own firm. It has been furiously designing shopping malls and theme parks all over China.

Lam’s “industrial chic” office could outdo any firm in the States as a showcase for innovative design. The office contains an experimental kitchen and full pig roaster. Rest and eating areas, conference rooms, and a library are all available to staff. The work areas are divided into manageable rooms or suites and therefore do not follow the pattern of open office design of most architectural firms. Large murals depicting the rebellion against the Qing Dynasty is provided by one of the partners.

As part of continuing research on my family’s history, I asked our friend Susan to accompany us to various institutions throughout the city. The new Guangzhou Book Store is one of the largest in the country. It was filled with floors of books and periodicals scattered between boutiques for Chinese calligraphy brushes and inkstands, tea ware, and books for sale.

Our second stop at the also new Guangzhou Library was another fascinating glimpse into the future of Guangzhou. With such excellent facilities, the hearts and minds of the students and researchers are captured. The north west reference room at the top where we were directed contained scholar’s rosewood furniture and fretwork screens. It was a noble nod to China’s classical examination system and its history and dedication to education.

Everywhere throughout China, you feel that it is a country on the move. There isn’t much time to stop and reflect on the speed and delivery of everything, from data to food to train tickets (they arrived at our hotel as promised). It’s exciting to witness, explore, and engage in the collective spirit.

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