We are in China. Street food steams in the brisk morning air. Vats of dumplings and noodles and pork rolls and deep fried this and that, and more and more unfamiliar dishes stand naked in the street. Their clammy scents waft amidst the contaminating petrol fumes and we smell China.
We are in China. Cities of millions, a nation of a billion and more. A manufacturing nation. A communist nation. A polluted nation. A crowded nation. An ancient nation. The Orient. A nation of stereotypes. A nation of fortune cookies. A nation of chopsticks. A nation of Great Walls and Ming vases. A nation of mystery. We are in China.
We are in Guangzhou. A city previously unknown to us, a city of over 12 million people. Grey crowded skylines, crowded with rows upon rows of identical apartment blocks slightly obscured by murky pollution. The grey backdrop of Guangzhou city is indistinguishable from mist, drizzle, and pollution. From our taxi traversing the multi-laned highways we see barred windows of drab apartment blocks that possess an ugly duckling charm.
We are in Guangzhou and men are wearing a dragon on their heads. It is red and yellow and gold and it shakes and spits. The dragon dances in circles and people place fruit in the dragon’s mouth.
We are in Guangzhou. We are in the metro. The crowd rushes towards the gate pressing in against each other so tight I can feel the breath of the old Chinese man behind me disturb the hairs on the nape of my neck. The crowd has blocked the train doors so the elderly passengers have to force their exit like Gridiron running backs. We wait patiently for the mayhem to subside and then board the train comfortably.
We are in Guangzhou. We are at Sun Yat Sen University station. We are in the manufactured heart of the textiles and fabrics markets. Streets upon streets of shopfronts display laces, denim, sparkles, frills, buttons, badges, linen, cotton, chequers, spots, circles. Shopfronts that are small product displays for factories throughout Guangzhou, manned by disinterested staff who fall asleep while playing on phones. A motorbike overtakes the pavement, rolls of fabric stuck between his legs force pedestrians to hop to avoid him. Across the road we see a shopping centre with eight floors of textiles and fabrics arching over a road occupied by trucks and cars. The hoicking of spit and too-late remembered ‘hellos’ follow us.