You reach Guangzhou or Canton as it is otherwise called, 12 hours after you leave Nairobi. It is one of the longest direct flights you make towards the main land of Asia. China itself, is a vast Country, with as many as 18 cities with more than 5 million people living there.
Guangzhou is the capital and largest City of Guangdong Province, and is special, because it is the centre of a megalopolis that has 7 of those megacities in China around the mouth of one river; The Pearl River.
Zhongshan, Foshan, Dongguan, Shenzen, Macau and Hongkong all surround it, making Guangzhou’s per capita GDP one of the highest in China, third only after Taipei (Taiwan) and Hongkong. Total population living in the Megalopolis that forms Canton is 45 million!
Guangzhou was a major terminus of the Maritime Silk road, and its Position in the South east of China favoured its early entry into the erstwhile empire.
Its name originally referred to the Imperial Chinese Guang Prefecture. The character廣 or 广—which also appears in the names Guangdong, Guangxi, and Liangguang—means “broad” or “expansive” and refers to the valley of the Pearl River in comparison with the hill country of Hunan and Fujian by which it was reached by the Chinese.
Before the establishment of the prefecture, the town was known as Panyu, a name still used by one of Guangzhou’s districts in the hinterlands.
The Chinese abbreviation for Guangzhou is 穗, after its nickname “Rice City”. As late as the early 20th century, most of the city continued to be made up of rice paddies. The city has long borne the nickname City of Rams or City of the Five Rams from the five stones at the old Temple of the Five Immortals said to have been the sheep or goats ridden by the Taoist culture heroes credited with introducing cultivation to the area around the time of the city’s foundation. The former name “City of the Immortals“ came from the same story. The more recent City of Flowers is usually taken as a simple reference to the area’s greenery.
Culture of Guangdong
Modern Day Canton is a beautiful, mildly hot and moist City, with expansive areas of greenery and a very visible attempt at modernizing the area and provision of services to the general public. People walk on the right hand side of the street and this social courtesy is strictly adhered to. Bicycles of every kind exist and locals use them extensively in the areas designated as biking and walking lanes.
The Subway system is gradually becoming the centre of public life, with new routes constantly being opened and many more stations being planned for. The stations themselves are architectural marvels, up to 15 stories deep and integrated into buildings, such that most exits act as walk through into shopping malls and office buildings.
Elevated highways with Electricity lines for Electric busses also add a green feeling to the city’s transport options and many others travel to and from Work with the established boat and ferry PSV channels on the Zhujiang River.
The emergence of Chinese universities has seen an increase in the international community living in Guangzhou, and English is understood by a sizeable number of young people and those working in trade and at the port of Huangpu.
Status in China.
Work ethic is phenomenal in Guangzhou, with businesses and offices opening at 10am and closing at midnight 7 days a week. All major factories of the world have production branches in Canton, leading to it being tagged as the factory of the world.
This has made the fortunes of the City increase tenfold in 30 years, and many more people flock to the area. A sizeable African population exists in Xiaobei and Baiyun districts, as China engages more and more with Africa. The GDP per capita of the province is higher than that of Beijing and Shanghai, and new constructions can be seen all over.
Foshan City, just on the periphery is the mother of all industrial areas, dealing with building and Construction materials. Here many people from Australia to Chile, from India to Angola flock to procure building materials and furniture at a bargain. This Famous market is the source of many Chinese sourced goods we have in Nairobi’s industrial Area.
Architecture of Guangzhou
As it was previously mostly inhabited by the rice farmers and peasants in China, few traditional forms of Cantonese Architecture is there for display.
The municipal government however has over the last 20 years invested heavily in modern skyscrapers and public amenity buildings with a whole new planned district right on the riverfront being the focus of the future. Known as Zhujiang Newtown, the area hosts the art pieces of some of the world’s most renowned starchitects, such as the Guangzhou Opera House by the late Zaha Hadid and the Canton Tower by Arup and Dutch architects Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit.
Other areas of Interest include Baiyun Mountain Parks, The Haizhu Square Memorials, The Mall of The world in Zhujiang, The Guangzhou public Library, The IFC tower in Zhujiang, as well at the Canton Fair District in Pazhou, where the bi-annual Canton Fair takes place every April and October.
The Pazhou Pagoda , Chigang Pagoda and the Cultural Parks in Pazhou showcase the last remains of the old era with traditional Baiyun cultural Architecture and wood construction monument.
Everyone should visit Guangzhou. Amazing offers exist there, with retail prices for most items at 30% or less to what is available in East Africa. The Renminbi is 15 times the shilling, making it less expensive than other Dollar dominated countries. Kenya airways and China Southern Airlines fly there direct, but many more offers exist in the market. Several banks in Kenya now offer Union pay cards, the Chinese version of VISA, and the social media app, WeChat is akin to Safaricom’s MPESA. Xièxiè.
The author, Stephen Lutta, is a graduate Architect and a travel enthusiast at firstname.lastname@example.org