Guangzhou, China: How to get there, where to stay, what to do and more
My nephew-in-law, Brian O’Connor, parks in a crowded outdoor shopping district — think of New York’s Canal Street on steroids — and we emerge like circus clowns with props and squeals and manic American manners.
“Look at this! Look at this!” Brian shouts to the kids, who whiz through the alleys on the Razor scooters, skirting pedestrians, motor scooters and bicycles piled high with cardboard for recycling.
Brightly colored clothing hangs from every vertical surface and is mounded on every horizontal one. Socks, underwear, lingerie, dresses, tank tops, beach towels, pajamas, lace tights, shoes, scarves and hand-painted belt buckles with portraits of President Obama. One shop advertises: “Produce Swimwear Gymsuit.”
Shea, 8, corrals his siblings into a stall that seems to have 1,000 socks. Kiki, 6, pauses to watch a group of women playing mahjong. Finny, 4, wearing a bright green Ireland soccer shirt, narrowly avoids a head-on collision with a guy and his delivery cart. I follow at the rear, camera in hand.
We take pictures of the Chinese, and the Chinese take pictures of us.
“The Chinese people really love children,” Jenny says. “Traveling around with four, we’re always greeted with a mixture of surprise and wonder.”
Guangzhou is an overlooked tourist destination. The big glamour cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong attract most travelers, although a subset of American visitors is familiar with the town: people in the import-export business and couples arriving to adopt a baby through the Consulate General of the United States.
As the mainland’s leading manufacturing and commercial hub, Guangzhou hosts the largest trade fair in China — the Canton Fair — twice a year. All those goods that flood big-box stores in the United States have gotta come from somewhere, and with more than 55,000 booths serving 165,000 visitors, my guess is that they originate here. (My flight from Chicago in mid-October was filled with businesspeople en route to the three-week event.)
We don’t visit the fair, but we do spend a day at Onelink, an eight-floor, two-wing shopping extravaganza attached to a 37-story tower for wholesale and retail buyers of stuff. We circumambulate the first floor, where independent contractors in shops large and small sell earrings, necklaces, sparkly hair clips, beaded evening bags, “Gucci” handbags, zippered computer pouches, backpacks, plastic sunglasses, wallets, plastic key chains and many shiny plastic objects. One store sells only smiley-face buttons. Toys, toys, toys.