If you happen to be passing through Canton and spot a pair of purple-framed eyeglasses with tinted lenses, please turn them in to the lost-and-found box at the Dong Fang Hotel.
You see, my nearsighted wife removed them for a few minutes last month to inspect an unusually modern hair dryer in the hotel gift shop, and remembering, after all, that this is crime-free China, laid them down on the counter.
She later discovered they were gone, along with several local teenagers and one more naive stereotype about China.
Canton, as it turns out, loves to shatter preconceived notions. It is one of south China's oldest cities, yet it boasts plans for one of the most modern skylines. It is one of the richest towns, yet children dressed in rags beg for spare change on downtown streets. Its people are known for their provincialism, yet it is not uncommon to see a pair of penny loafers or to hear the latest Hong Kong love ballad.
Along the broad Pearl River that curls around half of Canton, modern times have brought a bit of the boardwalk. For a penny a shot, you can fire a dart rifle at a target of red yarn balls. Or for a penny a minute, you can squint through plastic viewers at a moving cartoon featuring a character that looks like Bugs Bunny.
The only known bootblacks in China congregate along the tree-lined riverfront, hustling the few strollers, mostly foreign, sporting leather shoes. By the time the first dab of polish lands, 50 curious Chinese gather and speculate about the cost of such fine brogues.
Some traditions, however, die hard, such as the Cantonese appetite for just about anything moving.
In one of the city's largest food markets, hawkers haggle over the price of live owls, eagles, armadillos and turtles. The selection includes dead rat and lizards, skinned weasels, lamb heads and the local favorite -- domestic dog meat, offered by the hindside, muzzle or paw.
Most of the cultural crosscurrents of this balmy port city can be explained in two words: Hong Kong. Since the Chinese government lifted restrictions of travel and communications between Hong Kong and Canton a few years ago, the exotic British colony has gradually infected its communist cousin with an advanced case of Occidentalism.
The earliest express train from Hong Kong rolls into Canton at 4 p.m. every day after a smooth, three-hour ride across the lush rice fields of Quangdong province. The train, one of China's most modern, unloads a fresh batch of tourists, businessmen and relatives who bring along the latest ideas and contraptions of the Western world.
In the customs line one day last month, amid the three-piece suits and camera clickers, several old Hong Kong Chinese women nicely bridged the two civilizations. Dressed in the loose-fitting trousers and blue cotton shirts worn by the rice farmers of south China, they stretched heavy bamboo poles across their shoulders, balancing cardboard boxes of Sanyo color television sets, Sony tape recorders, electric fans and toaster ovens, irons and cameras.
What may have been history's quietest consumer revolt took place in Canton six months ago when local authorities, worried about the creeping influence of capitalist culture, tried to ban televisions specially attuned to Hong Kong frequencies.
The TV sets, brought in by relatives, had become wildly popular as much of Canton was tuning in each night to old Chinese comedies and British detective stories broadcast over Hong Kong TV.
Alarmed that so many good Marxists were being assauled by such dangerous "bourgeois ideas," officials ordered an immediate dismantling of the high rooftop antennas that identified the special sets.
What resulted was the classis Chinese practice of accommodating authority at little sacrifice to vital interests. The antennas were kept down during the day, but owners stealthily climbed back onto their roofs everynight to reconnect their sets.
After a few weeks, the officials gave up trying to enforce the unenforceable and today the rooftops of canton are sprouting TV aerials like weeds.