It was the Most Beautiful Starbucks I Ever Saw

I swear, every single minute there is something here in Guangzhou that causes me to make a mental note: “I must include that in my next post.” I’ve sat down a couple times to write, but then have closed the computer in favor of exploring or going to sleep after a long day. We were just out all afternoon in the blazing heat, meeting up with new friends, and visiting Shamian Island, so I feel justified curling up on our new sofa, in our new living room, in our 29th floor apartment and taking a moment to write.

View from our bedroom

Our trip to Guangzhou started uneventfully. We arrived at SFO well on time, all our bags were underweight, and our flight to Beijing was only slightly delayed. The flight passed quickly with a mix of listening to my Pimsleur Learn Chinese tapes, falling asleep listening to my Pimsler Learn Chinese tapes, reading Neil Gaiman’s excellent Neverwhere, watching a couple movies, and eating the “free” food (IE it’s included in the ticket price so not really free). Once we arrived in Beijing airport things got more interesting. You would think that as we were transferring to a domestic flight that our bags would be marked “transfer” and come out early on. Nope. We watched as our Beijing-bound friends got their bags, and after an hour of waiting, finally collected ours only to recheck them after going through customs.

We then proceeded to the security check where we experienced, for the first time, the scale of the Chinese population. People everywhere. We joined one of many very long security lines where we waited for another hour to go through security. The Beijing airport staff put TSA to shame. They were all order, seriousness, and carefully took their time with every person. Actually quite impressive now that I reflect on it; at the time I was terrified we’d miss our connecting flight. Tripadvisor had thankfully informed us to take out ALL electronic devices from our bags when going through the bag scanner, but we still got held up when the scanner picked up one portable charger in the bottom of Amaury’s backpack. Then pat-downs for everyone. The woman checking me was so efficient, waving her metal detector wand with a certain flourish that can only come from having to wand a billion people every day.

I tried to find a funny gif to post here, but can’t because China. The internet actually works pretty well, but I haven’t quite figured out how to connect to Google and other Western sites yet. Facebook works fine when the VPN on my computer is activated, but no luck getting it to work on my phone. To upload photos, I email them to myself from my phone and then manually upload them. For those friends of mine following my daily photos in China album on Facebook, please know that it is a labor of love.

After security, we raced to our gate only to find that our flight was delayed. I’m still so grateful it was, because we arrived just after it was supposed to leave. That said, the flight then ended up being 3 hours delayed, which was taking things a bit too far in my opinion. Once on the plane, we both passed out asleep, only waking up to eat more “free” food and read a little.

We arrived in Guangzhou at 12:30am local time, where thankfully our amazing contacts S and P were waiting for us. Unfortunately, one of my bags was lost, left in Beijing. At that point, I honestly didn’t care anymore, we were just so ready to be at our new home. We spent about two hours at the Guangzhou airport, first waiting for our bags, then waiting to find out what happened with the missing one, then filling out paperwork (Amaury to the rescue, he used Mandarin for the first time to talk with the airport staff and did so well!), and then finally making our way to the waiting car.

As those of you who’ve travelled long distance know, there is only one thing sweeter than taking a shower after 24+ hours of travel and that is going to sleep in a comfy bed.

The past few days have been overwhelming, tiring, hot, wonderful, exhilarating, and affirming. We’ve had several moments where we’ve expressed such joy at being in Guangzhou. From what we’ve seen so far, it is a green city with trees lining big boulevards; a bustling, modern metropolis with a highly sophisticated metro and underground tunnels and shopping malls connecting pedestrians to anywhere they need to go; a tall world of skyscrapers, several of which are some of the tallest in the world; a delicious experience of tasty, varied, and largely inexpensive restaurants.

Canton Tower – 3rd tallest building in the world

The best things we’ve eaten/drunk so far include: mangos from a small fruit store (mango in Mandarin is “mang guo” easy to remember and meaning “busy fruit”), “xiao long bao” dumplings that were the best we’ve ever tasted, and bubble tea from Gong Cha –  a common tea shop that appears every few blocks. Amaury has been teasing me because I must’ve said “I love Gong Cha” at least 12 times just today and declared “it’s my favorite place” after just one time going there.

Eating at Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao

Of course, we’re currently at the top of the rollercoaster for living abroad. There are peaks and valleys to any international experience, and we are currently in the excited phase of being somewhere new. Knowing that valleys can come suddenly, we’ve been trying to be kind to ourselves – making sure to limit our adventures to one main new thing each day, coming home to air-conditioning regularly, going to bed early, and taking time to rest. It’s also helped a lot that Amaury took Friday off so is starting work tomorrow after a nice three day weekend to settle in.

Today our main new thing was taking the metro for the first time to visit Shamian Island. A beautiful island in the Pearl River that used to be the West’s gateway to China and was home to many consulates up until recently when most relocated to the new Tian He District. Due to its long Western and colonial history, Shamian Island is a time capsule of old, European-style buildings. Most of the island has pedestrian-only paths lined with gorgeous trees. We found the most beautiful Starbucks I’ve ever seen in one of the old colonial buildings- talk about a symbol of Western civilization/consumerism! It was incredible, looking more like a classy Spanish cafe rather than a huge, global coffee chain. The array of beverages was amazing and almost everyone (we ordered iced lattes) ordered sweet, frappuccino-style drinks with tons of whipped cream, syrup, and nuts on top.

Our visit to Shamian Island

We have found it so entertaining to see how different certain things are here. Like strolling past an entire block of Chinese medicine shops earlier today that seemed to mainly sell different dried roots and mushrooms (I’m sure these are perfectly normal to Guangzhou locals, thankfully nothing seemed to be of endangered animal origin). We also enjoyed finding the entire grocery aisle of soy sauce and were gleefully horrified by the large number of “wei-jing” aka MSG options next to the salt.

Till next time!

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