This week was filled with local experiences and explorations. We spent all of Tuesday cooped up inside waiting to see if Typhoon Nida – our first typhoon – would get more dramatic. From our vantage point, it was just a very wet, very windy day, but nothing particularly extraordinary. The most climactic/climatic moment was looking outside at 8am and seeing NO cars on the main road that is usually filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
No traffic? At 8am on a Tuesday?!
After a couple weeks of scorching, 100 degree, 100% percent humidity days (slight exaggeration), the rain cooled everything down. When it’s not feeling like a sauna on fire, Guangzhou is a beautiful city to wander around. Later in the week, I went on a few rambly walks around our neighborhood, taking the long way home or to the store. The introvert in me relished the solitude of walking alone through the crowd, the quiet peace of the background babble around me, the stillness in the narrow alleys and winding streets off the main roads. Meanwhile, my extrovert side was dying for some conversation, so I also went on a few social outings. Looking to branch out of my social bubble, on Thursday I joined a friend at the Guangzhou Women’s International Club (GWIC) monthly breakfast. The GWIC is a social group for ex-pat women that organizes various outings, meet-ups, and clubs. This time I made some new friends over the ridiculously decadent brunch at the Grand Hyatt.
Living in Guangzhou as an ex-pat means becoming well acquainted with the various fancy hotels in the business district. I had a nice conversation with Amaury’s boss’ boss’ boss last night about just this, and how surreal it feels to walk in and out of 5 star hotels unhindered. I always feel like someone’s suddenly going to recognize me as riff-raff and throw me out. He pointed out that that is rarely an issue in China… though I also think it has a lot to do with the privileges we enjoy as clearly foreign visitors.
On Friday, my friend C invited me to explore a huge wholesale market a short bus ride away. We took her two adorable kids, ages 2 and 4 along. I had a great time exploring the market through the 4 year old’s eyes, which mainly meant finding every Frozen-related toy.
Guangzhou is a city of markets. And each one has some defining characteristic or product IE tea, fabric, hats, scarves, jewelry, toys, gifts, musical instruments, flowers, frames, art… My favorite so far is the Fangcun Tea Market, where, thanks to Amaury’s excellent negotiating skills, we bought a beautiful tea set and tray yesterday.
Our new tea set and tray
Meanwhile, there are hundreds of local wet markets selling all kinds of fresh produce. DO buy delicious, fresh, tropical fruit. Do NOT buy meat unless you also want to buy avian flu.
One of many wet markets in Guangzhou
And of course, there are all the various malls. Here’s the rundown of those near us: the huge Grand View mall has its own aquarium and ice rink; TaiKooHui specializes in high-end brands- I’ve never seen such a big Prada; the brand new, aptly named Park Central has a huge park in the center; Tee Mall is a bit dated but has a huge supermarket on the entire basement level; OneLink Plaza’s purpose seems to be connecting a tall financial building to the metro; Mall of the World is under the huge park built for the Asia games and has mainly small shops and restaurants; and finally, there’s GT Land Plaza, which doesn’t seem to have a defining characteristic except that it has the weirdest maze of escalators that force you in and out of different shops.
My attempt to capture Grand View’s 9 floors
Today I had one of my most favorite Guangzhou experiences to date in some other mall. My friends C and B took me to Hair Spa, a magical place akin to a Blowout Bar, but where you’re treated to a luxurious head, neck, arm, and shoulder massage along with a hair treatment that includes various oils, steam, and styling. Admittedly I’ve never been to a Blowout Bar… perhaps it’s the same? I have a feeling we have these kinds of places in the US, but I just can’t afford them. Usually, this whole Hair Spa experience would have cost us each $50, but C and B had coupons through WeChat, so we only paid $11 each. I wish I could just bring them along with me everywhere I go.
The treatment started with a man in a white coat along with three assistants using a machine to show me what my scalp looks like under a microscope. Apparently, I have some “clogged hair follicles,” which the technician carefully explained to me… and B later translated… I nodded my head, gestured at the screen, and confirmed them as “not good bits.” So I splurged and spent an extra $2 on some special treatment to reduce dandruff.
C and B speak incredible Mandarin after years of living in China, so thankfully they were able to guide me whenever they were in earshot. I know many phrases for “I don’t understand” and “I don’t speak Mandarin well,” but those didn’t resonate with the otherwise kind and considerate staff. Their reaction was to speak slowly, clearly, and loudly (polite Chinese loudly though… so above a murmur). This technique might have worked if I were ordering in a restaurant or buying train tickets. Unfortunately, though, my limited vocabulary doesn’t extend to complicated hair treatments. Interestingly, speaking slowly and shouting tends to be the typical Anglophone response to a foreign language. I can attest from my own experience in China, that this method doesn’t work very well.
We spent a blissful 1.5 hours turning into putty under the hands of our stylists/masseuses/hair angels. Upon leaving, we got coupons for 2 people for $13, so we’ll definitely be back to conduct what feels like highway robbery on this amazing place called Hair Spa.