Reflections on peanut butter preparedness, Beijing bikinis, and urban development

Last week marked two months we’ve been in China; how the weeks are flying by! The great highlight of last week was the arrival of our shipment. It was like Christmas come early. Amaury was over the moon to be reunited with his road bike (named Ella); I was happy to set up my electronic piano and trumpet in what I’ve commandeered as the music room.

We settled into our new digs very quickly, but it wasn’t until we got all of our belongings that I realized it had still been feeling like a hotel. Now our place feels like our home… admittedly, partly because there’s a familiar level of clutter around now.

To celebrate shipment-week, we had a few friends over for a pasta dinner. We got out the pasta maker, opened up some Trader Joe’s wine, and cooked with olive oil for the first time in two months. We even splurged on prosciutto at Corners, a small grocery store that carries various international, specialty foods.

When we lived in Italy, it was very difficult to find non-Italian products… Of course, we were completely spoiled with delicious Italian food, so we didn’t complain too loudly, but it was near impossible to find certain American/foreign things. A friend of ours ate peanut butter at every meal (possible slight exaggeration) and brought an entire cupboard’s worth with him since it was difficult to find it in grocery stores.

 


Incidentally, I always say “GIF” not “JIF” 

 

Guangzhou is different. In such a huge city, we can find just about anything and even at decent quality… but for a price. We’ve found a few tasty Italian restaurants with imported parmesan and prosciutto, but they have to be a treat, not the norm. Every week we eat a variety of different cuisines: this week we had Vietnamese, burritos, and DC-worthy brunch. And of course, here we’re spoiled with delicious Chinese food. In fact, I’d say we’re being ruined for our eventual return to the US… we may never eat Chinese food in the States again. Here Chinese food is so varied, so tasty, and so complex, and we’re always discovering new dishes and cuisines. Shanghai soup dumplings are now on my list of best things I’ve ever eaten. As foodies, we are very happy in Guangzhou.

This city is always full of surprises… including the recent summer phenomenon of “Beijing bikinis” which is occurring everywhere in Guangzhou right now. I’ll let you read more about that in this New York Time’s piece of investigative journalism on the subject.

As I learn more about Guangzhou, I’ve realized that the cosmopolitan metropolis I’m getting to know is extremely different to the Guangzhou of just a few years ago. Guangzhou has been a city for over 2,000 years. Here you can see an image of the famous Beijing Lu, now a bustling shopping street but with parts of the two-thousand old road preserved:

I absolutely love pouring over old photos of cities, comparing then to now. Recently we were chatting with an architect who has lived in Guangzhou for a long time. He told us that the entire district where we live now was just fields and a few apartment buildings 10 years ago. He showed us a picture looking into Tianhe from the Pearl River, which was just open dirt, fields, and crumbly apartment buildings back in 2006. That same view now contains some of the tallest buildings in the world along. Most of this area was built up during the 2010 Asia games. Unfortunately, I don’t have his photo to show you, but here are a few pictures I found online of the Huachang park area in Tianhe from 2009, which is in the area that was completely overhauled. The classical-looking building is the Agricultural Bank of China.

And here is a picture I recently took of the same area:

I’ve long heard about the incredible and rapid development in China, particularly in this industrial region, but it’s one thing to read about it and another to see it happening. It’s funny to think that places that are becoming regular haunts for me, didn’t exist at all a few years ago and also that they may not again in a few years. Just as everything is growing around us, it’s also constantly changing. We’ve received the same advice from multiple, seasoned ex-pats in China: if you see something you like, buy it; if there’s a restaurant you want to try, try it; if there’s a place you want to visit, go. Because things come and go so quickly here. Living here feels like being in a time-lapse film… what has taken decades, even centuries in Europe and the U.S. is happening in weeks (check out this very dramatic video I found of a building being made in 15 days). I’m constantly reminded to pay attention, to the good and bad, as I observe the fast-paced development occurring before my eyes.

I wonder what DC will look like 100 years from now; I wonder what Guangzhou will look like 5 years from now.

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