On my first visit to Guangzhou I found communication a little difficult as having been immersed amongst Mandarin dialects for several years living in China it came as somewhat as a surprise to be adrift amongst the Cantonese speakers of Guangdong, even though I knew about the language variations in the south of China.
So it's polite to say 'Ngoy' for instead of 'Xie xie' or 'Thankyou' and a good excuse to learn a few phrases. Shenzhen, as a newer city, is more cut out for Mandarin and makes for quite an interesting contrast.
Kay, for Guangzhou, there are lots of places you can go to "experience" China, but its not really the "real" China. For one, the natives speak mostly cantonese. Another thing is that Guangzhou has so long been influenced by foreign cultures, that it doesn't really click with what you would think as China.
There is the Lingnan culture in Guangzhou, which is only found in southern China.
Guangzhou is famous for its food. It is literally the food capital of China. Chinese takeout, and dimsum come from there. Because it was a trading port, tea is SUPER popular there.Freshness is hte number one factor for the Cantonese. If the food isn't fresh, then the restaurant will probably close within a week. You can pick live seafood for you dinner before it gets cooked.
The city's old architecture is largely influenced by the West. The qilou decorations are based off European designs. A nice showcase of qilou can be found near Beijing Road, though the communist government has long destroyed the original design of the buildings without care for their history.
Shamian Island is an island filled with European styled buildings, built by Europeans, as the island was the only place they were allowed to live in after the Opium Wars. The island is really beautiful. Nearby, there is a nice cathedral called the Sacred Heart Cathedral, built by the French in the 1800s. Right outside the island is Liwan District, the district with the most history and culture in Guangzhou.
If you want to learn about the history of Guangzhou, and its culture, its all in Liwan. There is absolutely nothing in the countryside. The city never went to there. There is nothing to learn about the culture in the countryside. Guangzhou was always a city, and all the culture stayed within city walls. The "large bland city" you talk of is in Tianhe district.
Another thing is that Guangzhou was the base of Kuomintang. There are many old relics, and buildings (including a old military school) that sill fly the flag. When the People's Republic of China was created, Guangzhou was still Kuomintang and free from communist rule. You can learn a lot about China's history in the 1900s in Guangzhou (mostly Communist vs. Kuomintang)
People in Guangzhou are laid back...and well pretty lazy. Food is number one haha. There are lots of migrant workers in Guangzhou, so the true "life" of the city is getting soiled (over half the population is a moving migrant population. migrants take the work locals don't want.)
You won't see the "real" China, or the China that people hear about in Guangzhou. it would be closer to the culture of Hong Kong or Macau. The Chinese government does not really care about Guangzhou besides the money, so the city is super liberal. There is less of a "communist regime" seen in Guangzhou, unless the government meddles with the locals' lives. Art and other works usually censored in other parts of China can be showcased in Guangzhou with less of a restriction.
If you've been to Hong Kong, know that most of the culture from Hong Kong came from Guangzhou. :)
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Most taxi drivers do not speak fluent English. As Cantonese is the lingua franca, you may also have problem in listening to the heavy Cantonese accented Mandarin when it comes to names of places, etc.
So get a bilingual taxi destination card (tourist places, airport, train or bus station) from your hotel conceirge or have all the destinations you may go written on a piece of paper by the hotel staff. Fortunately, whether in Cantonese or Mandarin, the same Chinese characters are used.
So all you need is to point or tick to where you want to go.
Have the hotel number in case you need an English/Mandarin interpreter to talk to the taxi river.
If you are someone who likes to have rice to go with the chinese dishes you ordered, you need to remind the waiters/ waitresses to serve you the rice when your first dish was being served. My experiences and also of many of my friends were that: they tend to serve the rice only when ALL the dishes you ordered are served. So, if you are one who needs to have rice to go with your food, remember to ask again and again for the rice. Usually it takes me 2 to 3 reminders before the waiters come with my rice.
Think because the locals here deemed rice as the "main course" where they consumed only after they had taken all the dishes. Rice is just to fill up the stomach and not so much to go with the dishes. Like attending a typical chinese wedding, rice or noodles are usually the last 2nd dish, just before dessert.
Fish heads, pig ears, chicken feet, as well as an assortment of animals that make you think you just entered a children's petting zoo instead of a restaurant.
"Nice kitty"...CHOP! "Oh look at the turtle, mommy"...CHOP! "What a beautiful peacock!"...CHOP! CHOP! CHOP!
Be prepared to see one or two strange items on a restaurant's translated English menu.
Yet not all are as weird as they might sound. "Ants Climbing A Tree", for example, is a noodle dish with ground beef but there are no insects in the recipe.
There is an old saying that people in Guangzhou will eat anything with four legs except furniture.
I have visited one famous special local restaurant that served nothing but snake.
During the winter months you can take photos of the Chinese version of hot dogs; indeed the whole barbequed dog is strung up by its tail upside down on display at the street meat market known locally as Qingping.
Actually I indeed have such a picture in my Guangzhou photo album at home but am kind enough to spare the image from those sensitive VT members who may find it too disturbing.
English is rarely spoken or understood (for that matter) in China. Luckily my family is Cantonese (naturally since we hail from Guangzhou) and were able to get by speaking Cantonese and some broken Mandarin.
Rapid development in China has demolished alot of old hutong clans. Where my granddad's cillage was (previously only accessible on red earth road) is now a 6 lane highway.
Legend has it that during the Tang Dynasty, two generals Qin Qiong (pale skin) and Yuchi Jingde (dark skin) were commanded to guard the door to prevent evil spirits which were disturbing the Emperor at night, giving the Emperor sleepless nights. It worked and the Emperor slept soundly that night. In order not to force the generals to continue guarding the door each night, Emperor had their pictures painted on the doors to guard for future nights.
So it is common to see door gods painted in pairs at the entrance of temples and even homes.
The electricity is 220 volts, 50 cycles. The Plugs are either a two-pin or three-pin flat (5-amp) or round two-pin Continental type. Newer hotels tend to have standard electric razor sockets in bathrooms.
Tipping :is officially forbidden in China, although small tips are sometimes 'expected' by some porters and bell boys in larger hotels and by some taxi drivers where amounts can be rounded off.
Always when ever you gave or receive the visiting card,
pick the card with both hands at corners and little smile with respect. Just have the idea that you are giving respect to your name or other name.
I personelly like this way of presentation and follow in my whole trip................
While it is customary to give gifts, there are a few customs that are tied to gift giving. First, one should never offer a gift with the first offer. If is acceptable and expected that you would accept the generosity of the gift-giver but not the gift. At least 2-3 declinations of the gift are expected. It is expected that the gift-giver is perservering and will try to bestow the gift as many times as it is declined. If the gift is finally accepted, it must be with much resignation so that the gift-giver experiences a sense of victory from being able to bestow the gift. The gift must be accepted with much gratitude and humility.
There are a few that should be noted. The first is mentioned in a tip by itself and that is the process of sanitizing your dishes with hot tea before eating.
Another notable table manner is to avoid touching food with your hands. Food should be manipulated and introduced to the palate with chopsticks. This includes delectables such as steamed buns, which could easily be eaten with fingers.
Typically, there are teacups, rice bowls, and small plates that are included in the place settings for the meal. One should note that the small plates are not used for food. This is the discard plate. One should discard any inedibles onto this plate (i.e. bones, skin, paper, etc.)
It is also good table manners to tap the table next to your teacup when being served tea. This signifies gratitude for filling the tea cup. It was related to me that the origin of this custom was from the days of the emperor when he was served tea. He was not to speak, but this was his gesture of thanks.
I am not sure how widespread these customs are and I recommend that they are followed only in southern China. These customs are very acceptable in Guangzhou.
When in Guangzhou, do as the Chinese do. It is very acceptable to "wash" your dishes with tea before you have the meal. Typically, this involves pouring the first tea into your tea cup and giving it a good swish. Pour this into your rice bowl and invert the tea cup and run the lip into the hot tea. The chopsticks are then dipped into the rice bowl. The residual tea in the rice bowl is then poured out into the "waste" bin for the "wash."
Knocking you fingers on the table when people add you more tea is very much appreciated. That may look rude to you, however, in Guangzhou, it means "thank you".
If you are not married, use one finger nail only; if you are married, use two fingers.
The homelessness situation in Guangzhou is not much different than it is in many large cities of the Western world (excluding Santa Monica where of course the situation is magnified several times over!)... From time to time, you will occasionally come across homeless people trying to eke out an existence on the dingy stony sidewalks... Most of them are not there by choice although an old Chinese proverb says that after being a beggar for three days, you wouldn't want to trade places with an emperor... And Mao Zedong himself once voluntarily lived as a beggar for a period of time, as a kind of experiment... It would be fascinating to learn the whole truth about the life stories of these often troubled travelers, who are caught in the cold winds of a witless world...