bEnsHoP in Guangzhou

Weekeeeend [Life in GZ, Ed. 26]

My apartment has never seen me home as much as I was last week. It has to do with a combination of Guangzhou’s unbearable heat, the pulsating excitement over going home NEXT WEEK, the need to finish up two episodes before I leave, and my Serial podcast binging (more on that in an upcoming post).

So after working mostly from home last week, this update mostly concerns weekend outings 🙂

1 — bEnsHoP
Friday was my day off from the office, but again due to the heat, I didn’t feel like venturing too far off. Dianping (China’s Yelp) led me to local café I hadn’t yet been to—shocker! So I made the short but sweaty walk to this cute shop that sells overpriced trinkets and clothing but also doubles as a coffee shop.

I had planned to make some more progress on my book of the month, but ended up spending that time sitting back, drinking yummy iced coffee, WeChatting, and enjoying the view overlooking Jianshe 6 Road from the closed-off reading room in the back. The room’s bookshelf was stocked with what seemed like every single edition of some Hong Kong magazine called Milk. One even had Usher on the cover.

2 — Cute Discoveries
After bEnsHoP (typing that is a circa-2000 pain in the ass), despite the heat, I didn’t feel like going back home yet. After all, I had already spent most of the week indoors.

Instead, I walked around Taojin, an area across from the Garden Hotel that I hadn’t walked around in what felt like a very long time. During the first few months of arriving in Guangzhou, I had a habit of just walking and walking and walking, exploring as much of the city’s streets as possible. So coming back to Taojin certainly brought back memories but also, in typical China fashion, new discoveries. Apparently, a Walmart now exists in that area. Now, for anyone slightly familiar with the area, Taojin is basically a bunch of small streets and old apartment buildings with tiny shops on the first floor, selling everything from clothing to CoCo milk tea.

And somehow, the Chinese have managed to fit a sizable Walmart there by taking up a couple of these shops and building down, just like the Walmart in Kecun at the basement of a new shopping mall. Perhaps I shouldn’t have such a tone of disbelief based on my own background: Americans’ concept of Walmart is a gigantic warehouse on an island of blacktop, and in Chinese megacities, the fattest buildings you’ll see are multipurpose shopping malls surrounded by, well, even more shopping malls.

Anyway, I wandered into a 7 Eleven (seriously, I will miss actually going inside convenience stores, which aren’t a thing in the U.S., unless you’re filling up gas). I saw on one shelf what looked like pre-packed snack bags, which I thought were adorable. Plenty of locals are seen going in and out of convenience stores for quick breakfasts or even lunches and dinners, but this is the first time I saw the soy milk and Chinese bread already put into bags for customers on the shelf.

Another cute sighting: A cat? in front of the popular Saint Honore bakery. I don’t know why that was necessary, given the bakery’s already great reputation—unless I missed something in the news about a food scandal.

3 — “Little Hosts” Perform!
Remember when I pretended to be a teacher to little rich kids?

Well, Hazza has since rightfully resumed his role, and Saturday was their time to shine and perform their rendition of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.”

I brought along a family friend, who returned last week to spend his college summer break back home—he’s a Guangzhou native but has been studying in the U.S. since high school. We met for ramen at Ajisen after my brief hour at the office, then headed over to the radio station for the show to surprise the kids.

And here’s the thing about public events in China: WECHAT IS EVERYTHING—as if WeChat doesn’t already permeate every waking moment of every single person in China.

Before the performances, a giant QR code was splashed on the projector screen, with the host insisting that everyone scan the code before the show begins to enter a raffle of some sort. Imagine all the parents who came to watch their kids perform standing up, holding their smartphones up at the stage, and trying to participate in what they really came to do—win a prize. (I don’t actually know what they won, but pretty sure it was something lame). Meanwhile, I sat back and looked with utter amusement at the adults clamoring to scan the QR code, then shamelessly shaking their phones as part of the method to place on the leaderboard. Yeah, I have no idea who comes up with this shit that actually manages to gain traction at all these Chinese events.

After the winners were announced via their WeChat photos, the real show began, with “little hosts” from other classes (apparently this is a whole school of classes) kicking off the performances with introductions memorized cold and recited in a way that made me think of the show “Toddlers and Tiaras”—slightly endearing yet totally terrifying.

All in all, the event was incredibly interesting to a foreigner like me. As you can tell just by my observations, I found it very valuable to observe such an event—and yeah, mock the parents and other audience members who unabashedly participated in the WeChat game 😛

Shake it off!

4 — Independence Day: Resurgence

Guangzhou taxi grafitti

Afterward, my friend and I took a taxi to Tianhe to watch Finding Dory. (The taxi had some interesting graffiti for anyone interested and who can read Chinese. Something about prostitutes, apparently).

Two hiccups: The movie theater we wanted to go to in the new mall that houses the Apple Store wasn’t open yet (though we both agreed that given the pace of Chinese construction it probably would have in a few hours). And then the Grandview Mall’s theater didn’t have any more showings of Finding Dory that day. We ended up settling for Independence Day 2, for which we expected the worst but ended up not hating it. Low expectations FTW. I still wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone, but I give it credit for at least being entertaining enough for someone who hasn’t seen the first one.

Parc Central, the new mall with the Apple and Tesla stores (seemed to have its grand opening Saturday!), is incredible and makes me want to move to Tianhe even more. On the basement level is a ridiculously cool restaurant called Asia Table, where we got delicious Thai tea to go before heading to Grandview. Note to self: Return ASAP. We also walked past a curry restaurant that looked great, but decided after the movie to take my friend to my absolute favorite Korean BBQ restaurant in Guangzhou at Liede.

6 — Xingsheng Lu

Despite having to wait about half an hour before being seated (this place always has lines), we made it inside in what seemed like a reasonable amount of time. We arrived when the number was at 59 and ours was 92. I know, sounds insane, but it turns out so many people get a number and leave, so when the poor employee standing outside in the heat is calling numbers, she literally leaves a few seconds for you to get up from the waiting stools before she moves on to the next one—hence, little more than half an hour wait for 33 numbers ahead of us.

Full of deliciousness, we made our way to Hooley’s just in time to check out its nightly live band and enjoy some drinks. With the lack of A/C throughout the day, I’m pretty sure I sweated off a couple pounds. (Not going to go into too much detail now, but let’s just say speaking of lack of A/C, not only do I have to go into work on the weekends, but I also have to bear the hell that is an A/C-less office on weekends to “save energy.” FUCK. THAT.)

Anyway, despite my friend being born and raised in Guangzhou, these spots were completely foreign to him. Even though he had helped show me around way back in July when I first arrived, we have somehow switched roles, with me acting more like his tour guide, showing him a city that’s being hopelessly transformed by the minute.

I’ll end with a shot of the gorgeous Guangzhou sky at sunset from Tianhe, where I’m currently taking offers from hotels to let me stay permanently 😛

Tianhe sunset in Guangzhou