On this weekend I made a quick trip on the bullet train to Guangzhou, 80 miles northwest of Changping. Guangzhou is the regional megacity that sprawls across a gigantic area with a modern downtown and highrises growing endlessly in every direction. I stayed in the White Swan Hotel, one of the best hotels in China and situated on Shamian Island in the Pearl River.

More pictures of Guangzhou Weekend

The drive from our hotel to the plant isn't scenic in the least. It's a zig zag of dirty suburban streets connecting one industrial town to another. But scattered around the region are several scenic places worth an afternoon trip. Up north is the huge city of Guangzhou with a few pretty parks and riverfronts that are great for strolling. And only a few miles from the plant is a surprisingly scenic park and lotus pond.

July 15 I made an overnight trip to Guangzhou. I needed to cash a travelers check and none of the banks in Dongguan County knew how to do it. So Saturday morning I hopped on the bullet train and shot across the countryside to Guangzhou, the nearby megacity. This place sprawls across a gigantic area with the population of New York City living in a forest of highrises that grow endlessly in every direction.

Guangzhou is just another big ugly city, but the train ride was surprisingly scenic. The countryside along the way is thick into the Pearl River Delta, a region littered with rivers, canals, swamps, and not many people except for scattered farms and fisherman. The trip was one bridge after another as we zoomed past swampy rice paddies at a hundred miles an hour.

After about an hour we pulled into the Guangzhou station, in the heart of the ugly district. The tunnel under the tracks was a half hour slog through a claustrophobic meat grinder - bodies pressed against each other one tiny step at a time in a steamy oven, with no where to go except to follow the masses toward the distant light ahead.

We were barely moving because everyone except me was going to the next train and the gate wasn't open yet. So I hopped the turnstile under a sign that said "no exit", and made my escape down the sunny corridor to the bus rodeo across the plaza. I didn't know where I was going or where the buses were going, so I grabbed a cab and zoomed south to the White Swan Hotel on the shore of the Pearl River.

The White Swan is one of the best hotels in China and situated on Shamian Island in the Pearl River. This tiny island was a French and English outpost 150 years ago and many of the old buildings are still standing. The White Swan is newer than that and now forms the anchor of activity on the island.

So I walked into the lobby, and wow what a lobby. A rocky koi pond sits in the center of the 4-story atrium with a waterfall at the far end and ivy hanging over three tiers of balconies. Flowers, fish and water are everywhere, and so are children. The White Swan is the main hotel in China for American parents waiting to adopt Chinese children. So the place is crawling with newly adopted families and regular families, and nearly all of them are posing for pictures next to the koi pond and waterfall.

Near the lobby is a dozen gift shops selling all kinds of Chinese antiques and crafts. Carved jade, silver, gold, porcelain and laquerware is all over the place, some with a huge pricetags. Topping the pricelist is a $200,000 mammoth tusk carved into an intricate village scene. I bought a set of chopsticks for about $10.

I was only here for a weekend but there was so much to see at the hotel, I would have been content to just stay there. But after a quick lunch at the buffet (where the prawns were so fresh one walked off the counter), I went for a long walk down the riverfront and Shamian Parks.

Shamian Island is maybe a half-mile square with a seawall facing the Pearl River and a scenic park running down the middle. I hiked the seawall past a good number of locals sitting on the wall watching the boat traffic go by. Stairs lead into the water where fisherman tried their luck and kids splashed nearby, while older folks were doing their tai che in the park and a string band played in the grass. Ficus trees lined the walkway, with their aerial roots choking the trunks.

I crossed over to the mainland and walked up the river a ways to a big bridge that crosses the Pearl River, which is about a half mile wide through here. The Pearl River is a huge thoroughfare but this bridge isn't big enough for big freighters to pass under. Somebody wasn't thinking when they put this thing up. But the view from up here was pretty good. To the east are the big highrises of downtown Guangzhou, about five miles straight down the river.

Later that day I paid a visit to the pool in the garden behind the hotel. Like everything else about this place, the pool was fabulous - overlooking the river with a waterfall spilling into the west end. But in this hot steamy jungle my camera was too steamed up to work. So I sat by the river for a half hour while it warmed up (it was cold from my room) before I could shoot a few pictures.

The next morning I went swimming before the crowds got there. The warm water felt great and floating under the waterfall pounded me with with a soothing massage. But that was it for Guangzhou - after a big breakfast at the buffet next to the koi pond, I jumped back on the bullet train back to Changping.

More pictures of Guangzhou Weekend
Dongguan China 2007       A weekend trip to Guangzhou and the White Swan Hotel
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