Experience Canton – More Than Amazing Cuisine!

Guangzhou Guangzhou, previously Canton, is 75-miles north of Hong Kong. The third largest city in China houses over 15-million – the God of Wealth has attracted 105-million to the whole of Guangdong Province, and expanding fast.

Guangzhou Underground TrainHundreds-of-thousands arrive with little more than their shirt, hoping to earn enough to send back to their village. Everywhere is busy. Expect to wait for restaurant tables’ and queue for everything. Rapid urbanization has resulted in Guangzhou’s underground railway growing in 16-years to the 9th longest globally.

Before the Tang Dynasty Guangdong was a poor backward region far from the Emperor. Later, Arab traders, Jesuits, and other foreigners flourished there  – until 1757 when the only place immigrants could live in China was restricted to tiny Shamian Island on the Pearl River in Guangzhou. Until British drug dealing opened the country after the Opium War.

Cantonese FishI believe the birthplace of Cantonese food is the best place in the world to dine. Subtle seasoning ensures the freshness of the food is not masked – and everything is eaten, from chicken feet to dog. All meat is chopped into cubes, bones and all, so easily eaten with chopsticks.

Popular is roast pig, goose, chicken, steamed fish and seafood. Breakfast dim sum is ace – shrimp dumpling, steamed siumai, vermicelli roll and sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. In winter hot pot is fun. Lightly boiling delicacies like live shrimp, mushroom, chicken and tofu dangled in a pot on the table, with lots of cheap beer and tea.

Guanzhou Pavement ResturantEateries are everywhere – Guangzhou once boasted a restaurant for every 500-citizens. Stay away from rip-off famous places and gorge yourself at one of the many al fresco pavement cafes. Be like a local: have fun and make a mess!

If you’re yearning for Western, my favorites are the Brazilian BBQ and Sultan Turkish Restaurant near the Garden Hotel, Lucy’s outdoor American diner on Shamian Island; and one of the Japanese Italian chain called Saizeriya, like on Liwan Square.  Best area for pubs is around the Hill Bar, close to the Sultan. Happy Hour finishes at 8pm.

Top Tourist Sights
Pearl River, Guangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou Tower1) Evening Pearl River cruise – now goes close to the dramatic Dutch-designed Canton Tower. Illuminations only on from 7.30pm to 10pm and boats leave about every 20-minutes.
2) Shamian Island retains many colonial buildings and parkland.

Liwan Square, Guangzhou, China3) Pedestrian street in Li Wan & Li Wan Park – great at night.
4) White Cloud Mountain – take the cable car.
5) Guangzhou museum in Yuexiu Park – take the subway there.
6) Six Banyan Tree Temple & Flower Pagoda – over 1,000-years old along Liurong Lu.

Getting There
High Speed Chinese TrainIf you’re from Hong Kong, the easiest transport is the Through Train from Hung Hom, a 2-hour trip. Or MTR to the Lo Wo border, cross into China, and ride a 120-mph train – five-an-hour and takes about 70-minutes. Guangzhou’s new international airport is only an hour from the city centre by underground train or taxi.

If you arrive by air and have a connecting flight out of China, you can stay visa-free for 48-hours. Otherwise most foreigners need an expensive visa. Easily arranged in Hong Kong, or with much form-filling from your home country.

Guangzhou TempleSo if you’re doing South East Asia, don’t miss China, or at least nip into Guangzhou. A couple of nights there and a couple in Hong Kong are the minimum. And if you have longer, I’d highly recommend a few days at Yangshou, near Guilin – Either fly or take the night train from Guangzhou.

I’ve had a place in Guangzhou for over 15-years, so if you have any questions, I’d be pleased to help – Leave a reply.

SGuangzhouee My Personal site at NigelHayMckay.com
My Yangshou Blog

Result of Progress – China’s Pollution

All across China millions are being killed.  One report in April 2013 estimated one-in-a-thousand premature deaths by air pollution – that’s 1.2-million.

face maskSo far this year in Beijing, smog levels are almost 30% over the same period in 2012. Newspapers say fossil fuels are the culprit. Burning coal and oil creates minuet particles that embed deep in the lungs, explaining why so many wear surgical masks. The US Embassy there recorded these particles 35-times higher than the World Health Organization’s guideline.

The Government is doing all it can – in Beijing along, they’re spending US$16 billion over three-years on the problem, but citizens will still need mobile-phone apps to report pollution levels. On the worst days, the old and frail are advised to stay indoors.

Traffic in Guangzhou, ChinaEveryone in China wants a car and many can now afford one, adding to over 5.2-million vehicles in the capital.  New emission standards similar to Europe should cut nitrogen oxide by 40%, but only to the latest vehicles and most trucks still burn low quality diesel.

No wonder air filter sales in China are booming – soley for the rich and they only work inside. The only sure way of avoiding the perils of over-industrialization is to move to the mountains, but everyone needs work.

Polluted Hong KongHong Kong has among the best of Chinese urban air.  Understandable with a population of only 7-million and few factories – however, the University estimates that in December 2012, 253 citizens died early and 576,890 visited their doctor because of pollution. I just have an occasional light cough.

Ten years ago in Hong Kong the sky was blue and everything bright.  Now it’s hard to see the Peak.  Last Sunday I could just about make out shapes the other side of the harbour from the Star Ferry.  The TV weather forecast includes a pollution report that often says roadside levels are ‘dangerous’ – but Beijing’s rein of the media prevents broadcasting ‘severe’.

Crazy Chinese New Year Commuting

The British Government thinks its tough preventing commuters complaining about standing an hour with ever-increasing rail costs. However, with such a tiny country, about the same population as Guangdong Province, they have it easy.  Further east, the largest annual human migration in the world is on its way back.  For 40-days around Chinese New Year, 3.4-billion journeys will be swarmed across Mainland China.

From all Chinese cities millions of migrant workers travel to their home villages to visit relatives.  For most, not just a once-a-year visit, but their only holiday.  Almost everyone works 6-to-7 days a week with very little extra leave. Shops and restaurants are open every single day.

Outside main railway stations an army of police offer free hot drinks and rice porridge to the crowns waiting, often days, for a train.  In West Beijing, the largest station in the world, the campers stop traffic to make more space.  The 128,000 klm train network can handle 225-million passengers, but demand is 10-times more this time of year. And with even more working in cities for extra money, there is a record rush in 2013.

The Chinese Government expects 8.6% more travellers than last Lunar New Year.  Despite the growing train network 3.1-billion trips will have to be made by bus, especially as Chinese airlines run at near-full normally – so it’s not surprising prices have gone up and airports have been ordered to supply free bottled water and noodles.

For the past year in Hong Kong, the 7-million residents have had to breathe in for 3-million-a-month Mainland tourists squeezing in to enjoy tax-free computers and cameras.  The Government loves it as they spend about US$300 each, but it does cause problems.  Hong Kong locals hate the blitz of pushers and spitters surging through the already over-crowed trains.

Next week MiMi and I will be making our frequent scramble from the New Territories to our flat in Guangzhou, formally Canton, the 12-million-populated capital of Guangdong.  It usually takes about 3 1/2-hours door-to-door, but I expect delays.

See my personal site at NigelHayMckay.com


Hong Kong Christmas

Do you long to escape the cold at Christmas? Do you wonder what Christmas is like in Hong Kong?

Well, it aint as you think! The festive season is best cold – at least frosty outside.  Everyone loves snow, but icy can be beautiful too.  One does not miss something until it’s lost.

Hong Kong is not warm this time of year, 12 to 14 degrees, can be more – but with little heating, it feels freezing inside.  MiMi and I use an electric blanket.  Outside is better, wrapped up and usually dry and sunny.  Noels and carols are everywhere – but it feels hollow.  Merry, not magical – I love a cosy, quaint atmosphere.

Christmas somewhere hot, like the Philippines is no better. It’s nice to get out of the cold, but if you live in the Far East, most of the year is scorching.  Mainly were basking in air-con. You see, we can boil in the sun anytime – Christmas should be different, special.

However, here in Hong Kong we enjoy British festive TV, wine, turkey and mince pies.  That’s if you’re a gwelio, a foreign devil. I guess its nostalgia – my friends down under prefer throwing king prawns on a pool-side barbe.

Chinese New Year is more fun – especially as it brightens the New Year lull. In 2013 it’s on February 10th – Year of the Snake. Sure to rock!

Please join in the blog & comment!
See my personal site at NigelHayMckay.com
For December Horse Racing in Hong Kong Video click here

Wild Chinese Hawking!

In 1991, I arrived in Hong Kong overland from Egypt with two friends.  We flew from London to Cairo, and took buses and trains through Jordon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and then into China and down to Hong Kong.  Bit of a rush in about 12-weeks. 

I’d been to Hong Kong before and noticed sellers with flattened cardboard on the bridges and pavements.  I thought this was a good idea.  So we brought papyrus paintings in Egypt and mailed surface from Jordon to Hong Kong.

Our first night selling we came down the Chung King Mansions  lift with two suit cases crammed with papyrus, with the intention to set-up outside on the Nathan Road.  However, in the lift was another British hawker advising us we would get immediately arrested there – so he took us to Mong Kok.  A nearby district, listed in the Guinness Book as the most densely populated area on the planet. 

From there we made a killing – sometimes taking over US$200 an hour.  Even better was Immigration Walkway in Wan Chai at lunchtimes – but I did get arrested there once. 

In Hong Kong police usually leave hawkers alone.  The job of clearing the streets is left to the Urban Council, who target individual sellers’ and organize their team to grab him fast.  Then they take you to the police station in a pick-up with caged sides.  There it’s US$60 bail and in court within a week.  Everything on display is confiscated and everyone gets about a US$80 fine, although it increases on multiple offences.  I have one friend who’s been prosecuted 18-times.

The technique is to watch out for these guys while selling.  Not easy, as it gets very busy.  On any suspicion, everyone shuts shop and runs.  Fast.  Just like in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.  Once a friend pretended to go for me:  about 50-sellers panicked with jewellery and bags flying through the air like confetti!

At least you get a sense of sport in Hong Kong.  When I tried it in the UK at the centre of Norwich with silk ties at Christmas, I got arrested before even setting up.

There are still a few hawkers in Hong Kong, but most have put away their boards as the authorities tightened up.  Some elderly sellers were even killed – scrambling away with trolleys of boiling oil.  However, on the Mainland, it’s a lot easier.

At one time the Shenzhen border to Hong Kong was a gauntlet of limbless beggars and aggressive sellers.  Nowadays, hawkers in Mainland China have to operate in more discreet locations, where local authorities turn a blind eye at certain times.  In Guangzhou, formally known as Canton, busy late-evening sidewalks are awash with peddlers of every type of food imaginable.

Fermented bean curd is the smelliest hawker food– also known as stinky tofu, for its powerful whiff like strong camembert cheese.  The Chinese and Japanese have been scoffing this for over 1,000-years – and it’s not true their small noses are less sensitive, quite the reverse in fact!

Barbeque pork and chicken on bamboo skewers is everywhere – freshly cooked on long narrow troths especially made for the job and to conserve charcoal.  This is usually cooked by Xingjian migrants who look more Pakistani than Chinese.  Very tasty too sprinkled with a little cumin.

Common in Beijing, Bangkok too, as baby BBQed sparrows – even the beaks are soft enough to crunch.

Less bizarre is sticky rice – and more common to the Western palate is boiled corn-on-the-cob, oysters, and fried or steamed noodles.  Roast jacket potatoes are of the sweet potato variety without butter. 

Overall, hawker food in Mainland China is excellent – and much more fun than the “sterile” food halls enforced in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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Eating in China – Ever Wondered What Foreigner’s Eat?

Ever wondered what other beaders eat?  This blog is the meals I’ve had on a China buying trip last weekend:

  • Friday breakfast in Hong Kong apartment
    Alpen muesli and milk, with orange juice & coffee.
  • Lunch in Hong Kong apartment
    Noodles & prawn dumplings in soup
  • Dinner in Guangzhou – Saizeriya Japanese Italian restaurant
    Two glasses of Italian wine, big bottle of Japanese beer, roasted clams for starters, baked seafood rice, and mango moose with ice cream – cost just over US$9.  Great place with great value, but always packed any-day, any time.
  • Saturday breakfast in Guangzhou apartment
    Can of UK kippers on toast (heated), orange juice & coffee.
  • Lunch in a simple Guangzhou restaurant
    Fish conge (a type of rice soup with fish & ginger) with Chinese tea – just under US$1.50
  • Dinner at Latin Grillhouse South American BBQ restaurant, Guangzhou
    Many different meats beautifully BBQed on long skewers: pork, beef, chicken, with corn and other veg.  Plus many types of sea-food buffet, crab, prawns, clams.  Fruits and ice-cream, mango pudding and Profiteroles with chocolate from the fountain. Washed down with a 1.25 liter jug of cold beer.This place is amazing with bands and music and all-you-can-eat.  Wild!  Full of Africans, some in full tribal dress – maybe even village heads, what with the cost of flying from Africa, could well be.  New-money Russians are common too, slim, blond and muscular.  Not many Brits or Americans these days.Cost US$31
  • Sunday Brunch – local Guangzhou Dim Sum restaurant
    Hargow (boiled shrimps in pastry), siomai (little boiled dumplings with pork in) and chicken sticky rice (baked glutinous rice with chicken).  Plus, old man’s tea – I prefer this one, not because I’m an old man, but because it’s stronger!    All for just under US$8.50.  In Hong Kong Sunday breakfasts I like pancakes or egg muffin at McDonald’s with my Sunday newspaper – but never in the Mainland or in the UK.  Incidentally, if you’re in a rush to eat, a full McDonald’s meal in Mainland China between 11am to 2pm is only US$2.30!
  • Sunday dinner at a Guangzhou Chinese restaurant
    Just one big (they are all big) dish because I was on my own: two different types of mushrooms with little pork dumplings in soup.  Plus two large bottles of Sam Miguel beer.   Cost: US$7.50The steamed fish I ordered never arrived, lost in translation.  Nor the roast pigeon (my favorite meat): ran out.  Just as well as I couldn’t finish it all.  Servings in China are for many, it’s a problem if you’re on your own! 

Guangzhou must be the gastronome capital of the world.  It’s said there is a restaurant for every 500 people- and 15-milling live there!  People eat out a lot. 

Although a good wage would be US$300 a month, many earn more.  However, at the end of the day: it’s not how much you make, but what’s left that really matters – and disposable income in China is very high.  That’s why most restaurants have a queue.

If you’re ever in Guangzou when I’m around, e-mail or tweet beforhand, and I’ll take you for a meal!

Coming soon: what I get up to on a trip to China!

See my personal site at NigelHayMckay.com