Guangzhou is all a-buzz at the moment with the semi-annual Canton Fair. This is South-East Asia’s biggest trade exhibition. We’re talking serious big here, and the numbers speak for themselves: last years show had a turnover of US$29,430 million, with 150,000 different products, and 210 trading countries. Not something to be ignored.
As you’d expect, the effect on the local economy is very pronounced. Hotels are all booked-up, and charge wildly exaggerated rates. Restaurants are trying their hardest to catch potential customers, with lots of bright English advertisements and special offers. The whole place feels alive.
From a personal perspective, just walking about the streets, it feels much more like a multi-cultural Hong Kong. Even the supermarkets seem different, and for a few moments yesterday I had a distinct feeling of confusion: am I walking around Chinatown, or am I in China?
Still, there are some differences. The influx of visitors has brought with it an increase in street traders, beggars, and all manner of methods to relieve foreigners of their money. It’s not uncommon to see young mother’s sitting on the street with one or two children, all wrapped up in many layers of clothes (despite the humid temperatures of 30 degrees). Upon seeing a foreigner the mother quickly directs the child to run alongside and chatter in a cheerful manner.
A more seedy effect of all this was experienced when taking a taxi to a restaurant that happened to be close to a popular luxury hotel. As the taxi neared the destination it went through an area crowded with people. Suddenly, there was a rush of noise, and 5 or 6 boys (maybe around 8-10 years old) came forward, pushing cards through a tiny slit in the car window next to me. It felt both disconcerting, and a little threatening. The cards were, of course, for call girls.
The thing I find interesting are the street traders. The fair seems to be very famous nationally, and it attracts a lot of people from the more rural parts of China, hoping to sell their products. In particular, there is one group of people wearing distinctively different clothes that have formed a semi-permanent encampment outside a nearby hotel. They are obviously some ethnic Chinese minority, although I’m not sure where from. They sit on a blanket on the street, all day and night, with their entire family (including Grandma!) and sell everything from jewelry to giant machetes and dried animal genitalia. The latter, I’m told, is because some Chinese believe that eating the genitalia of an animal is akin to an aphrodisiac/natural Viagra. Whatever the reason, it does make you look twice.