It was June. My semester abroad at Fudan University was coming to an end. Where has the time gone? It seems just like yesterday when I was anxiously registering for classes, lugging my heavy suitcase into my room, and exploring Shanghai with classmates…
Undoubtedly, what I will miss most about my semester abroad in Shanghai is the people I’ve met and the friendships I’ve formed. Our time together was running out, so my girlfriends and I decided to go on one last trip together, before we would be forced to part ways and return to our respective countries.
We decided on Guangzhou, the capital of the Guangdong province. My German friend Linh had previously interned in Guangzhou, so she was eager to go back and visit. Also, my British friend Victoria has family there, so it seemed like the natural choice.
Rounding out my girl group is Joyce (from Austria) and Veresia (from Indonesia). Oh, and me (California)!!! We’re quite an international bunch 🙂
The Train Ride
At Fudan, different classes end at different times; most classes were 15 weeks long, but some were a bit shorter or a bit longer. As a result, my 4 friends and I had some scheduling issues. For example, I had to get back to Fudan by Wednesday to take my last final, which meant I needed to be back in Shanghai by Tuesday. However, the train ride lasts 22 hours (yes, 22 hours), so that meant I needed to leave Guangzhou by Monday. My friend had a final on Friday, which means she couldn’t leave Shanghai until Saturday. Again, because of the 22 hour train ride, that meant she wouldn’t arrive in Guangzhou by Sunday. See the problem????
As a result, we staggered our arrival into Guangzhou. Linh, Victoria, and I headed to Guangzhou a few days early. Joyce and Veresia arrived a few days after us. Then, I left early because I needed to take my final (I decided to fly instead of taking a 22 hour train ride by myself). Not ideal, but I’m actually really proud of all of us for staying committed to this trip and making it work!
This was my first experience on a Chinese sleeper train! (You didn’t think I was going to go through 22 hours on a train regular seat, did you? Hahaha….*laughter turns into tears as I recall my Inner Mongolia trip. See later blog post….*)
We got tickets for a “hard sleeper”, as they are called. The “hard sleeper” setup is as shown in the picture above. Basically, there are 6 beds in each “compartment”. Luckily, we got both of the bottom bunks, which is convenient because we have somewhere to sit and hang out when we are not sleeping. The middle and top bunks don’t have enough vertical space for a normal-height person to comfortably sit up. To get to the top bunks, you literally have to climb up. So don’t get them if you aren’t physically capable! Also, you can’t see it in this picture, but there is space to store luggage on the third-bunk level, right above the doorway to the compartment.
Contrary to what the name might suggest, hard sleepers aren’t actually hard! They are not as comfortable as the higher quality “soft sleepers”, but we joked that the sleeper beds were more comfortable than the dorm beds at Fudan. (This is not actually a joke because I did not live on-campus, but I have visited my friends in the international students dorm and their beds are almost literally rock-hard.)
I’m thinking about writing a separate blog posts all about train rides in China, so I guess I won’t go into too much details right now. (Leave a comment if that’s something you want to read about!) Don’t forget to bring your own food (instant noodles ftw) unless you want to pay exorbitant train prices 🙂 Anyways, let’s just skip ahead to actually exploring Guangzhou!
Wait, before I get into what we saw (and ate) in Guangzhou, let me explain about Cantonese vs. Mandarin real quick. My parents speak Mandarin Chinese, and growing up, I I went to Chinese school on the weekends, where I learned Mandarin. Mandarin is the “standard” Chinese dialect (as in, the version they teach in schools). I grew up in sub-rural Pennsylvania, where there aren’t that many Asians. So, all Chinese families I knew would speak Mandarin with each other.
One day, I overheard one of my classmates speaking to her mother, in a language that I could not understand at all! I approached her and asked her what language she was speaking. She told me she was speaking in Mandarin.
SO, naturally, I assumed that Mandarin was another dialect of Chinese, that I could not understand. It turns out she was actually speaking Cantonese, and she messed up and told me that it was Mandarin. (DARN YOU JANET!!) This confused me for the longest time because I thought I was speaking “standard Chinese” and that Mandarin was another dialect, and I have no idea what Cantonese meant because I never met any other Cantonese-speaking people until I moved to California.
Cantonese is the dialect that is spoken in the Guangzhou area. There are a lot of Cantonese-speaking immigrants in California (and I assume, other parts of the US and all around the world). So, I thought it was definitely a worthwhile experience to visit Guangzhou and see the place that a lot of my friends’ families are from.
Mandarin and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible – again, my family speaks Mandarin, and I don’t understand a single word of Cantonese! The writing system is the same though, so if you have been learning Mandarin, don’t shy away from visiting – you’ll still be able to read signs, etc. Most locals can speak Mandarin as well, since they learn it in school (although the older generations may never have had that education).
By the way, I say “dialect”, but I Mandarin and Cantonese really ought to be treated as two separate languages. I can go on a lengthy tirade about how to define languages because it is complicated and often political, but I will stop myself here.
Ok, I blabbed too much in this blog post already, so the rest will be mostly pictures. Enjoy!
Skyscrapers are everywhere! We literally went up a random elevator of a skyscraper to catch these views.
This was probably one of my favorite areas of Guangzhou! The streets are flanked with trees and bushes, and the buildings show European influence. It’s a great place to take a leisurely stroll. You can get away from the skyscrapers, cars, and general city noise and pollution.
Shopping on Beijing Lu
Beijing Lu is the shopping street of Guangzhou. (Like Nanjing Lu in Shanghai? Why are all important streets in every Chinese city named after other Chinese cities???)
None of us bought anything in particular, mostly because we were all leaving China soon (cries!!) and we all were worried about not being able to fit everything into our luggage.
Pearl River Cruise
Vicky’s aunt helped us to buy tickets to a Pearl River Cruise (aka nighttime boat ride on the Pearl River). It was a nice way to chill out and enjoy the glittering night views of Guangzhou from the waters!
On one of the days, we took a day trip to Shenzhen, just to check it out. Shenzhen is a Special Economic Zone and therefore has experienced explosive growth in the last two decades or so. The whole city is skyscrapers, skyscrapers everywhere! (There is also a lot of trees/parks!) As a “new” city, it looks very modern, but with refreshing pockets of greenery.
Interestingly, people who live in Shenzhen are from other parts of China who have moved here to do business/work. Not many people are actually “native” to Shenzhen. So, even though it’s a southern city, everyone speaks Mandarin, not Cantonese or a local dialect.
Tbh, there is not that much to do in Shenzhen except SHOP. It seems like the whole city is a giant shopping mall. It was very hot and humid, as expected in southern China in summer. Luckily, the underground is very connected via metro, so you can get to where you want without ever surfacing. You don’t even need to take the metro; you can just walk along underground corridors lined with shops and restaurants. It’s just like being in a shopping mall, just underground!
We spent the day walking and eating, and ended up watching Finding Dory in theaters because we kinda ran out of things to do lol (none of us could actually buy things because we didn’t have room in our luggage…).
From Shenzhen, you can walk across the border to Hong Kong. However, we were all on single-entry visas, so if we left China, we would not be able to get back in. We joked about visiting the border just to get a glimpse of Hong Kong, but we didn’t because that would probably have actually been super depressing hahahahahaha……..
Guangzhou is known for its awesome food! I actually don’t really like Chinese food that much (I know, I know…) but the Chinese food that I do like, such as dim sum and BBQ buns, all come from this region. I’m lucky to be from Southern California where there is no shortage of good, authentic Asian food. But, my European friends aren’t so lucky. They were ecstatic about the opportunity to eat dim sum every day. So we did.
In case you don’t know, dim sum refers to cuisine that is served with tea in the mornings (or for brunch) and typically consists of bite-sized portions of food (such as dumplings, rice cakes, etc).
We didn’t just eat dim sum. Vicky’s aunt was kind enough to serve us some amazing (and homecooked!) meals during our stay! On our first night, we had steamed hot pot.
We also had Mcdonald’s soft serve multiple times, which I guess you can get anywhere around the world, but whatever. We had a coupon!!!!!!
Here is an interesting dish that we came across when Vicky’s family treated us out to a restaurant.
This is a popular chain fast food restaurant in Guangzhou! It’s called the Kungfu Restaurant, which explains their Bruce Lee logo. (note: kung fu is pronounced “gong fu” in Mandarin.) Their menu mostly consists of meat/vegetable dishes served with rice.
Finally, here’s a cool restaurant that we went to in Shenzhen. It’s a coconut/tropical themed hot pot place. The broth in the pot has coconut flavor, and we also had coconut milk to drink. It’s a twist on hot pot that I haven’t had before!
That concludes my Guangzhou & Shenzhen trip! So glad to have gone on one last trip with my girls ❤ ❤ This was my last trip while studying as a student at Fudan… but don’t worry! I did some post-semester travels in China, so check back for more China travel posts!