Today is the 3rd of March 2016. We awoke to the dreaded sound of the iPhone alarm clock sound at 5:15am. Hastily and exhaustedly we packed away our final few things and said goodbye to the Hostel staff after handing in our keys. The sky was dark still, and weirdly enough it’s easier to see the scale of Beijings smog problem in the dark rather than in the day, as it illuminates off of the fluorescent shops signs and street lights. We got on at our local Metro station, Denshikou and made the half hour metro journey to Beijing West Railway Station. Getting there with about an hour before boarding we had some breakfast and made sure we were in the right place. Our first experience of a Chinese railway station has shed some light on how manic the transport system is here. It is quite literally chaos. Eventually we boarded after spending 20 minutes in a queue with everybody apart from me and Georgia sneezing, spitting, gobbing, phleming, coughing, you name it. The best way to cope with this is to join in yourself. I have no problem saying that in China I openly fart as loud as I want, regardless of volume or potential smell, it makes you feel minutely better about the disgustingness of every Tom Dick and Harry’s bodily fluids flying all around you. If you can’t beat them, join them. As someone famous once said.
Anyway we departed Beijing, passing through the sprawling suburban districts of high rise buildings, factories and scrap yards. 15 minutes later we were in the midst of the countryside, surrounded by farms and vast open spaces with a thick layer of smog hovering 10 metres above the ground like a ghostly, cancerous poison. Which incidently isn’t a clever simile but instead a harsh reality.
4 hours have passed since I wrote the last paragraph. The time is currently 12:28pm, the temperature has increased drastically since leaving Beijing, jumping from 10 degrees to 24. The hours have been slowly passing though, we’ve been consistently travelling between 290-310km per hour, roughly about 180mph very smoothly and efficiently. It is obvious to see we are passing different territories or provinces as the grass is becoming more green and lush.
We have past roughly 50 of these so called ‘ghost cities’. An abundance of completed and partially built apartment blocks, car parks and roads, with a population of residents only residing their to build the city themselves. An astonishing feat by the Chinese government to attempt to erect 400 new cities by 2050 is clearly underway across the flatlands of mainland China. A sea of cranes and mud piles dominates the landscape with a faint outline of mysterious mountains looming in the distance.
We’re exactly 1 hour away from Guangzhou, at Shaugoan. The sun is gingerly depleting behind the mountains as we approach our destination in South China. The landscape and surrounding areas are amazingly different. The north much more hostile, baron and dry, the south comparably fruitful, green and varied in stature of peaks and hilltops. 8 and a half hours in we are beginning to struggle, my legs and feet ache from sitting in the same position, we ate all of our food hours ago and our stomachs are beginning to rumble with hunger. However that won’t stop us from taking in the final hour of epic views after an immense journey vertically through China on our first bullet train ride.
Our first impression of Guangzhou was much different to Beijing. Firstly the humidity was much higher which was expected, also it seemed much more busy. I can’t tell if this is because the train stations or metro stops are smaller or if it was because we were travelling at rush hour. I’m not sure. Also people weren’t staring at us as much, in Beijing a lot of people firmly maintained eye contact with you as they passed by, but here not so much. After a 1 and a half hour metro ride we had arrived in the Baiyun District of Guangzhou. We were pleasantly suprised! We were staying in a 28 storey apartment block, guarded by security, they politely said hello to us and let us in. The residential area was buzzing with tennis courts, food and market stalls, kids playing in the park and people playing cards and having fun. A far cry to the more dismal atmosphere I felt in Beijing. When we reached our hostel there was a bit of a cock up with our booking. He had rented out the room we booked to someone else. This felt like a bad first impression but the guy set up a new room for us, gave us a beer and offered us some food he had just cooked. We accepted the beer of course but politely declined the food as we really felt like eating out at a local restaurant.
Exiting the gate to the residential area, both parallel roads are teeming with restaurants, shops and coffee houses. We chose the first restaurant we laid out eyes on as we were starving, we both had noodles. We attempted to order a beer each too but she translated beer as nuts so we had some nuts, I tried again and this time she brought over a knife and fork. Before you know it the whole waitressing staff were scrambling around trying to figure out what we wanted, they were so kind but I was really embarrassed. I kept saying don’t worry but a younger guy across the table from us could tell we wanted a beer and translated for us. We came back to the hostel, on the balcony looking at the bright lights of downtown Guangzhou. We had a look on trip advisor and decided tomorrow morning were going to climb a nearby mountain about a 3km walk away.