After spending the new year at my parents’ home in Osaka, I got off the plane at the connecting airport of Hong Kong, took a bus downtown, and on board an express train, and I was shaking hands with a good friend who moved to Guangzhou since we last met. Here is a collection of photos from my 4-day stay in the big city in southern China.
This is a city that is going through an enormous changes that accompany its extremely rapid economic growth. Just a block away from the main street, you see the old, mass produced city that was designed under the famous long-term plans.
A friendly street vendor by the canal. It is just around the corner from the area lined with latest office buildings, but here the vendors fill the street with their merchandise.
From his beautifully decorated hat and his more western feature it is clear that he is from more islamic region of the world. Says he is from somewhere near Urumqi. When I asked him if I can take a photo, he just leaned against his bike and gave me a smile. I’m beginning to think that this place is actually pretty friendly.
Down the stairs of the building nearby, I came into a local market. What better place to get the feel for how people live around here.
The big fish heads were still moving about after they were chopped off. They are pretty fresh stuff! But red light on fish shop is a rather unfamiliar experience for me; that’s what you use for red meat.
The kind of scene that we used to come across in every city in Japan until recently. Nowadays young people might have seen meat only as it is wrapped and laid out on the cool shelf of supermarket. Traveling around the world you come across those ‘normal’ markets like this, where the meat chunks are laid out, and you have it cut as much as you need. In Chinese society it seems I see more pork and chicken.
On the backstreets vendors fill every inch. Here you can buy everything from fresh fruit, snack just off the fryer, clothing, shoes, to cleaning equipment, you name it. Around the corner, though, cars queue up to get into mega stores and supermarkets.
A migrant worker selling a grilled snack on the street, in front of air-conditioned fast food restaurant filled with young people. It is such a contrast, just a picture of what Guangzhou is going through. His eyes are sharp as he stares back at my camera, but who knows whether he is around when I come back to this town next time.
View from my friends’ flat.
Last November Guangzhou was a host to the largest sporting event after Olympics for non-commonwealth countries in Asia, the Asian Games. In preparation for the international attention, the city cleaned up a lot of city’s ‘face’, and it cleaned up a lot of places that are facing the main streets and the city centre. This block below is closed off with a tall fence lined with colourful promotional messages of the games. Behind it narrow laneways run like a maze among the old residential buildings. There would’ve been some small shops, maybe a square where people would gather to have tea and play mahjong… In this block I also see a small lake, must have been nice living by it, looking out of the window on a moon-lit night. But shame, it is all due for demolition. Next time I look out of this window, maybe it will be a block of some large building complex.
The modern city crawls in. There is a large shopping centre and super modern office building right at its parametre.
Generations of urban development in Guangzhou in a single frame – in the middle/back stands what I gather would probably be the 80s design in beige and light brown. In the far behind stands the pink walls of more modern apartment blocks. I do not know how old the ‘slam’ in the foreground is, but I gather they probably would have started in the 70s. And the single row of blocks facing the main street have received either a face-lift or a re-design, obviously to better impress the guests. The peak-hour traffic looks pretty heavy. While there is a network of subways now, there are many buses on the highway. And many people nowadays drive themselves into the city centre.
My friend Steven and his princess Amie. Steven and I used to hang out on the balcony of our Singapore office, sipping coffees and discussing the next crazy project, or more about what it means to be creative.
Just one example of modern urban scraper in the centre of Guangzhou. Every corner of the city you feel the energy for growth, and that appetite to make more money.
I remember only years ago they used to talk of ‘underground’ art communities where artists worked on their craft and share their inspiration with others. The authority used to pressure them and it was a fragile thing that was going on. Nowadays, like this small island community, you see the art is well accepted and enjoyed. Walking along the narrow streets lined with old brick houses, I see signs of artists’ lives everywhere, from paint brushes just inside the window here, to a drying pieces of ceramics there, and art galleries through the next gateway. Walking into a small antique gallery I came across a small courtyard. Small space between the narrow gate and the small house, a clay tea pot and a small pot of tree was on a table carved out of a rock. I see that it is a perfect table for brewing oolong tea on, which involve pouring hot water all over that little tea pot. It just sat there in a small spot of sun, surrounded by different shades of green on their pots. I imagine sitting there making a cup of tea, even on a rainy day with my umbrella over the pot and myself.
We keep on, and came across this gentleman demonstrating his painting skills in front of yet another gallery. With his brush of black ink he was drawing the mountains somewhere far away.
In the next block we came across a group of young local photographers shooting at a couple of cute girls sitting on the bridge. Sure I can imagine this place would be popular for model shoot, with its old canal, brick buildings and all that. I looked around where I stood, and across the water an auntie was washing something by the canal. In front of me stood an impressive gateway into an old mansion, a bit like the one you see in any kung fu movies from the 70s. I was watching a man working with tools on the road next to its gate, and then I saw it. It was the typical Communist painting of a group of young people rising with the Little Red Book in their hands. My friend’s driver thinks it was an old original. Nowadays people do not talk about the party and all that stuff. You certainly do not come across a bunch of people waiving their red book on the street.
I can’t help the nostalgic style in my images when I come across such a kindergarten…
Outside he may look like a Chinaman, but he is a 100% American. The New Yorker at heart, Steven is a CD in the office and a painter who creates a fluid, water-colour-like works with oil. Have a look at his work on Steven Yu Art website for his past work and query on purchasing one of his paintings for your living room!
Two loves of his life, Audrey and the little princess. I took these photos at yet another art community. What used to be an extensive lot of can factory was turned into buildings used for galleries, creative space and restaurants.
Rest at Hong Kong cafe – love the hot coke! It’s so nice with a slice of lemon and ginger!
It is actually quite a modern and sophisticated kind of joint around here. It sure looks like a can factory but now they are just genuine aged buildings.
Bronze statues stood everywhere, like they were left behind in time.
Maybe the signs in Chinese said something about not touching, but my friend suggested he did, and I found out this was as light as a feather! It was made out of resin! It looked so genuine!
So, that’s how it went, on my first trip to this part of China. Without a guidebook, I went in blank, without any expectations. Guess what, it was nothing like I’d imagined it to be. It was full of construction sites and dust from it, yes. So the air may be hazy on some days, yes. But it was filled with surprising amount of artistic inspiration. It is still left with tradition and history, which are probably about to be lost forever. In a few years, it will probably be lined with the sky scraper every where, none of the old town that I saw. But I guess that’s where this country is at right now.