Formerly known as Canton, Guangzhou is one of the most prosperous cities in China. Located north of the Pearl River Delta, it is the capital and also the largest city in the province of Guangdong. Guangzhou’s subtropical climate, colourful blossoms and verdant landscapes welcome traders and visitors throughout the year, earning it the nickname “China’s Flower City”.
The first town to be established on the site of present day Guangzhou dates back to the Qin dynasty (221– 207 BC). During the 2nd century AD, Indians and Romans were the first foreigners to arrive. In 1711, the British East India Company set up a trading post here.
Through the centuries, Guangzhou continued to attract traders and businessmen. Those seeking their fortunes came here to set up factories, barter or trade, while others swopped their farmer hats for a more lucrative career as factory workers.
Today, Guangzhou is the economic centre of the Pearl River Delta as well as one of China’s leading commercial and manufacturing regions. Therein lies the vitality and colour of this bustling hub.
From shopping to seafood
When it comes to good shopping, Guangzhou delivers. From vast bazaars to magnificent markets, the city has been described as one huge shopping mall. Shangxia Jiu Lu is the most influential traditional commercial street in Guangzhou.
You will find famous old stores such as Yong’an Department Store, Herring Shoes and Hats Store, Dalu Clock and Watch Store, and even teahouses.
A stopover here is surely a rich cultural experience. Downtown at Zhuangyuan Fang, people watching is a must as this 200-metre-long street draws the funkiest young shoppers for the latest Japanese and Korean fashions. Moving on, there is Haizhu Square Wholesale Market. One of the most colourful markets in Asia, it stretches all the way to Shamian Island. Apart from toys, furnishings and electrical gadgets, you can also find many of the souvenirs that are sold all over China, but at wholesale prices.
Head for Yide Lu Seafood Market if you are looking for dried seafood. It offers an ocean of Chinese culinary essentials such as oysters, abalone and cuttlefish.
Sights for soul searching
Take a break from bargain hunting and make time for some soul searching. Head to the old foreign concession of Shamian Island. Stroll along the streets and admire restored colonial buildings, some of which have been transformed into restaurants, shops and hotels.
For a quieter retreat, drift away to the White Cloud Mountain, northeast of the city. Ascend the summit for an unforgettable view of the legendary Pearl River.
Back in the city downtown, Temple of the Six Banyan Trees is another must-see for its octagonal Flower Pagoda. Standing at more than 50 metres high, it is the tallest pagoda in the city.
Guangzhou is also a centre for learning. The prestigious Sun Yatsen University, founded by its namesake in 1924, has three of its four campuses in Guangzhou. Thankfully, satiating your hunger for culture and a good bargain is not all that Guangzhou is famous for.
The cradle of Cantonese cuisine
Cantonese food is considered China’s haute cuisine. Classic Cantonese cooking emphasises the quality and freshness of ingredients, with its dishes often characterised by the use of very mild and simple spices to enhance natural flavours.
Roasted and barbecued meats are perennial Cantonese favourites. Another specialty is its slowcooked soup, which is usually a clear broth prepared with meat and simmered over low heat for several hours. Sometimes, Chinese herbs are added to the soups for medicinal value. Ingredients of a Cantonese slowcooked soup may include fresh chicken, fish maw, sea cucumbers, scallops and abalone.
Beiyuan Jiujia, a restaurant that dates back to the 1920s, offers dim sum and a generous menu of Cantonese classics in a courtyard setting. Another local favourite joint for dim sum is Panxi Jiujia, while Guangzhou Jiujia off ers good traditional cantonese fare. You may also want to head to a popular haunt, Dongjiang haixian Dajiulou, where you will be astounded by the array of live seafood.
Offering the bustle of city life, the tranquility of nature and the satisfaction of great food and shopping, Guangzhou is indeed a city in full bloom.
This article was first published in PSA International’s At The Helm.
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