I woke up before five to make my nine o’clock flight to China before heading to New Zealand. As we fly into Guangzhou, I can’t believe how many apartment buildings and skyscrapers there are pushing right up to farmland. When I arrived I almost go through immigration for locals and then immigration for domestic flights, until someone finally tells me how to apply for a 24 hour visa. After I’m approved, I stood in line behind what appears to be Guangzhou’s soccer team. Airport security walks through the men asking for signatures and taking pictures. When I make it past customs, there’s rows of people in red jerseys waiting for the team to leave the airport.
It turns out Southern China Airlines provides a free hotel room for travellers with long layovers as well as a tour. I forgo the tour thinking I’ll make it to Canton Tower myself. To my horror, I couldn’t find a currency exchange once I past customs, and nobody seems to understand what I’m asking (because I’m asking in English). I was expecting a Motel 6 kind of deal, but the hotel room is extrememly nice with two beds, a good speaker, and a waterfall showerhead. At this point I’m confused, extremely tired, and penniless. I only have 6 hours left before my shuttle back to the airport, so after chatting with another traveller from Los Angeles, I crash.
After my well needed nap I headed out armed with my MasterCard for some exploring and food. Unfortunately nobody accepted MasterCard, and even though I resigned myself to using an ATM, I couldn’t find an ATM that would accept Visa either. Maybe they, but everything is in Chinese and I have no idea what I’m doing. I spent the next hours walking the area around the hotel trying to soak up the little time I had left there. The smog is really bad and when the sun sets, lights from city gets stuck and the man made haze turns a sickening orange. I had heard about smog in China, and suffer from it to a degree in Los Angeles as well, but it’s unreal how thick it is.
I found a beautiful green park to walk through with a small hill and few ponds filled with lillipads and loud frogs. It’s a nice escape from the honking cars and high rise apartments that line the streets. This is my third city in as many days and life is starting to feel a little a surreal. Just a week and a half ago I was at home cuddled up with my cat and boyfriend and now I’m wandering the streets of a city where I can’t buy any food or speak to anyone. I miss my bed and the comfort of my home, but I’m excited for the upcoming weeks in New Zealand. Although I’m a little bummed I missed seeing the Canton Tower, I learned a valuable lesson about planning.
A final note on China: the Internet censorship. I had heard a little about it, like you can’t use Facebook, but it goes way beyond that. There’s no social media at all, google and it’s products like Google Maps are blocked. Accessing websites from outside China was extrememly slow and oftentimes failed. In order to use the free WiFi in the airport I had to scan my passport to get an access account. I found out the government prevents access to some Wikipedia articles and actively takes down content. I did a little research into how Chinese people feel about the censorship and apparently most of them are fine with it and even support it in some cases. My mom points out that the people answering the surveys might be afraid to speak against the government though. If you’re interested in learning more do some googling of your own (if you’re not in China).