Looking back, it was a momentous occasion for the Asia Scribbler. My first ever trip to mainland China. It was 2000 and I had been drafted in, because the editor felt Guangzhou, formerly Canton, was not a significantly flashy enough destination for him. I, on the other hand, was not fussy. The chance to travel anywhere was and still is like a red rag.
I was running late due to some late production issues on the magazine I was working for. It was my first foreign trip with the company I had joined and I was excited. Hopping on the train at Hung Hom I made the two hour train to Guangzhou. It moved slowly through Hong Kong, like the southeast trains in the UK do though London, only to pick up speed across the border. Sitting on the top floor of a double-tiered carriage the scenery that greeted me on passing through Shenzhen into the no man’s land up to Guangzhou, I admit deeply depressed me. Endless factories, tiled housing complexes, dark grey, heavy skies, lacerations of polluted deltas, blasted hillsides; Guangdong province might be leading China economically, but at what cost, I wondered peering out the window as the heavens opened up.
Guangzhou East train station is a maelstrom for the unititiated such as yours truly seven years ago. Move with the tidal flow of humanity or risk being trampled upon. Look fast for signs, and elbow your way to the necessary exit point, this vast monolith of a station in the heart of the central business district is dull on the eye, quick on the heart and heavy on the irritation if the queues don’t work in your favour.
The rain was pouring so hard it made a platoon of Gatling gun firing maniacs sound like a monastery. I was late. The taxi queue was long. The rain brought little relief to the humidity. My suit was damp.
A Volkswagen finally drew up. I jumped in the front seat. My right foot immediately was immersed to the ankle in rainwater. The car had one hell of a leak. Late to the Garden Hotel and the largest ballroom I have ever seen for a Singapore government function I waded in. My right foot left an imprint wherever I stepped. Quite an entrance on my first visit to China.