I have been brought up to have a fear of Chinese people. My parents have always voiced an annoyance and fear about mainlanders and mainland China, otherwise known as everywhere outside Hong Kong. Our time in Hong Kong confirmed this feeling as general sentiment held by other Hong Kongers. Carry your purse in front of you, they said. If you’re paying for something, the shopkeeper takes your bill, tells you they don’t have enough change and hands it back, check that they they haven’t switched your bill for a counterfeit. Be wary of raising a family there, they said, because children are kidnapped, maimed and made to beg on the streets for money. While I’m sure these things have and do happen, Hong Kong, and its residents, undoubtedly have a superiority complex despite the fact they all came from the mainland at some point too.
Case in point: my Dad. He was born in Guangzhou in mainland China, or “the big six” as I like to call it–a literal and non-sensical translation of the Cantonese sounds. It’s only a two-hour train ride from Hong Kong but my Dad hadn’t been in about 25 years. My mom was unhappy about making the trip at all. Why would you expose yourself to all the inconveniences and dangers of mainland China when everything you could possibly want is in Hong Kong? (It’s pretty similar to the complex Torontonians suffer from.) But, my parents agreed, at least it’s not as bad as going to Shenzen.
We have been in Guangzhou three days, the same amount of time we spent in Hong Kong, and I have no unsavoury feelings, except about people smoking indoors. They possess some of the Asian cultural characteristics that make Westerners uneasy (penchant for hawking spit in the streets, squat toilets and talking in a way that sounds loud and angry) but Guangzhou has an ease that Hong Kong doesn’t. There are nary any mask-wearers to be seen. In Hong Kong, wearing a mask is practically a fashion accessory and obsessing over the flu is a favourite past time. The streets are much less crowded and not in mad rush mode all the time.
Guangzhou feels like a working-class city you would do well to grow old in. There are beautiful temples to spend a morning praying and follow with a vegetarian lunch. Parks are filled with the old people playing a hackey-sack game with a badminton birdie, Chinese chess, performing live opera music and learning ballroom dance. There are entire markets to dedicated to pet fish, kittens and puppies if you’re lacking company. It might be related to a Confucius respect your elders thing, but China, in general, seems to be a great place to be old.