Ni hao! [Hello!] Had to use Mandarin this time – this week we ventured out of Hong Kong to head into the Chinese mainland for a few days. We went to the city of Guangzhou in the Guangdong province for some new class and company visit experiences. Let’s do a breakdown!

Day 1: Acclimation

We got up early in the morning to head to the train station to get to Guangzhou. As the train headed out of Hong Kong, we watched the scenery roll by for a few hours (when we weren’t napping). I noticed that as we got farther into the mainland, things got foggier outside. It seemed to be a mix of fog from the intense humidity, and a bit of the infamous levels of air pollution along the Chinese eastern coast.

Guangzhou's TV tower

After we got through immigration and exchanged our Hong Kong dollars for RMB/yuan (either name works), we were welcomed to mainland China by our guide for Guangzhou. One of the immediate differences is that there’s less English in the mainland. Still some, thankfully, but it’s not as prevalent and not as many people speak it. The main language is Mandarin Chinese (or, simplified Chinese), instead of the Cantonese (traditional Chinese) spoken in Hong Kong and Taiwan. The good news for me is that my Mandarin phrase book finally became applicable! Also, the architecture in Guangzhou is very interesting. Many of the buildings in the city had unusual designs that gave the city a neat feel.

Dinosaur bones at the Guangdong Museum

We went to the Guangdong Museum to learn about the history of the local province. It had lots of exhibits about the history of the region and its contributions to Chinese society, culture specific to the area, gemstones that can be found nearby, and local flora and fauna. This included dinosaur bones that have been found in this province, and having been crazy about dinosaurs as a kid, I found that part particularly awesome.

Tree lights along Beijing Street

After dropping off our stuff at our rather nice hotel, we set out for an evening along Beijing Street, a popular road filled with restaurants and shops. It was a very active and interesting street, with lots of people milling about (including some hustlers trying to get us to give up some of our money), and lots of multicolored lights hanging from the trees, which gave the stretch of road a rather cool and unique look.

We headed down the road quite a ways until we reached the Pearl River. The river was nice, but what gave the view its own flair was that the bridge down the way and lots of the boats chugging along the water were covered in strands of lights, making everything really colorful.

Day 2: Class with Chinese Students, Round 2

The next day we headed over to the Guangzhou School of Foreign Studies for class. We were sharing the class with a group of local Chinese business students who study at this university. We got a chance to chat with each other while working on a group assignment. Like the group from Shanghai last week, they were very eager to talk to us, though with a bit of a different line of questioning. Instead of just asking us about American culture in general, they asked us more personal questions and seemed to learn some things about America by extrapolating from our responses.

SMU and Guangzhou students at China Mobile

And they told us plenty about their lives here in Guangzhou, as virtually all of the students were born and raised there. One thing that seemed to stick out was that basketball is a popular sport in China. Several of the male students told me that they loved watching NBA games (in addition to local teams), and that the NBA Finals were the talk of the town a few weeks back. Some of the students said they had been cheering for the Dallas Mavericks, which was great to hear! Even over here in China, they expressed admiration for Dirk Nowitzki (who has very much earned it!).

We then had a lecture from a professor at the school who had an interesting focus – the knockoffs industry. It’s a big deal here of course, with street sellers all over the place (saying they are everywhere and constantly in your face is no exaggeration). She told us a lot about how the knockoffs industry relates to proper industry, and the webs of connections and contracts that lead to (legitimate) companies getting to produce items designed by fancy labels. One interesting fact about the knockoff makers was that the workshops that make them, since they are always at risk of being besieged by the police, are set up very informally, with no heavy machinery, just a lot of sewing machines and other easily movable equipment. The whole operation is set up so that everything can be cleared out within one day if the police are about to bust them.

After sharing a hot pot lunch with the other students, we headed to our joint company visit at China Mobile, a huge state-run cellular provider that holds most of the cellular provider market in China. We got to see a prototype showroom for their phones, which was very futuristic and sleek. Afterward we went through a security gate staffed by soldiers (again, it’s a state-run company) to head to a meeting with the Director of Strategy for the Guangdong province. It was a little difficult to follow his presentation, to be honest. His English was fairly good, but the slides he showed us were entirely in Chinese, which made it very hard to follow. In general he talked about the telecommunications industry in China. One thing that stuck out was that the iPhone is a big threat to them, as Apple had come to them asking for a deal to distribute through China Mobile, but they turned Apple down and the iPhone is now making lots of money for a competing company that made the deal.

After the visit we parted ways with the Guangzhou students and got ready for an evening outing. We headed back down to the Pearl River and got on a night boat ride along the river. The boats and buildings along the river were covered in lights of every color of the rainbow, so it was a very pretty sight. The highlight was Guangzhou’s tall TV tower, and its lights were constantly changing and commanded most people’s views.

Day 3: Beer

Our last day in Guangzhou, we only did a company visit, but it was one that any college student would appreciate – a brewery and beer museum. As someone who enjoys a good beer (and who is of legal age and enjoys his drinks responsibly!), I made no attempt to conceal my anticipation for this visit.

At the brewery

We arrived at the brewery and were greeted by a man who works there as a manager of the brewery itself, and as curator of its recently opened beer museum. He took us through the museum first, and we learned about the ancient origins of beer (it’s been around just about as long as human civilization), and the history of brewing in China. The brewery we were visiting was the first in China to adopt modern, Western brewing technologies, which helped it become a success.

After the museum, we got to see the actual factory floor, where there were some workers milling about as lots of machines moved bottles around, filled them, put caps on, and grouped them together to be boxed up.

At the end we got to go to a bar set up in the brewery, where we were treated to some free beer. The manager helped celebrate by giving us some popcorn to munch on as we asked him some more questions about the brewery. He even turned on the karaoke machine and joined us in singing some songs! After sifting through the list to find one with English lyrics, I sang Happy Birthday, and then gave a stirring rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” and definitely did not sing terribly at all. Nope. Not even slightly.

Coming up next: Beijing!