I visited the city better known in Europe as Canton in 1991, arriving by rusty old ship from Hong Kong. You can read about my journey and arrival in one of my earliest posts A Slow Boat To China.
As well as the journey over, I had a couple of days there that I will never forget, mainly for three very unusual events on my first night:
One – I asked the hotel for a restaurant recommendation. Communication was not quite as good as it could have been however, as not only was my taxi a sidecar attached to a motorbike, but the chosen restaurant was one of Guangzhou’s specialist snake restaurants!
The ‘taxi’ driver was mad, driving on pavements and weaving in and out of traffic along the exhaust infested main highway. Thankfully the journey lasted only fifteen minutes or I fear I would have passed out due to fume inhalation!
It was only when I paid the driver and he zoomed off that I noticed the fare on offer at the restaurant. Not only were there cages of live snakes of all sizes and colours in the restaurant window, but also skinned rodents wearing only their whiskers and tanks containing beetles and locusts, which turned out to be food for the paying guests rather than the snakes!
I was shown to my table and the first thing that I witnessed was a live snake being skewered and shredded at a neighbouring table for the smiling guests to eat raw!
With my stomach turning, I perused the menu with amazement – snake prepared any way you wanted it, smoked water vole and even pangolin if ordered several days in advance!
I made do with a rapid sweet and sour snake and a large beer. It was like eating rubber, so I only tried a couple of slices before settling up and ordering a proper taxi back to my hotel.
Two – on returning to the hotel, I decided to visit the hotel bar which unfortunately turned out to be the karaoke variety.
This one was different however with zero Madonna or Tom Jones on offer. Each number was a Chinese operetta lasting over twenty-five minutes a throw.
All performers were couples who had dressed up in their finery especially for the occasion. As they crooned and squealed on stage, they were accompanied by a backdrop of a large cinema screen portraying Mandarin folklore, clearly depicting the words that they were singing/murdering.
After two of these amazing performances of unknown interminable ballads, I was about ready to drain the rest of my beer and leave, when low and behold Seasons in the Sun by Terry Jacks drifted out from the speakers.
Well of course I had to stay and listen to the three-minute classic that had surely been played for my benefit.
On paying my bill I queried why there were two amounts shown on it. I had only been charged for them playing that western song!
Three – there was a smaller bar in the hotel and I decided that I needed a peaceful nightcap before retiring for the night.
As I nursed my gin fizz sat on a bar stool, a very attractive lady dressed like a geisha sat next to me and started to converse in stilted English.
I politely went along with the conversation as clearly she wished to practice her English – what I did, where I was from, how long I was in the region etc. All very boring stuff and not what I particularly wanted at the moment, despite the obvious allure of the sweet smelling doll who sat next to me.
Call me naive (I was 26 at the time and still living in sleepy Devon, so still a little slow on the uptake), but I cottoned on when it was suggested by the barman that I buy the lady a drink.
She was clearly an escort and the menu was supposed to be bar-cocktail-bedroom. I hurriedly declined, downed my gin and asked for the bill.
I was dismayed to discover that twenty-minutes conversation had cost five times the price of my drink!
It took the hotel manager to defuse the row, with me agreeing to pay double the price of the drink due to my stupidity. You live and learn!