Chinese travel is a unique experience – Steve Canavan

Steve Canavan says the driving in Guangzou is crazy.
Steve Canavan says the driving in Guangzou is crazy.
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I’m back from a trip to China and what an interesting place it is.  However, for a Westerner bought up with free speech and unlimited access to tomato ketchup, it does seem a little odd at times.

For example, while I was away I was warned not to write anything anti-Chinese or certainly anti-government (China is basically a Communist dictatorship) as emails are – apparently – monitored and it’s easy to land yourself in trouble.

While I’m not a wimp and don’t like the idea of bowing to censorship, equally I wasn’t keen on being thrown in a Chinese jail.

For one thing Mrs C would be furious and I’ve a season ticket for Bury FC next year that cost of the best part of £200. Though I can say with some certainty that, after watching Bury all my life, being in a Chinese prison would offer much more entertainment.

I only saw a tiny part of China, the city of Guangzhou to be exact. It has a population of almost 20 million – a third of the entire UK – all living in one city.

The problem, clearly, is finding work for everyone. There’s so many folk it’s impossible. So in China they seem to have got round it by making up jobs.

For instance, in one park we strolled through there were men in uniforms using hosepipes to wash trees. 

In a shopping mall toilet there was a man in a smart white suit whose job is to wipe away any soap suds that spill on the side of the sink after a lavatory user has washed their hands.

As I washed after having a wee, this man stood an inch from my side, cloth poised, business-like look on his face, like a marine ready for action. It was quite intimidating.

All over the place there are men and women in smart uniforms with SECURITY written on the back, who stand on little pedestals and look stern.

They do absolutely nothing all day long – they’re a bit like those mime artists who dress as statues in shopping malls and stand motionless for hours on end in the hope you’ll chuck a quid coin in their hat – and apparently have no training in security whatsoever; it is simply a made up job to give them something to do.

Despite having some landmark buildings – the Canton Tower for instance, and a shopping complex containing the world’s longest escalator, I wouldn’t say Guangzhou is a particularly attractive city.

We drove two hours to try and find some countryside but the city just went on and on, a sprawling mass of urban-ness.

The Metro underground system is as busy as you’d expect in a city with 20 million inhabitants. Indeed I spent one entire half-hour trip with my head squashed into the armpit of a middle-aged man, who, it’s safe to say, hadn’t showered since at least the previous Monday. It was a long journey.

However, it is a preferable form of transport to being on the road. I’ve driven in various places around the globe but never have I seen anything quite like the drivers in China.

They seem to be taking part in some sort of giant dodgems convention and spend entire journeys weaving from one lane to another regardless of whether there are cars in the other lane or not.

It seems completely acceptable to force another driver off the road, almost like a computer game, and just to add to the fun/carnage, in the midst of all this there are hundreds of cyclists seemingly blissfully unaware of the vehicles flying round them at 60mph.

I don’t know the figure for road traffic fatalities in China but I imagine it must be around five million a day.

I will miss China in some ways – mainly as it allowed me to spend 10 days away from my wife and children – but I’m not sure I could live there permanently, the trees would be way too clean.