Guangzhou, the largest city in South China, sits on the Pearl River northwest of Hong Kong. This Chinese megalopolis is home to a staggering 12.78 million inhabitants (compared to London and New York’s respective populations of roughly 8.2 million).
As a thriving business hub, Guangzhou has a decidedly cosmopolitan feel to it, partly owing to its strong links with Hong Kong. While the majority of people do not speak English, international pockets thrive throughout the city.
Tianhe is a popular area among foreigners. Bars and restaurants are in abundance and those feeling homesick can chase away their blues in McCawleys pub, Cowboys Bar-B-Que, Ocean 7, McDonalds, Nova, Starbucks, or Japanese fusion to name a few. Ample parks provide green relief to the area.
Panyu is another popular area, just south of the city. It has a vibrant international community and is popular among families and singles alike. The cost of living here is reasonable and you’ll never be short of things to do and see. The city prides itself on its performing arts scene and is committed to supporting a packed cultural calendar.
Getting around Guangzhou can be daunting, but is easily do-able. The city recently installed the world’s second-largest Bus Transit Rapid system, which hauls no fewer than 800,000 commuters across town and back every day. The Wuhan-Guangzhou high-speed rail was opened to long distance commuters in 2009, while the Guangzhou-Zhuhai intercity rail (opened in 2011), has further opened up the city.
Motorbikes have been banned in this burgeoning city as a means of improving traffic control, and in a bid to clean the heavily polluted air the majority of vehicles now run on LPG gas. The recently opened Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (which is soon to add a further two runways) has made the city considerably easier to get to and from.
What is special or unique about your city?
According to legend, five immortals rode through the clouds on five rams into what is now Guangzhou. Overwhelmed by its lush and beautiful landscape, they planted special rice so that the people of this area would never see famine. Thanks to this folklore, Guangzhou is known as "the city of rams" or "goat city." Today, statues of rams can be seen around the city, which also has a newspaper and many restaurants named after this animal.
The city was founded 711 AD and soon established itself as a port for international trade. It has experienced continuous foreign influences ever since. Called "Canton" by English-speakers until relatively recently, Guangzhou is the capitol of the Guangdong Province.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Because Guangzhou is a centre for commerce, your first impression of the city will be that it is busy, crowded, and that the air is not so clean.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Though there are efforts to clean up the environment, things may not change overnight. You will, however, become accustomed to the bustling activity and therefore notice it less.
What is the local language?
The local people speak Cantonese, known in the local language as "Guangdong Hua or Bai Hua." But you will also hear Mandarin, which is China's official language, spoken by most people across the country.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
It is challenging to live in southern China without speaking any Chinese. But the local people are friendly and usually enjoy talking to foreigners. Most foreign residents find speaking to local people both interesting and fun. This, and a bit of bravery, will help you to learn a bit of Chinese which will make life easier for you. Some words could help you in challenging situations are:
- Qing Dai Wo Qu ... = "Please take me to..."
- Wo Zhao ... = "I am looking for." You can use this when looking for a person or a place.
- Dui Bu Qi = "Sorry." Use this when you have an accidental conflict with a Chinese person.
These phrases are in Mandarin, which is understood by more people in China than any other language. It is also generally easier for foreigners to pronounce than Cantonese.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Chinese people tend to be reserved, so they will feel more comfortable if you avoid unnecessary physical contact or broad gesturing, especially when communicating with the opposite gender.
Similarly, do not pat children on the head, but take special notice of them as Chinese parents like to dote on their kids. In business dealings, always use two hands when handling your name card and when receiving that of another person. This shows respect.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
The Guangdong Province has a subtropical climate. Spring and summer are humid with temperatures ranging from 20 degrees Celsius in April climbing to about 38 degrees Celsius in July and August. Surprisingly, many people catch colds during this time.
Because most buildings are very heavily air-conditioned, people are subject to extremes when going between freezing indoor temperatures and the sweltering outdoor heat.
July through September is typhoon (hurricane) season. While most typhoons are reduced to lesser storms when they hit southern China's coastline, for Guangzhou it still means daily showers, making umbrellas essential.
From September, the weather gradually cools to about 12 degrees Celsius in February. While hotels and expatriate housing are heated, most other buildings in southern China have neither insulation nor heating, making it chilly indoors. The good thing about this season is that it is sunny and dry. Because of the mild to hot climate, tropical fruits and flowers are available all year.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
People are kind, but have some habits that may seem offensive at first. Spitting on the street is not uncommon, nor is walking into the lift before waiting for people to come out first.