THROUGH THE RED DOORS We lugged our packs around to the Kowloon railway station and bought tickets to Lo Wu, the last station in Hong Kong on the KCR – the Kowloon Canton Railway [now renamed the MTR…see this Wikipedia entry for more information about the KCR]. There was a scramble for the border gates and we joined the melee of pushing, vaguely complaining Chinese and passed through Hong Kong customs with ease. The Chinese side was no more hassle than a couple of forms to fill in and stamps in our passports and we stepped out into the People’s Republic of China
The changes were immediate but not overwhelming. There were no signs in English but we followed the crowds to the nearby railway station and after a bit of trial and error, we found the ticket office and bought tickets to Canton [now known as Guanzhou].
The train trip took 2 1/2 hours to travel up to Canton and although the scenery passing by outside told us we were in China – endless rice paddies and small farms under a grey and stormy sky – the scene inside the carriage was decidedly uncommunist. The Chinese in the crowded carriage were loaded with consumer goods, dressed in expensive clothes and, most bizarrely of all, many were playing Nintendo Game Boy computer games.
We reached Guangzhou and caught a minibus into town and began our search for cheap digs. We were looking for the youth Hostel on Shaomin Island1 but we followed the map wrongly and walked about a mile in the wrong direction before we found it. At night we dined in a nearby restaurant then went to bed early.
1 Shamian Island was an important port for Guangzhou’s foreign trade from the Song to the Qing dynasty. From the 18th to the mid 19th century, the foreigners lived and did business in a row of houses known as the Thirteen Factories, on the banks of the Pearl River to the east the present Shamian which was then an anchorage for thousands of boat people.
In 1859, Great Britain and France dug an artificial river (now called Shajichong) to the north, making it an island. Since then, Shamian became a strategic point for city defense during the First and Second Opium Wars. The British captured the Shamian Fort in the Canton River operations in March 1841 during the First Opium War. In the 1847 expedition to Canton, they seized the Shamian batteries along with the rest of the forts guarding the city. In the first armed conflict of the Second Opium War, the British recaptured the forts in 1856. (Source: Wikipedia)