All of our guidebooks dismiss Guangzhou as a grey, bland city. It's true that it is not rich in the traditional sightseeing destinations: one of its biggest photo ops is a statue illustrating the legend of the city's creation, featuring five frolicing rams. Yet, I found Guangzhou to be a charming city. As our first stop in mainland China, I can't say how it compares to its neighbors, but by western standards, Guangzhou is remarkably green and scenic. Banyan trees line all but the most heavily trafficed streets, and hang over the broad pedestrian walkway along the river. The sadly crumbling remnants of beguiling Qing-era residential blocks are lined with small shops and markets, and small alleys are filled with plants, hanging laundry and lounging card-players. On the other end of the spectrum, the metro is fast, clean and convenient, the malls are large and bright, and the neon lights line every building and boat.
And, of course, I could spend a month in Guangzhou just getting better acquainted with the food. There were two stand-outs for me. The first is the small alley off the pedestian mall on Xiajiu Lu, which is a tunnel of tiny stalls selling every grilled thing or noodle dish you could imagine. I couldn't resist, although I knew it was tourist-bait, a skewer each of scorpions and some sort of larvea or worm. They were pretty good, actually, mainly crunchy and salty. Better, though, were these dumplings of gooey rice dough, crisply fried at the corners and stuffed with a variety of vegetables, and the grilled octopus.
The second hit turned out to be our most adventurous eating yet- the HongXing Seafood Restaurant. We entered it more or less at random trying to find a quick bite before catching our train out of town, and I am sure glad we did, although it was neither quick nor just a bite. To order at HongXing, you walk past a series of tanks and counters, picking out what you would like to eat and how you'd like it cooked. With the help of a very patient waitress, I ordered some shrimp and two kinds of clams, as well as some Chinese broccoli, mostly with her deciding the method of cooking. Everything was delicious, and I barely put a dent in their offerings: turtles, fish, dumplings, and a myriad of other things were on offer that I would have loved to try!