Things in China seem to happen at a different rate than they do elsewhere. People, for example, tend to be slower. I’m not just talking about the people in front of you on the sidewalk who can’t seem to manage any speed faster than “arthritic statue” while walking seven abreast, although that certainly jumps out at you (though slowly, of course). Punctuality does not seem to be a virtue. Any time you plan on meeting someone here, they will show up no less than fifteen minutes after you. Even if you’re also late. I have since come to never expect anyone to arrive on time.
Other things, however, seem to progress much more quickly. For example, most of Guangzhou’s central business district, now towering high-rises on top of shopping malls for as far as the eye can see, was not twenty years ago an expanse of remote farming villages. To this day, one can still see cranes dominating the skyline, as though somebody decided the skyscrapers weren’t nearly dense enough. In a city of 40 million and growing, as more migrant workers arrive daily from the countryside, they might be right.
The other day, my wife wanted to go to a small grocery store on campus to buy some new notebooks. We had not been by there since before the Spring Festival holiday. The store was no longer there, and there seemed to be no explanation for its removal. Likewise, tonight I planned to take her to dinner at our favorite Sichuan hole-in-the-wall. Again, it had been a little over a month since we had been to that area. We walked along the little road outside the Little North Gate, until we were certain we had walked too far. We turned back. Rachelle was frustrated that I had led us right past it. When we reached the place I was sure it had been last time, I stopped, and realized our favorite place for spicy deliciousness was no more. The sign had been changed, but more surprisingly, the entire layout of the building had been remodeled. The food was still plenty spicy, but they didn’t have our favorite dishes, and everything seemed more expensive. It seems everything’s getting more expensive. The Irish pub and restaurant we frequent recently did away with their daily specials and replaced their whole menu with a selection that was almost identical, but much more expensive. We can’t go there as much nowadays. In the same part of town, the lady Rachelle bought oranges from every week stopped showing up, and none of the other vendors are a suitable replacement. Nothing seems to stay the same around here for very long. This isn’t all bad, though. My time as a last-minute replacement English instructor ended last semester, and now I’m training for a new career as a replacement Pilates instructor.
Only a few things stay the same around this city: The heat and humidity are back, the meat-on a stick vendors still sell their yummy wares, no matter how many times the cops make a show of driving them off, there are still random couches on street corners and people napping on them at all hours, and the haze of pollution never leaves the air for long. Ah, Guangzhou!