So, any chance of us getting out of Guangzhou gone, we forced our way back through wave after wave of would-be holiday makers and into the city once again. Looking at the first few photographs, you can see again how different this Guangzhou was to the one I had expected. Serene and leafy, with old men punting down green streams. The stately houses in the pictures belonged to the embryonic Communist Party in the 1920s (you could look in on the bedroom of one Mao Zedong). We then went temple hunting, and tried miserably to throw coins into openings on a tower, and beat more streets. Because we had woken up so early, by lunchtime we needed a breather and I decided to go back and give the hotel pool a try.
A bad idea really, in the end, as I had been there five minutes before I slipped on the poolside and landed elbow-first. No running, I wasn’t drunk (heaven forbid), I just slipped… I heard a crack, but spent two hours in denial rubbing an ice-cold Chinese remedy on it. Eventually, when I could neither bend nor straighten my arm, I admitted that I might have to go to hospital. The hotel were very obliging – to the point where they called an ambulance and I was wheeled (even though it was my arm…) into an ambulance and whisked through downtown Guangzhou, very embarrassingly, with all sirens blaring.
Credit where it’s due – I was out of the hospital two hours later with a diagnosed and plastered-up fractured elbow. Would you get that sort of treatment in the UK, especially on a bank holiday weekend? I did have to pay for treatment, but at 500 yuan (around £50) I could cope. The NHS may be stretched to breaking point; but at least it’s free for all to use – lest we forget. For some people, the thought of being in a hospital in a foreign land is a nightmare but, in my thankfully limited experience (Thailand and now China), it’s been fine. There were a couple of dusty corners, if I was being picky, and a couple of doctors could have had better English (I wrongly assumed that all doctors could speak English…), but apart from that I’m no worse for wear.
I think the hotel feared me taking legal action. I had every right to – there were no wet floor signs and, frankly, a swimming pool is one of the last places anyone would expect a wet floor! But they placated me with a bowl of fresh fruit and unlimited room service for the night. I had to wear a scratchy, chafing bandage as a sling (see photos) and, try as I might, I had to wait until we got back to HK before buying a snazzy, padded blue sling.
The next day the throbbing had died down and we had one day left in Guangzhou. It was the 1st of October: China’s National Day. Planning a relaxing afternoon in the park, again we arrived to find that the entire population of south-eastern China had given up trying to catch a bus and had gone to the park for a picnic. Most memorably, vendors everywhere were selling mini-Chinese flags and families all over the place were getting into the patriotic spirit and waving them around. Mind you, perhaps there were government agents sneaking around making sure people were buying the flags and were having a good time, but I didn’t notice any. For lunch, I’m sad to say, I tried crocodile – which sounds like an incredibly endangered species (see photos). But, if I didn’t eat it somebody else would. That’s my approach to dining in the Far East.
Finally, that evening as we prepared to get the train back to Hong Kong, we finally found the Guangzhou we had expected to see: skyscrapers, highways, pollution and construction. It all seems to be concentrated in the east of the city (we stayed in the west) and, since we arrived at sunset, it actually looked quite pretty – as you can see in the pictures. Strolling around a designer shopping mall, with proper Armani and stuff; not the ‘crocks’ and the ‘dunn-hille’ that was on offer around our hotel, I realised that this city had such a huge contrast between old and new, rich and poor. It was possibly the biggest contrast I’ve experienced in a city; and it probably applies to the country as a whole. Hong Kong, of course, has some very rich and some very poor residents but the gap just doesn’t, somehow, seems as wide. I really want to see more of this country but, for now, we had to return to the other side.