Hi all, and welcome to neighborhood! Shamian Island is one of the many “islands” floating among the waterways in Guangzhou– home of the Pearl River Delta. I say island hesitantly, as it is technically a sandbar with two canals dug out from the sides facing land. This was done a few hundred years ago, when the island was handed over to European officials who built their mansions and their official buildings here to keep separate from the locals. In fact, no Chinese citizen was allowed to cross the bridges without proper identification, and after 10pm if they did so they were liable to be shot. Up until about sixty or so years ago, this still was the case. Today what remains are beautiful brick roads going through the island lined with large, weeping banyan trees, and striking classic european architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s quite a different feel from the blocky high rises and flashy steel towers built around the rest of the city.
Because of the beauty and serenity of the island, it’s a popular leisure spot for locals and tourists alike. Groups of middle-aged friends play a version of Chinese hackey sack on the river walkways. Workers nap on the benches in the shade during their lunch hour. The elderly sit, stroll, ride on their bikes through every road and alley. They bring their children, and their grandchildren who run through the courtyards, pick fresh flowers, and climb on the statues.
What you see most, however, are what the DiploMan and I like to call the trifecta of Shamian Island. Truly, within five minutes of walking out of our building, you will see one, if not three of the following:
1) Photo shoots: (of the B-list variety) Guangzhou is one of the largest manufacturing cities in the world. The ports around Guangzhou/Shenzen rank fourth in the world’s largest ports, for there are hundreds of millions of tons worth of goods coming in and out each year. Things are “Made in China”, and there is a good chance that most it comes from Guangzhou. With clothing, these manufactures need to create catalogues for their buyers, thus where the overdone models and cheesy photo shoots come in.
2) Wedding photos: Young american couples are known to have engagement photos taken. In China, it seems to be the custom to dress up in a lacy white dress, get made up, and pose for photos with your husband who wears a white tux. These dresses are rentals, however, and often times you will see the bride wearing her jeans under her dress. Wedding companies have set up shop on the island, and you will often see them zipping couples around in their go-carts, from one shoot location to another.
3) American couples with their Chinese babies: So many of these. We live next to the White Swan Hotel, who swells in popularity with the number of Americans who come to meet and adopt their future children. This started a few decades ago, when the American Consulate was built next door (where we live). The visa section of the offices have since moved, but the American couples staying at the White Swan have not. As a result, a separate mini-economy has boomed on the island. There are signs at the laundry shop to rent a stroller for the day when you drop off laundry. Little shops selling children’s clothing and shoes are littered throughout the streets. Souvenir shops sell all sorts of little trinkets, engraving names both in Chinese and English to commemorate your new baby’s newest given name. At Lucy’s every day during lunch time, where they serve classic American dishes like burgers, fries, and fajitas, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s all a little odd.…and I wish all of you at home could see these things, first hand. To give you more of a taste though, here is more of a look around the island.…