Guangzhou Tourist: Shamian Island

A few days ago, our itchy stilettos took us island-hopping, from our home on Ersha Island to what is arguably one of Guangzhou’s prettiest and most charming historical destinations: Shamian Island.

What is basically a sand bar nestling in the middle of the city’s Pearl River, Shamian (which literally means “sandy surface” in Chinese) has always played a prominent role in Guangzhou’s colourful past. At one time or another, it was a trading outpost (Qing Dynasty era) then a strategic defense outpost (Opium Wars) and then a foreign concession territory halved between the French & the British, (1/5 French and 4/5 British, post-Opium Wars), during which time a building boom occurred as consulates, hotels, banks, churches and residences for the wealthy flourished, an architectural legacy largely responsible for the island’s charm today. If you’re visiting Guangzhou and if you’ve got a weakness for old architectural eye candy – snap up your camera, get your arse over to Shamian Island and get trigger happy, baby.

Speaking of baby, nowadays, Shamian Island is mostly notable among Americans seeking to adopt Chinese babies as the last stop of their adoption journey in China before they head back home to the United States. The American consulate in Guangzhou, as of this writing still based on the island (while the massive new bunker-like consulate in the city’s new Central Business District is being completed), is apparently the only consulate in China which issues American entry permits for adopted Chinese babies. A white American couple wheeling a Chinese baby in a pram down Shamian Island’s leafy tree-lined avenues near the gargantuan White Swan Hotel is so commonplace an occurence that no one bats an eyelid at the sight.

Here’s some picturesque postcards from our little morning stroll on Shamian, starting with its beautiful old buildings:

We crept inside this divine little church, Our Lady of Lourdes, and enjoyed a blissfully peaceful moment while contemplating its gorgeous glass-stained windows. Friends have mentioned to us that this church has an English-language Catholic mass on Sundays:

The Holy Family depicted beautifully on stained glass windows

Even the friggin’ Starbucks on the island is pretty:


Dotting the spaces around the island’s trees and parks are these whimsical statues:

A case of life imitating art?

Statues of musicians playing…

…and a couple of real-life old geezers actually playing sweet music in the park and charming all of us who passed them by.

Not surprising that this photogenic island is a favourite photo op destination for bridal couples – we must have counted at least 8 couples puckering up the cameras during our stroll (along with their requisite entourage of photographers, make-up artists, stylists, etc) ! Here’s a shy one :-), so hella cute, aren’t they?

pucker up & pose, kids!

Models vogueing it up are another common sight on Shamian, with the ubiquituous photographer and lighting assistant in tow, as well as make-up stylists and wardrobe handlers dragging along racks of clothes. Here’s a little eye candy for ya:

Strike a pose, you can do it: Vogue.

What struck us as most delightful about Shamian Island was the lack (or rather, the absence of) gigantic motorbuses disgorging gazillions of tourists being sheperded by an obnoxious loudspeaker-toting guide. Granted we were there on a weekday morning but we hardly spotted any tourists at all, leaving the island’s idyllic atmosphere intact. We kind of hope it stays this way…

And as we wrap up playing tourist for the day, we leave you with a glimpse of this cheeky apartment building on Shamian – take a look below, we figure the building’s inhabitants may be the happiest people in Guangzhou, don’t you??? 🙂

The apartment building’s facade, with some curious red thingies on the front gate…let’s take a closer look, shall we?

welcome to the Gate of Eternal Happiness…we bid you, enter!!!
SMILE, Stiletto-istas!

How to get there:
Getting there by Guangzhou metro is straightforward & cheap. Get off at Huangsha station, head for exit D, just cross the overpass and you’ll end up at a little footbridge connecting to the island. Alternatively, hop into a cab and just say, “Shamian Dao.”

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Nay jong mm jong yi Heung Gawng?
– our Cantonese Phrase for the Week: “Do you like Hong Kong?”

Prepping for tomorrow’s day trip to Hong Kong, a hop, skip and quick train ride away from Guangzhou. Train tickets bought, passport ready…so, yes…jong yi! Ngaw jong yi Heung Gawng. I do like Hong Kong!

On the 194: Gweipor Bus Anecdote

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Today I achieved an incredibly significant milestone in my 9 years of living in China. I finally mustered up enough courage to ride on the local public bus – all by myself.

Can you believe it? Nine years in Beijing & Shanghai…where I mostly schlepped it in cabs & the Metro (the latter in Shanghai at least)…and never set foot inside a bus.

Total fear of the unknown.

Today I decided to face that fear head-on, walked to the bus stop outside our compound and got on the 194 bus. Our real estate agent had previously told me this is the bus that would take me from our home to IFC – the office tower where Herr Hubby works. Ok, not exactly the most adventurous itinerary but hey, I’m taking baby steps here.

Of course as I boarded, I had no idea how to swipe my transport card to pay (just like in Hong Kong & Shanghai, we use stored value cards for public transport here). I tried putting it on top of the meter and the driver eyed me with a look that said:”Here comes another clueless gweipor.”

He then proceeded to teach me (in excellent English, I might add) how to use my card, in front of an entire busload of amused passengers. Once my RMB 2 (approximately 30 US cents) had been deducted, I was free to sit and enjoy the ride as I wished. It was a beautiful morning and an excellent way to see the city!

There was even a moment when I bonded with my fellow bus passengers. A flashy lime-green Lamborghini pulled up in front of the gigantic China Minsheng Bank building in the Central Business District. From the driver’s seat emerged a young man, who couldn’t have been older than 20, in a Gap t-shirt, khaki shorts and flip flops, yapping on his iPhone. All of us in the bus stared at the car and at the young man as he sauntered into the bank and then we all looked at one another with a smile. I knew what was going through everyone’s minds…Yes, this is the New China. And for most of those people on the bus today, that young man and his car was the perfect illustration of The Chinese Dream.

Getting a new perspective – aboard the 194

By the way, wouldn’t you know it…all bus stop signs and stop announcements were bi-lingual, in Chinese and English. There had been nothing for me to be afraid of at all! What a liberating experience. I’m totally taking the bus more, from now on.

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