One of the most charming aspects of celebrating the Spring Festival holidays in Guangzhou is the fact that flower fairs proliferate all over the city during this special holiday period.
My Cantonese friends had advised me that it is a time-honoured and beloved tradition in this part of southern China to visit these flower fairs, entire family in tow, to browse the radiantly blooming flowers on display and perhaps buy a good luck offering (or three) for one’s home or workplace for the New Year.
Brisk trade in flowers and plants aside, usually there may also be lantern exhibitions and general musical entertainment to amuse the public, as well as masses of peddlers hawking everything from colourful snacks and traditional gifts, such as handcrafted spinning windmills for children to carry, to general rubbish (e.g. ridiculous Angry Bird hats, anyone?). In short, flower fairs are nothing short of all-around spectacles for the senses.
One mild winter evening, Herr Hubby and I grabbed the camera and braved the immense crowds to visit one of the flower fairs in Guangzhou’s Yuexiu district. Oh, how we loved it! We spotted other families of foreigners like us, enjoying the festivities as well.
It was certainly the happiest I’ve ever seen the Chinese people to be (well, apart from the ecstatic crowds during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing). Everyone was in merry, festive spirits – even the cops were all smiling – and why not???
Take a look at a few of our snaps below and you’ll see why the festive mood at the flower fair was so infectious – no winter blues here, duckies!!!
On that hopeful note, we end our little foray into Guangzhou’s Spring Festival Flower Fair, our dear Stiletto-istas. Hope you’ve enjoyed the scenery as much as we did that evening.
It’s been a while, my darling Stiletto-istas, but yes, NEWS FLASH! Although on life support for the past couple months as the madness of the festive season and life in general just threatened to completely engulf us, The Bamboo Stiletto is still alive, kicking up her heels and has not forgotten YOU.
We’re determined to start 2013 fabulously right with a wish for y’all…from my heart & home in Canton, China to yours, my warmest greetings for a Happy & Prosperous New Year, filled with skedaddles of success and style, shoes and smiles and everything pure and good that your hearts desire.
Our recent travels here & there coupled with the festive season – and the curious fact that our work-at-home situation seemed to have racheted up a notch recently – kept us from blogging, peeps, but we made an effort to keep up the holiday spirit in our very own Casa Stiletto with a few little touches that, thankfully, managed not to break the bank. Taking a page from The Thrifty Decor Chick(love her blog!), here’s the results of our decorating efforts at Casa Stiletto (please excuse the poor quality of the photos, which were Instagrammed hurriedly and not really edited properly):
How did YOU decorate your home this season, duckies??? We’d love to know! Do email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to hear from you! Till then, STAY GOLD!
The Canton Fair, the world’s biggest trade fair, which happens in Guangzhou every year for 3 weeks from mid-October until early November, finally ends today. For the past 3 weeks, we’ve tried to avoid going out as much as possible since everything, restaurants, bars, the train stations/airports, shopping malls, hotels, and indeed, traffic in the city, has been frenzied. It was ri-DON-culous trying to get a cab to go anywhere!
It was The Bamboo Stiletto’s first Canton Fair, so we were determined to experience it all for the first time and document accordingly. The Canton Fair is the mother of all bargain shopping experiences so for the benefit of those die-hard shoppingeras/shoppingeros out there, I’m sharing my experience here, in the spirit of, let’s call it, “best practices.”
How exactly do you navigate the Canton Fair? You are not an import-export wholesaler, trader or buyer. But you live in Guangzhou and rumor has it among your expat friends that shopping bargains can be had when the world’s biggest trade fair is happening at your doorstep.
The good news? The rumors are true. The bad news? The Canton Fair happens in three phases roughly spanning three weeks and individual shopping bargains can only happen on the last day of each of those phases, when traders are getting ready to pack up their goods and may be looking to offload their inventory of samples to save on shipping costs.
So, one of the first things you need to do is identify which products are being traded on which phase. For instance, home decor/furniture, gifts & toys may be traded during Phase 2 and fashion/clothing & shoes/bags may take place during Phase 3. Ask around, read the newspaper or check on websites like City Weekend Guangzhou (plug, plug:-). You absolutely have got to get the dates right for the items you like.
Once you’ve got that down, just like any elite athlete, you then have to prep big-time because the Canton Fair is like the Olympics of bargain shopping!
The next thing you need to do is obtain a Canton Fair overseas buyer’s pass. Never mind that you are a Guangzhou resident and that the only things you’ve bought lately were milk and eggs from the Corner’s Deli. Prepare to bring your passport, an ID photo, a business card and RMB 100 (about USD 16). You can apply for your pass at any of the overseas buyers’ registration counters at most five-star hotels in town.
Can’t find any of these counters? Head over to the Canton Fair venue itself, at the Pazhou Exhibition Center, and follow the clearly marked signs indicating the spacious and airy hall for “Overseas Buyers Registration.” Friendly, smiling trade fair staff, all speaking perfect English, will be on hand to efficiently assist you with forms and payment, provide you with a Canton Fair guide map and within minutes…voila! You are now an overseas buyer. The cool thing is, the pass is good for a lifetime, so if you want to return for more bargain shopping expeditions in future Canton Fairs, better keep your pass safe.
Now that you have your pass and can sling it around your neck – like all the real buyers do at the Fair – you then plan your transportation strategy. Going there is a no-brainer. You can take the Guangzhou metro, cab it or see if you can swing a ride on any of the free Canton Fair shuttle buses proliferating at any of the major five-star hotels in the city. No, going there is not a problem at all…it is your exit transportation strategythat you should be carefully planning. If you don’t have your own, preferably very spacious, vehicle, then our recommendation is that you splurge a little bit and hire a mini-van with a driver. Make sure you’ve got the driver’s mobile handy and remind him to stay alert, for when he needs to pick you up (with your vanload of purchases) at any of the exits afterwards.
Lastly, before you actually enter the hallowed halls of the Pazhou Exhibition Center, do a mental checklist of your clothing and equipment. You must have your Canton Fair buyer’s pass and guide map in hand. Wear the most comfortable walking shoes you own. Don’t tote one of your heavy designer handbags; this is not the day for showing off your latest “It bag” purchase to your girlfriends. Carry cash – lots of it, if you can. Don’t forget your mobile – essential for communicating with lost friends and the aforementioned exit strategy driver. And bring a large suitcase or large shopping trolley – with wheels.
You are now ready to go shopping!
Once inside the Fair, give yourself a couple of minutes to get your bearings and simply gawk. The sheer vastness of the trade halls, the mass and diversity of people from all over the world are overwhelming to the senses. Yet everything is well-organized, with clearly marked signs for directions. Cafes and restaurants offer refreshments and meals, courier companies vie for packing and shipping services and bathrooms everywhere are well-stocked and clean. To get from one trade hall to another, there are covered walkways, with carpeted “sidewalks” for those on foot and “lanes” for those riding in comfort on little electric trams that shuttle back and forth in between trade halls. Try not to get run over by an over-eager shuttle and stay safely on the “sidewalk” instead.
Study the map, figure out which trade hall you want to hit, then attack.
In the beginning, you will probably browse slowly among the stalls because you will be so overwhelmed. The quality of most products at the Canton Fair is simply superb, truly export-worthy and world-class and the sheer number of gorgeous items all in one vast place is visually staggering.
Some traders cannot be bothered to sell to individual shoppers and some of these traders already have makeshift signs posted outside their stalls, saying: “No sale.” This means that unless you’re willing to buy in volume quantities, don’t even bother them. Some traders who are willing to sell, have signs saying so, “Sale” or “Stock sale”. However, not everyone willing to sell posts signs, so, if you do see anything you fancy really badly, it is still best to ask. Simply walk into the shop, quickly point at the stuff you want and say outright:“Mai, bu mai?” (buy, cannot buy?) After a while, you will be amazed at how swiftly you can do this at so many shops and how much ground you’re able to cover in minutes.
Keep a watchful eye open for stalls whose staff are already busy clearing the stall and packing their items into wooden crates as they will usually be more amenable to giving items away at hefty discounts, or if you’re especially lucky, for free. This usually happens in early afternoon, right after lunchtime.
By early afternoon, after two or three hours at the Fair, you might find that even your large suitcase or shopping trolley will not be adequate for your purchases and you’re wondering how on earth you’re going to transport everything outside the trade hall to the exit gate. Make sure first, at the last stall where you’ve made big-ticket purchases (like, a piece of furniture) that you are issued a gate pass so that you can exit the trade hall with all of your purchases without being questioned by security.
Just as the Fair slowly winds down, you will notice an army of ayis (literally, aunties, in China, to mean, older ladies or maids) pulling flat wooden trolleys with rope, wandering the halls. Hail one of these ayis and negotiate in your best Chinese for her and her friend to load up their trolley with your items and take you to the nearest exit gate, in exchange for a small fee.
Once at the gate, it’s a simple matter of calling your driver to pick you up and load up all your new goodies in the car.
And, duckies, you must be wondering what on earth got our stilettos into a twist at the Fair…here’s a peek at what we picked up (after 2 hours of shopping – we were too dizzy to continue any further):
Blue Tray (free)
Red tray (free)
Red Eames Chair (RMB 120, approx. USD 20)
Metallic Chinoiserie Stool Inspiration Scenario: Lobby, W Hotel Singapore
Metallic Chinoiserie Stool (RMB 400, approx. USD 66) & Lime-Green Tray (free) Actual Scenario: Casa Stiletto
Congratulations to moi…we’ve successfully navigated our first Canton Fair!!! Now, life in Guangzhou can, hopefully, get back to normal.
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:
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?
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?
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:
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??? 🙂
“Mm goi, hai bin dou?” – our Cantonese Phrase of the Week, meaning “Please/excuse me, where is it?” or “Please/excuse me, where at?” was extremely useful during a week when we vowed to eschew riding cabs and instead, use the efficient Guangzhou public transport system (buses and the subway) for our appointments and errands around the city.
A formidable task and one which I am proud to announce that I bravely accomplished with flying colours…well, except for one instance, when the 40C degree heat and almost 90% humidity finally got to me after a bout of sightseeing in one of Guangzhou’s prettiest spots: Shamian Island (more about this charming historical destination next week). Dizzy, I flagged down the first cab I spotted and sank back with eyes closed as we drove home.
Sometimes, a girl has to know when to surrender to airconditioning. And how’s YOUR summer going???
We had thought our ride yesterday in Guangzhou wasn’t too shabby, folks. Herr Hubby and I were hanging with a couple of expat bosses from BMW and cruising around in their 5 series sedan (fantasizing that it was ours, haha!) WHEN we all spotted this sexy little silver chrome Mercedes Benz sitting pretty in a side street while its 20-something Chinese owner (who didn’t look at all like the Silver Surfer or anything liquid metal out of a James Cameron movie) nonchalantly sipped espressos with his Lambo-owning pals at a sidewalk cafe.
The car was such an astounding sight that we all gasped, gawked and grabbed our various iPhones to take instant shots. Yes, even the BMW guys!
Have you read one of these articles lately which are all about how your shoes are supposed to reveal your personalilty type? Well, how about, what your shoes reveal about your city? Put it another way…if your city was a shoe, what kind of shoe would it be?
I’ve had the privilege of living in three of China‘s biggest, fastest-developing and most fascinating cities: Beijing (7 years), Shanghai (2 years) and Guangzhou (1 month & counting…). When I think about these 3 cities in terms of shoes, here’s what I came up with:
Ok, I must admit I was in a bit of a quandary about this…this city is so hot & humid, deceptively sunny & yet so mercurial, with sudden massive downpours of rain. With the amount of rainfall, enough to ruin your shoes after two outings, at first I thought Guangzhou would be a pair of sturdy Hunter Wellies (Wellington), as is:
But then last Sunday, as we were caught in yet another unpredictable downpour and I was mourning my soaked Onitsuka Tigers (they were espadrille-style…darn), a girlfriend glanced at my feet and said, “You really should get a pair of Crocs.”
Now don’t get me wrong and I hope I don’t offend anyone out there but I just think Crocs are the fugliest shoes on the planet and only babies, toddlers, teens and grown-up men doing manly things like going to the hardware store, look remotely good in them. Grown-up women, news alert! Crocs don’t make you look good. At all.
Then I glanced at her feet…voila!…she had on a pair of Crocs and mais oui, this is what they looked like (my friend is, of course, French):
Trust the French to find something stylish yet practical to my footwear conundrum in Guangzhou. So, here you go, Guangzhou: Crocs crocband flats.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn’t give my old hometown in the Philippines – Cebu – a whirl with this game. So here’s what I came up with and in this case, my heart is really where the shoe fits….right at home.
Castaner wedge espadrilles
Also, for Cebu:
Havaiianas flip flops
A shout-out to the Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Cebu peeps out there, do you agree with my shoe choices above? Let’s make this fun, everyone!!! In the Comments below, tell me about where you live and what shoe would your city be?
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!
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.
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.