kcr – guangzhou to dongguan

The Kowloon to Guangzhou through train is one of the weirdest train rides I’ve been on, and it’s one I’ve taken at least twice every time I’m in Guangzhou. The first time I was utterly horrified by the desecration over the Pearl River Delta, turning centuries old farmland into get-rich-quick cheap and dirty sweatshops, sulphuric pollution hanging in a miasmic haze, rivers of garbage, and hulking slag-cloaked factories.

Since that first time, I’ve made the two hour or so journey around forty times. My senses have become acclimatised to the unending mess, but also have become more subtle, picking out places of beauty, and seeing the world beside the train-lines in a much more complex way as it changes and evolves over the years and kilometres. I’ve always meant to pull out my camera and try and capture the sheer quantity of life from the Guangzhou East Train Station to the river where Shenzhen ends and China becomes Hong Kong. This time, on Tuesday morning I remembered to.

Despite taking about sixty images and deleting some more, even that does not display the region as anything more than a cliché. Outside Guangzhou is the gigantic metallic ribbon of the sports stadium, becoming the towering yellow concrete chimneys of the power station, becoming the endless low-rise of China’s new suburbs, easily confused with anything in Australia or any other urban sprawl.

On into the manufacturing capital of the world, past former lush jungle peaks razed on both sides to a scarred orange dirt ridge, mountains made flat, the remaining trees dilapidated plumage, over rivers with iron girder bridges and processions of low-slung cargo ships, and through the miles of dirty, stained, anonymous factories and workers apartments, balconies flying the colours of laundry. In-between, and on any piece of land no matter how small, the ground is rich with farmers’ plots cultivating everything from bananas and vegetables to fish. Then the train arrives at Dongguan.

My camera battery went flat there, but the combined speed of the fast-train, slowness of the shutter, and more crucially the overwhelming noise of civilisation dragged me to a stop. There is a world here we only hear about in vaguest passing, yet it is one which affects all our lives, and which can’t be reduced to a single image or sentence. These photos are only here because they were in focus, caught something I personally equate with the train ride, and omit more than they include.