Reading: Paul A. Van Dyke — The Canton Trade: Life and Enterprise on the China Coast, 1700-1845

Continuing my return to reading China, as with my focus on women in the history of China, so too is there a strand which pays attention to the south, Lingnan, Guangdong, Canton.

So much of what is written on China is in fact only a small part thereof — Beijing as China, Shanghai as China, the eastern core. Other parts of the country are so distant as to be other countries, and despite the ongoing Han homogenisation programme, these other parts still retain their individual histories.

Paul A. Van Dyke’s The Canton Trade seemed like a good place to continue, after reading Julia Lovell’s The Opium War a few months ago, and now, more than half way through reading, I can say he hasn’t skimped on thoroughness.


some pictures i took with my phone

My iPod seems to be dead, and somehow I keep managing to resuscitate my laptop despite in/out errors and loads of corruption … I thought about just doing a clean install from my backup to see if it would write around the mess, but … Adelaide busses suck so much. Instead of going out to a very sad strip joint (Daniel says having an ice habit would help my job application) and hanging out in Mega-City-One! Adelaide, I’m blogging.

Pictures from my phone …

In chronological order, MoredeliciousthanIcantell, 东北松子, Fashionable, Aftertaste without end, Unable dispute, Hot sell the good taste. I was nostalgic for the divine world of Chinese hard-sleeper train snacks, but I have a suspicion they are taking the piss with the English here. Then, clouds above ADT. I thought they were beautiful. Some guys in a Holden yelled out, “raaugghruuuhhmrrragghuuuunngh!”, I think. Then, me waiting for the bus … waiting for the bus … looking at my sneakers … bus goes past, doesn’t stop. I swear the driver laughed at me.


KCR Guangzhou to Dongguan again

My once monthly trip to Hong Kong was under a leaden and saturated sky. Guangzhou and much of the province has been under siege for almost two weeks, a steady, lazy draining of the swollen and claustrophobic heavens. The last trip, I sat facing forward on the train’s left side; this time I sat facing backwards on it’s starboard side, traveling south, and looking west. This meant I could not anticipate a shot, and most of the photos are of whatever was after what was interesting, that with a half-second delay had already long passed by.

After writing about famous village incidents of Guangdong yesterday, I was trying today to be as impartial as possible in capturing what Guangdong looks like along the KCR industrial corridor. Of course certain things appeal to my aesthetic: satanically black, corpulent and necrotic concrete factories. The endless catacombs of industrial slums, mortared with a generation’s paste of impermeable refuse satisfies my disgust for rapacious development.

In mostly equal thirds then, the hour-long journey is split between this odious mess, bland acres of salmon-tiled inflatable high-rise apartments, and verdant fields and ponds. What the farms, along with their villages, are being replaced with is not something I think is an improvement.

fast chicks and low cars

From one of my daily reads, we-make-money-not-art, comes my favourite combination of culture, fast cars and hot bikini chicks. Tell me you don’t love super-nitro funny cars.

In this case, the hot chick is Liz Cohen, and the fast car is he current performance art piece in Stockholm, Bodywork, part of The Gender Turntable. Not only do I wish I’d thought of it first, I wanna do it too.

In her BODYWORK project, Liz Cohen is converting Färgfabriken’s main hall into a car body shop and a gym. Every day, she will be working to transform an old East German Trabant into an American Chevrolet El Camino. East German functionalism goes American low-rider. In addition, the artist will be training her body so that she will also be able to present the finished car as a showroom bikini model.

BODYWORK is the main installation in The Gender Turntable, that will be Sweden’s first equal opportunities lab. During it, one of today’s most fundamental social issues will be explored and analysed to generate discussion and debate, and ensure relevance.



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.


a taxi ride

Going from Huanshi Dong Lu to Jiangnan Dadao, across the river and along the inner city elevated freeways that snake between buildings along narrow streets, stacked on top of each other. I took this ride so many times in taxis, on motorbikes, and very occasionally in someone’s car. And always I’d be looking out the window.

Hanging out in Zürich with Cornelia, who pointed her camera at everything and in ways I’d think, “what the fuck is she doing?” then see the photo and go, “oh! wow! clever bitch!”. Anyway not that I’m pretending to be as interesting as her with a camera, but it made me start to be a little more free with what I’m doing, and a bit more careless, just pointing and deleting …

So, this is the taxi ride through the heart of Guangzhou, a city I’m very ambivalent about at the moment in a country that scares the crap out of me whenever I think about it and the next forty years of its “economic development”.

The ride along the elevated road cuts through part of the old city, and underneath the decaying fields of red brick apartments and dwellings litter the suburb between endless polished tile skyscraper tenements. What was Guangzhou and what will be all the city becomes is right here, one a tumbling mess of subtropical urban life, the other just another anonymous Asian mega-city.

At the ride’s end, in near Xiaogang park and Loft345 artists studios and the remaining inner-city universities, where the canals haven’t been paved over and the feeling of living in a small city is most pronounced, this place is why I like Guangzhou, and what I’d always hoped it could become.

bikes are bad

When I first arrived in Guangzhou, I was expecting to see more bicycles. I wasn’t too surprised by their relative lack, after all it was Beijing that was supposed to be the glorious centre of the bike universe. Still, there were alot. From the solid steel black tanks of the Fei Hua and Wu Yang to the remade flatbed trikes, forks reinforced with angle beams and cable-driven hand-brakes to force the momentum to a halt when loaded like a small mountain, semi-motorised water-bearers hauling hundreds of kilos of office water cooler tanks, and even cheap, colourful dual suspension mountain bikes, the favourite of students the town over.

Three years ago, Tian He was mostly wide boulevards, the province of busses, taxis and – even then – suicidal Grand Theft Auto motorbike taxis. Guangzhou Dadao might fill up in the evening, but gridlock was more the result of bad traffic light programming, and idiots driving into the intersection while the lights changed than over-population. The sky-high cross-town freeways were deliriously empty and taxis on these could get from east to west in less time than the subway.

Now, Tian He is a constant orgy of immobile cars, all day. The traffic lights haven’t had their programming improved, idiot drivers still fill the intersection with no thought except for their own four wheels, a manifestation of incredibly microscopic self-confidence and ego-mania, and bikes… You’d have to have a death wish or be a homicidal sociopath to bike around here. But while the cars move at a glacial, lumbering crawl, the motorbikes still can thread their way through, and so do the bikes. Millions of them.

A few years ago, Beijing was probably the most bicycle-friendly capital on Earth. A flat, dry city with broad, tree-lined cycle lanes patrolled by protective traffic wardens was perfect for two wheels. The streets teemed with so many bicycles that they became as much a symbol of China as the giant panda.

But now they are under threat as their habitat – the city’s network of bicycle lanes – shrinks, and predators – in the form of cars – increase at the rate of 20,000 a month.

It is as though China’s economic and urban planners have a new mantra: four wheels rich, two wheels poor.

— The Guardian

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baiyun airport opens

The new 白云飞机场 Baiyun International Airport opened recently, which I’m looking forward to flying in to and schlepping around in the luxury of the economy club lounge. But the real news is the lack of threat it poses to that other famous pit-stop, Chek Lap Kok, down the road in Hong Kong. Not that its current second-fiddle status has stopped half the world’s media trying to work an angle on how it is a threat and using impressively bold type to declare Chek Lap Kok’s doom.

The S$4 billion Baiyun International Airport is the first in China to be designed as an aviation hub. At present, the facility can handle more than 25 million passengers and a million tonnes of cargo a year. The state-of-the-art airport has facilities more advanced than those at Hong Kong’s six-years-old Chek Lap Kok Airport, its main rival.

For starters, there have been relatively fewer negative reports about problems faced at its opening, compared with the widely publicised chaotic near-disaster which hit CLKA when it opened six years ago.

Yet for all the talk about Baiyun posing a threat to Hong Kong’s position as Asia’s second-biggest air hub, many businessmen reckon it would be many more years before that can happen.

Baiyun airport

I like a good airport, especially because I don’t have to good fortune to belong to any airport club where i can get all those cool executive things. Number one for me at the moment is Seoul, which from my one experience in a Qantas club (feeling like an janitor in a boardroom meeting) is the closest thing to heaven an airport can be. Big mezzanine lounges, free internet, lots of places to lie and sleep waiting for transfers. Lowest on my list in Heathrow, which is an utter miserable dump.

Baiyun International Airport, wedged firmly in the armpit of Baiyun Mountain is an equal of Ho Chi Min / Saigon, international in that old shabby 1960s military way. Actually 7 decades old, it closes this month as Chek Lap Cock in Hong Kong gets a contender for number one airport. Or maybe that’s wishful Pearl River thinking. Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting off the plane and riding the subway right into town.