In Guangzhou, China, on the other side of a tangle of flyovers and the concrete mess of subway station renovations in preparation for the Asian Games, is Shamian Island, a peaceful enclave full of colonial buildings on the Pearl River. It was the only place I made an effort to visit during my unexpected time in Guangzhou (the hostel’s tourist information unfairly stated that if you wanted culture or history, you’d come to the wrong city).
I’d read that Shamian is the address of choice for westerners staying in the country to adopt Chinese babies. Sure enough, the island was full of western families and their new children. It was also packed with Chinese couples having wedding photos taken.
I sat in a park overlooking the river and watched groups singing, men performing tai chi moves and one couple practicing ballroom dance moves incredibly seriously. After a while, I realised that as I was watching people, they were watching me – in fact, one man even stopped his son right in front of me to point me out.
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