Guangzhou: China’s Chandni Chowk
Downtown Guangzhou and the newly-built Asian Games city on the outskirts are like chalk and cheese. One is serene and sedate, while the other is so much driven by business that for a moment it feels a different country altogether.
A good 50 miles by metro from the Main Press Centre (MPC) for the Asian Games — and a couple of line-changes later — one arrives at the Guangzhou Railway Station. Packed alleys — much akin to our very own Chandni Chowks and Karol Baghs, albeit on a much larger scale — milling tourists and businessmen from all across the world and a congenial atmosphere give a different feel to the place.
Towering hotels, cheap accommodation, to cater to everyone’s pocket, spring up at every nook and cranny, but what holds the attention is the the sizeable number of people from Africa and Gulf countries.
Burly men move around as if they lord over the place. Women to match their male counterpart’s gait, haggle around to get the best bargains on jewelleries, accessories, shoes and much more.
The place has the feel of a lawless state, but police pickets and personnel on motorbikes give a sense of well-being. On one corner is a restaurant proudly proclaiming that they serve ‘Hahal’ meat. A beautiful girl with headscarf comes as a fresh of breath air. “Salamwalekum”, she says, and eyes get transfixed.
How on earth is she speaking Urdu in a place where a majority cannot even converse in English! Nearby, a businessman from Yemen and now settled in Saudi Arabia tucks into kebabs and drinks green tea. “I’m here on a business trip.” He knows the place like the back of his hand — perhaps a seasoned traveller.
We are told that this is the most happening business destination and traders from India flock in big numbers to buy cheap products here and sell them at exorbitant price back home. Shopkeeper here speak good English; and if not, the Africans are at hand to bridge the language barrier.
A restaurant selling sea-food and drinks has a ‘contingent’ of Indian businessmen chalking out their plans for the next day over a few glasses of whisky. “Satsriakal. This place looks shady,” I say. And promptly comes the reply. “It looks like a ghetto, but it’s safe.”
Parcel, cargo and container companies dot the road, doing brisk business much after dusk sets in.
Dusk? What dusk? The place has just come alive. Another business is unfolding a couple of blocks away.
By Ajai Masand