North and South

I’ve talked BJ and SH but what about GZ, the third Big City in China? Three days in Guangzhou, right down in the south of the country, and the differences between north and south could not have been more apparent.

One extremely annoying thing about travelling in China is that as soon as I leave Beijing my Chinese SIM card goes on roaming – yes, even though I am in the same country. Though actually, travelling from Beijing down to Shanghai is almost the same distance as London to Milan, so it practically is like going to another country. Certainly going from near-freezing temperatures in Beijing to temperate climes hovering around 20°C in Guangzhou, a further 900-odd kilometres south of Shanghai, smacked of a very different land.

Northern Chinese are certainly noticeably taller, whiter skinned and with longer noses. They are known for being robust and strapping; their heavier, more wheat-based diet (buns and noodles as opposed to small bowls of rice in the south) produce big, busty girls and heavy-set, muscled men; and all the better, for they must brave bitingly cold winters. Southerners are in contrast regarded as small, dark (no doubt due to the year-round sun exposure) and skinny by their northern counterparts.

In the south, the people take pride in being more polite and refined compared to those rough northerners, who like the fisticuffs. It’s true that while I am constantly being bumped from all directions while walking in the streets of Beijing, in Guangzhou, though we came close many times, nobody even touched me. A man actually paused at the top of a flight of stairs to let me walk up them first; I was stunned. I also found service people more friendly and polite, though people do seem to stare more in Guangzhou. Probably because I was about a head taller than most.

My short Guangzhou break really highlighted how big this country is (3.5 hour flight to get there), so no wonder there are big differences. Not to mention the fact that an entirely different language, Cantonese, is spoken in Guangzhou (though mandarin is widespread). There is, naturally, rivalry between north and south. In fact, the English stereotype of “northern monkeys, southern fairies” fits rather nicely for China, too; the rough ‘n ready northerners versus the softer southerners.

I was disappointed in the lack of things to visit in Guangzhou; Beijing certainly beats all other cities for points of interest, culture and history. Like Shanghai, in Guangzhou there wasn’t much to do but eat and shop. However I won’t deny that I felt more comfortable and less stressed out in Guangzhou – possibly because I had a friend to guide me around and speak Cantonese for me everywhere, too. Or it might have just been because people seemed more civilised. Or the lack of smog in the air. Or because I am simply a southern fairy at heart.