|The first thing one notices about Guangzhou is that it is quite clearly a more affluent city than most other Chinese settlements. Being two hours north of Hong Kong, it reaps the rewards of existing within China's most wealthy province.
Our hostel is located in a region steeped in historical conflict. Following the Opium Wars of the 19th century, Britain and France were granted a relatively small section of land on which they could base their Chinese trading operations. This area is known simply as Shamian Dao, literally translated as "sand island." While there's no trace of sand left, the old colonial-style buildings remain a reminder of times past.
Broad lanes criss-cross the area, huge trees stand tall, and large parks take up the rest of the island. People flock to the island's parks to do Tai-Chi first thing in the morning. None of the destitution witnessed in other areas of China exists in Shamian Dao. The serenity is fabulous.
It is, however, a relatively unnerving environment. We quickly discovered that the area is a place where Americans come to change their life forever: it is a haven for Americans wanting to adopt a Chinese baby without the hassles of doing it from the United States. Everywhere one looks, there is an American couple pushing a Chinese baby in a rented stroller. For better or worse, the Chinese baby's new family has made the decision to take the child to the United States to start life anew. A bizzare reality, that's for sure.
Regardless on our views on this odd system, Shamian Dao fulfilled its purpose; we left for Hong Kong supremely relaxed and eagerly anticipating China's most affluent and commercialized city (not to mention Thailand after that)...