Qingyuan: Strangely Familiar

On a foggy day in early January I notched up my 80th city and it fell to this relative obscurity to the north of Guangzhou (co-incidentally my first beginning with Q). So off I set on this mini-adventure by bus from Tianhe Coach Station. The vistas of both Tianhe and Huadu are known to me and there isn’t too much of a distance between the northern most reaches of Guangzhou before the territory pertaining to Qingyuan takes over.

Talking about this city is complex. It is a bit like London or Auckland; the greater whole (county) is known as Qingyuan but the majority of its populous live in the Qingcheng district. So similar to saying you live in the City of London. In Chinese terms it’s a small city yet its population is slightly bigger than Auckland – more so if you include the whole county (prefecture in China).

On arrival I note which coach station, what street and take mental notes as well as photos just in case my memory lapses. Outside is somewhat nippy and I momentarily regret switching to lighter trousers. The first of many checks on my ‘maps’ app is noted and while I’m thinking of finding a cafe it’s pointing to Jiangbin Park by the river. Not much is going on, not even a square dance, save for two elder ladies in pink silk with swords! I also note it is a few degrees colder than my phone would have me believe though still reasonable for the time of year.

My only recollection of Qingyuan is from the window of a moving bus en-route to the local hot springs so while the views before are strangely familiar, they don’t rekindle my memory as to where the cafe I spotted is in relation to my current location. Not that there is much of a view beyond what is right in front of me, still this is weather expected of new year; white sky, a chill in the air and a slight dampness caused not by any amount of precipitation but by the street cleaning water jets.

Turning inward from the river and back into the town, a leafy side street beckons. Two cafes perch side by side though both are closed. According to my phone, the main town is actually across the North river which explains why I can’t see any actual stores other than car repair places, banks, hotels and insurance companies.

The bridge is a much longer hike than I’d bargained for and when I make the other side still the town is hiding from view. There are buildings both new and grotty like Mongkok in Hong Kong yet the main street is almost stubborn in its anonymity. Perhaps the cities closest parable if one is to be drawn is Fuzhou with no definable centre or indeed my own Newport (South Wales); an average grey town which is there for those that stumble upon it and refuses to dress up for dinner.

Suddenly a modern silver pedestrian walkway bridging the busy thoroughfare revels itself; at last a vantage point which may offer some clues. Out of three ways forward Xianfeng Donglu is selected (with the aid of my phone) and it turns out to be the right one.

Getting toward lunch time I’m taking note of the eateries that pass by. First up is Lemon Fish which seems empty, partly under construction – a guy is on the floor fitting a new screw into his drill – and staffed by the wonderfully typically beautiful Chinese girls common in such jobs; warm, friendly, a touch pimply and unfortunately as good at English as I am at Mandarin or Cantonese. Just opposite is a new mall which according to the hoardings will house a Walmart and an H&M. At last the seeds of a city centre were beginning to appear.

Something else a little odd, it takes a while to spot any of the usual western heavyweights; there is no Starbucks – that I can see anyway, no Burger King though McDonald’s and KFC have a few outlets as does Pizza Hut though that’s not saying too much for pizza is it. The only alternative in vision is 69 Stop Pizza! I have no idea if they’re any good or not but one of their outlets is by a junior school and before long I am surrounded by inquisitive younger folk whose cute giggles after they say Hello and ‘Nice to meet you’ is both touching and beguiling. Stranger still, could Qingyuan be the only place on earth with no Irish bar!?

Having scrutinised the neighbourhood’s eateries including some ok looking curry places, and a very jaded McDonald’s down a side street (not unlike the warren of streets near Taipei main station for those that know them) my winner award this day goes to the Orange Cat Cafe in one of the plazas. The waiter is a local who speaks tolerable English. I ask him what the cities main sights are but it goes amiss. He asks where I’m from but mistakes my answer UK for Ukraine! Another case of lost in translation, just as well then that my next destination is already pre-selected.

Qingyuan museum lies in the southern part of town and is in the same building as the library; again reminding me of home. The former shows off ceramics over two floors and the library has the same musky dowdy feel of a small town library than Guangzhou’s modern and airy treasure trove. The weather has at least perked up a bit, enough for me to retrieve the baseball cap from my bag. Strolling past another junior school and I can hear a cacophony of Hello’s from unknown faces and any number of windows.

Getting to/from Qingyuan
Bus from Tianhe Coach Station 41rmb (at the time of writing)
Bus from/to Guangzhou (as in the railway station bus station) 36rmb
*this was my mistake in that I didn’t specify Tianhe so went to the wrong station.
High Speed Train from Guangzhou South, only 24 minutes! But both train stations are a long way from their respective cities. 39rmb for a second class seat.
Also a bus link to Guangzhou airport from at least one of the hotels in Qingyuan.

Travel within Qingyuan
A fleet of reliable buses, no English, usually 2rmb
Motorbike taxi
No metro

Coffee: Royal Tea, UBS are the biggest chains plus independent outlets
Western: McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut
Supermarket: RT Mart and Vanguard. No Walmart as yet.

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