Guangzhou is big. Let me rephrase: Guangzhou is absolutely insane. The city is huge and there are high risers after high risers after high risers for about as far as the eye can see 360 degrees from the top of the largest building in Guangzhou. (I have been there and actually starred in fascination into the distance).
Where I am from the “city” looks a bit different. There is one building that could be considered a high riser and than there are a lot of quaint buildings that make you say … aw… cute… but not here. The city hits you in the face.
Actually when I finally got to my tiny hotel room late at night after my journey from Europe to Guangzhou I put down my bags, looked outside the window and started crying. People do not talk a lot about how hard it is to come to China. (This being my fifth time I returned to China) I was alone. Completely alone. I literally did not know a single person in this city of 12 million. What on earth was I doing here? Why on earth did I study Asian studies? Why does everything have to be so difficult with me?!
I breathed. A lot. Put on my work out clothing and was determined to hit the gym. I got to the gym only to see that it was closed. So I returned to my room, took a shower and went outside for a walk.
Honestly, that is my secret weapon whenever I am overwhelmed with my own life decisions. I walk. It does amazing things and in this case it made me face this city and just explore the area around my hotel. It was right in the middle of Zhujiang New Town so not bad at all.
This continued for a couple nights and every night I dared to walk down smaller and smaller roads and allies. One night after I was chatting to a woman outside her real estate office I decided to take a different route back home and walked down a dimly lit road behind my hotel. When suddenly: A tiny wooden sliding door. I look up: A sign of some sorts. I could make out that it was a Japanese restaurant and it looked awesome. I couldn’t see inside from the outside but it still looked amazing. I decided to return the next night to eat there. (When you have to eat by yourself these places are a blessing)
Yuki is standing in the entrance
So the next night I walked back down the alley and stopped in front of the wooden door. I pushed it to the side and entered. It was a small restaurant. Along the wall to my left was a big long shelf with manga magazines and dozens if not hundreds of bottles. To my right was a small bar with three stools and in the back were two tables. On the left side were three entrances to three individual private dining rooms. I immediately was in love and sat down at the bar. The manager came by and introduced herself as Yuki. I introduced myself and ordered a bowl of ramen. I looked around and all costumers were Japanese men. Interesting. Yuki and I started chatting and it quickly became clear that I would return again soon. Even better: We became friends almost instantly. The ramen was insane and it was determined that I would return again the next night.
I actually returned five times in a row and got to know all the other loyal costumers. The Japanese community is very tight in Guangzhou and it seemed like everyone knew each other. I handed out my business cards and everyone wanted to drink with me.
Yuki and me are good friends now. Her Japanese costumers and friends have taken me out to dinner (three restaurants in one night), I arm wrestled with them, drank copious amounts of alcohol, and was introduced to the Japanese magic pills which get rid of the hangover the next day.
I learned that the Japanese generally work insanely long hours and still manage to maintain a very lively drinking culture almost every single night of the week. Some of the men I have never seen sober.
But that is not the point. The point is that I am so incredibly thankful that they invited me with open arms into their world without a single hesitation. I was welcomed to sit at tables with company bosses, bottles of whiskey were purchased for me, food was ordered and business cards were exchanged. Something like this would truly be unimaginable in my hometown. (Or at least I have never experienced or heard of it.)
This restaurant (of which I still don’t know the name of by the way…. I think its something with a horse) is a huge reason why I feel so much at home in this city and it goes to show that within the vast sea of high risers lie communities that are more welcoming and open to complete strangers than in my quaint and cute home town.