Where The Wind Takes Me – Day 22

Where The Wind Takes Me Series - Table of Contents

EntryNotable Places/EventsStart of DayEnd of Day
Day 0 - Apr 21-22 2024Plane (Edmonton > Tokyo)Edmonton, CanadaTokyo, Japan
Day 1 - Tue Apr 23 2024Akihabara, Sensoji, Tokyo Sky Arena, Taiwan Food FestivalTokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 2 - Wed Apr 24 2024Nezu Shrine, Tokyo National MuseumTokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 3 - Thu Apr 25 2024Akihabara, Ginza, Yurakucho, Bocchi the Rock! Exhibition (with Quintopia)Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 4 - Fri Apr 26 2024Craft Gyoza Fes, Niku Fes, Odaiba, Kameido Tenjin ShrineTokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 5 - Sat Apr 27 2024Niconico Chokaigi 2024Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 6 - Sun Apr 28 2024M3-53Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 7 - Mon Apr 29 2024Train (Tokyo > Osaka)Tokyo, JapanOsaka, Japan
Day 8 - Tue Apr 30 2024Tsurumibashi, Expo Commemorative Park, Osaka Station (with Miyu)Osaka, JapanOsaka, Japan
Day 9 - Wed May 01 2024Kyoto, Takenobu Inari Shrine, SaiinOsaka, JapanOsaka, Japan
Day 10 - Thu, May 02 2024Train (Osaka > Tokyo)Osaka, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 11 - Fri May 03 2024Reitaisai 21Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 12 - Sat May 04 2024Japan Jam 2024 (with Quintopia)Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 13 - Sun May 05 2024National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (with Quintopia)Tokyo, JapanTokyo, Japan
Day 14 - Mon May 06 2024Haneda International Airport, Plane (Tokyo > Taipei), Liaoning Night MarketTokyo, JapanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 15 - Tue May 07 2024Taipei Main Station Underground Mall, Ximending Night MarketTaipei, TaiwanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 16 - Wed May 08 2024Shilin Night MarketTaipei, TaiwanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 17 - Thu May 09 2024Raohe Street Night MarketTaipei, TaiwanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 18 - Fri May 10 2024Songjiang Market, Guang Hua Digital Plaza, Shida Night MarketTaipei, TaiwanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 19 - Sat May 11 2024Dihua Street, Huaxi Street Night Market, Guangzhou Street Night MarketTaipei, TaiwanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 20 - Sun May 12 2024Gongguan Night MarketTaipei, TaiwanTaipei, Taiwan
Day 21 - Mon May 13 2024Plane (Taipei > HK), Train (HK > Guangzhou), Stayed with KelTaipei, TaiwanGuangzhou, China
Day 22 - Tue May 14 2024Zhongfu Square, Alpaca Sighting (with Kel), Dinner with Kel, Stayed with KelGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 23 - Wed May 15 2024Panyu Square, Dinner with Kel, Stayed with KelGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 24 - Thu May 16 2024Nancun Wanbo (with Kel), Stayed with KelGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 25 - Fri May 17 2024Train (Guangzhou > Xiamen), Zhongshan RoadGuangzhou, ChinaXiamen, China
Day 26 - Sat May 18 2024Xiamen Railway StationXiamen, ChinaXiamen, China
Day 27 - Sun May 19 2024Mingfa Shopping MallXiamen, ChinaXiamen, China
Day 28 - Mon May 20 2024Train (Xiamen > Guangzhou), Stayed with KelXiamen, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 29 - Tue May 21 2024Stayed with KelGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 30 - Wed May 22 2024Tianhe Computer Town, Dinner with Kel, Stayed with KelGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 31 - Thu May 23 2024Comic City, Shangxiajiu Square, Dinner with Kel, Stayed with KelGuangzhou, ChinaGuangzhou, China
Day 32 - Fri May 24 2024Train (Guangzhou > Hong Kong)Guangzhou, ChinaHong Kong, China

Tuesday, May 14 2024 (Day 22)

I went to bed to this view last night:

And woke up to this one:

So that was nice. The highrises in Guangzhou go really high, Kel‘s room was 30 floors up and wasn’t on the highest floor in the building even at that point. That smog in the distance though. Also, there’s a constant chorus of horns in the distance audible from all the way up here, which is really interesting and very peacefully ambient for me. However, a good view really is therapeutic, since I woke up with my senses of smell and taste restored. Yay!

The mattress on the bed in Kel‘s spare room was hard as rocks though, and apparently from her conversation with friends, a lot of the beds in this apartment complex that she and many of her fellow teachers live in are like that, including the one in her own room. Kel said she really liked these hard beds, but it was like sleeping on a thin futon on a wooden floor in a Japanese-style room. It left me with only a partially cured headache, and my left temple was still throbbing through the entire day. I did sleep well and even managed a dream entry though, surprisingly, despite this being my first night at a new place.

Dealing with the Internet and China’s Great Firewall was a pain in general, one thing that happened last night to demonstrate this while on my transit from Hong Kong to Guangzhou was that I was using the free MTR WiFi or whatever they called it, which was the complimentary wireless network on the Hong Kong trains and on the high speed rail as well. But the moment the train crossed the border from Hong Kong into China, the Internet cut off, and I got a message that due to Chinese law, the free WiFi was only available for people who had registered with the real name system or something like that (and had basically become “verified” with big government here).

So I basically had no internet for most of my trip to Guangzhou South, and then no Internet when I met Kel at the station as well and then made my way to her apartment. Once at her apartment, I inducted my phone into her house’s wireless network, but that still had no Google access, so no handy phone default search feature, no Google Maps, no Google Play Store, no Gmail, and so on. And most importantly, no Google Translate. There were VPN solutions like Astrill which do help solve the blockage issue, and that apparently are used in a rather official basis even by entire schools and institutions, but it didn’t completely help my case either because more importantly than the partial Internet block, I still wouldn’t be able to use it at all outside of the house as I lacked a SIM or eSIM card and we weren’t sure if it were even possible to get one as a traveller here.

From eventual cursory research that I did this morning, it was possible but usually involved going to a China Mobile or China Unicom store and signing some contract or other. Finding these stores wasn’t easy though, and it wasn’t clear if places like convenience stores were supposed to sell them but I didn’t see any. Airports do sell them, but I didn’t come in via an airport, and I did not see any in the train station on either end. Apparently it was possible to get an eSIM that works in mainland China while in Hong Kong, but I did not see any in the quick search that I did and I didn’t spend that long searching since I had that side quest to do. There were apparently other options too, but me? Planning? Hah!

All those things had limits too, and I like internet access solutions with close to unlimited bandwidth. What worked for me in the end was, while connected to one of Kel‘s VPN solutions in China, going to Holafly and picking up their unlimited China eSIM (local) for 10 days. That cost me $44 CAD or so, and that was fine, though apparently just 1 day costs $8, 2 days costs $12, and as one adds more days the average cost per day wobbles but gradually drops to the point that a 90 day unlimited eSIM is just $168 CAD, or under $2 a day. That’s pretty good, and the eSIM was delivered to my inbox via QR code immediateley, so I scanned that and away I went.

There’s no other costs that came with the purchase too, even though the purchase itself came with a free automatic VPN thing that allowed me unfettered access to stuff beyond the Great Firewall. I believe this was the “CMLINK Service” app that force-installed itself on my phone, even though a quick search on that suggests that it’s a China Mobile thing that I can’t seem to easily turn off. That or that’s completely unrelated and the VPN is on the provider side somewhere. That’s fine though, and while the service (in Guangzhou) isn’t quite as blazing fast as they seem to suggest, it’s decent, although once in a while everything will clog up for a few seconds as though I’m moving cellphone towers (and perhaps that might be exactly what was happening.) In particular, I like unlimited bandwidth because I like to listen to my Twitch streams while on the move, in addition to using Google Translate, Maps, and Search, and so far the Twitch streams are usable, but would occasionally freeze up and necessitate a restart/refresh.

Oh well. It is/was still serviceable for the most part during my days here. My tentative aim, as we worked out over the day and the next day, would be to aim for around 10 days here, mostly at Kel‘s apartment here in Guangzhou but with a weekend spent at another city as she would also be away during the weekend.

Before setting out for the day, there was something else that I needed to do as well, which was to set up Weixin Pay, one of the two most popular contactless payment options (Weixin Pay, or WeChat Pay, is done through the WeChat mobile app, whereas the other one, Alipay, is done through a dedicated Alipay app linked to the Alibaba Group.) used in China. This was easy and painless since I already had a WeChat account — otherwise that part would have required someone with an existing account to verify me so that I could create it or something — I just linked my overseas credit card to it and I was ready to go, without even having to go through a real name verification by uploading my passport or anything like that, although that limited me to a spending limit of something around $3000 CAD worth of RMB (not that I’m going to spend that much) and included a bunch of other limiters on things like receiving money too.

I was still somewhat sick on the day, but I did still want to spend some time walking around. There was a supermarket called Haalo Supermarket just below Kel‘s apartment, but not much else besides a few scant restaurants, which was surprising considering that she lived in an area with something like 10 highrise apartment buildings that were all ~35 stories high each within a couple of city blocks of each other.

From what Kel told me, and from what I saw, the area is called Clifford Wonderland and was meant to be a theme park and tourist attraction, but it never took off. There’s a lot of boarded up shops and areas with signs like “Global attraction!” “Opening soon!” “Soft launching!” and a phone number one can call if one buys into the hype and wants to set up a shop here, and abandoned areas for charter buses to come in and pick up/drop off tourists at that are always empty. So anyway the hotels that were here, that graced this Disney Wondeland rival that whoever this visionary Clifford person was created, were eventually turned into housing apartments instead to recoup the losses from building up this whole area in the first place.

It’s very weird, it’s like a ghost town of a theme park, and perhaps due to contracts or something the entire area is lacking some really basic amenities like convenience stores anywhere nearby at all. It’s like they are stuck between some sort of core vision of the theme park and not allowing “local” stores here somehow, while also having quietly converted all the hotels to scrape back some cash but now they will never be the theme park that they wanted to be anyway. As a visitor, it’s intriguing and I wonder what the history behind the place was. Some pictures of the area follow:

And from a bit further away, the hotel apartments look like this:

There’ll likely be a few more pictures over the next couple days. I did notice a number of Chinese parents bring their kids (or pet dogs) to the park area, walking around and even chatting with other parents doing their same thing, but I don’t think that they were visitors from elsewhere, more like they’re some of the hundreds of people living inside the towers and that have nothing better to do in the immediate area. There are two or three “shopping malls” in the area that are just empty shells, with a few opened shops (mostly restaurants) on the first floor, and completely deserted second and third floors even though signs that promise more shops point up the escalators toward them. And there’s a basement mall level that connects the area too, that level has small pockets of shops divided up by small pockets of sealed off walls where shops are supposed to be, and a train station at the end of one of the passageways.

I had failed to mention this yesterday, but this is as good a place as any — train stations here are interesting because there is a security checkpoint and bag scanner at every station gate area, and bags have to be put through the scanner when you are entering (but not when you are leaving) the vicinity of the ticketing gates of a train station. They scan for things like alcohol and firecrackers and weapons, and while it’s not nearly as stringent as an airport check, they do require that you remove any drink bottles and take a swig from it after passing the metal detector gate to “prove” that it’s not alcohol or some sort of dangerous liquid.

For this day though, I wasn’t taking any trains or going anywhere near any security checkpoints. Instead, now that I had working roaming Internet again, I was scouting around for local supermarkets as the one beneath Kel‘s apartment seemed decent but lacked soup ingredients. I did buy a bottle of tea there though, and it was even branded with the Tung-I brand, a name associated with one of my favourite instant noodles, although I had no idea that they made other stuff too. This bottle of tea became my first WeChat Pay victim, and the nice cashier helped me figure out how to use the app once she realized that it was my first time ever using it.

Next, I wanted to get a better pulse on what supermarket prices were like between different markets here, as that’s something that I knew I enjoyed doing in a new place. So, I decided to walk west out of the Clifford Wonderland bubble (which spread over several city blocks and included: Clifford Apartments, Clifford Wonderland, Clifford Wonderland II, Clifford Convention Centre, Clifford International School, Clifford Hospital, and more.)

Following a main road, I left the Clifford bubble behind, taking the two pictures above as I trundled my way along the side of the road. I stumbled upon a large collection of tea shops spread across at least three or four city blocks or so, though I didn’t really do them justice in taking pictures as the only serviceable one I have is of one of the streets leading perpendicularly off of the road that I was walking alongside.

That showed that that particular street was lined with tea shops, or rather shops that sold specific kinds of tea leaves, though I believe there were also shops that sold tea bottles, tea cups and pots, and other tea paraphernalia too. But that was just a small cross-section of the shops, since the bulk of the shops was actually perpendicular to that street, and parallel to the direction that I was walking, a long row of shops “offstage” to the left and right of the nearest shops in that picture.

Eventually, the tea alley gave way into a number of regular locally-owned shops, things like grocers and fishmongers and small restaurants and such, plus the occasional congregation of produce and fruit carts.

Stuff was cheap, though I didn’t buy anything, and Kel would later warn me of potential pesticide and other food scandals that used to plague China and how buying from a fruit cart was probably not the best idea here.

It was a little past 3 pm at this point and I had not eaten anything yet, so I picked a random restaurant for my lunch. It turned out to be this place:

And now that I had my trusty Google Translate ready for action, I was able to translate the food sign on the wall and ended up with some fried noodles and something that translated into Chaoshan Meat Cake Soup.

It wasn’t fantastic, but it was pretty good, and I was just glad to be able to taste things again. And this became my second WeChat Pay line item, except that while the first one involved me bringing up a QR code and then scanning it on a machine, this one was done in reverse, where the shop owner provided a QR code at the counter, and I scanned it with the scanner inside my WeChat app. This brought up a payment screen with a keypad on my phone, and I entered the total price (25 RMB, or roughly $5 CAD) into the app and approved the money transfer. A second later, another device on the shop owner’s table made a loud ding and proudly announced to the world that it had received 25 yuan. I laughed. I’m not sure why there are two different ways of doing the same thing, and why larger stores tended to have me scan my QR code whereas smaller stores tended to have a QR code for me to scan, but I’m sure there’s a good liability-based reason behind it all. I was more concerned about my lunch though, so I devoured that and then continued along my way.

I proceeded to walk around more of the neighbourhood after lunch. There were a bunch of stores crammed together as well as a partially-indoors meat and spice market that I walked through in the area.

I liked the vibe, and I couldn’t help but compare how this random slice of local life that I saw was also so much “cleaner”, and just looked so less on the verge of toppling over, than the slices of Taipei that I had seen a few days earlier.

After wandering around here a while, I went back to the crossroads where I had seen the fruit carts earlier. There was a shopping complex of some kind across the road there too, and I crossed the road to get to the other side, though not after taking note of a motorcycle being ridden by 3 people at once.

Motorcycle culture was so interesting in Taipei, and it is quite interesting here too. They swerve from road to pavement (for example to cross traffic lights as a “pedestrian”) to road again, and are able to perform traffic manouvers that cars cannot sometimes, and they’re everywhere to boot.

Across the road, there was a shaded outdoor portion of the “mall” that I was eyeing, and then the actual two or three storey mall itself. This place was called Zhongfu Square or Zhongfu Plaza (钟福广场). This was not a glitzy corporate sort of mall full of name-brand chain stores, but an independent one full of local retailers and shopowners.

It must also have been built partially on a hill or something, because the most interesting part of the mall is that the second level of the mall had an exit on the other end that led to this short, covered walkway, and then the ground floor of another small mall building behind it.

This area was great vibes. Though the front building only had two real floors of shops (I think the third floor was some sort of gym or sports area, but I didn’t go up there), and the back building only had one floor (and it was quiet and deserted-like and very liminal), I enjoyed walking through the area and looking at the shops. There were a couple of barkers trying to get me to go to some karaoke bar or massage place near the front entrance of the front building, but no unpleasantness like that once I was actually inside.

On the second level of the front building, there was also a supermarket that did not show up on Google Maps at all. Google Maps is really unreliable in China, even though it “works” with a VPN, because it has very little user data since everyone uses the Chinese version, Baidu Maps, instead. Also, things like the transit tool, for figuring out what the fastest route between locations A and B are, just plain don’t work because there’s no transit data for China in the Google Maps tool at all. So by the end of the day, I had figured out how to download and use Baidu Maps as well for the equivalent function of finding the best train/bus route between locations.

For plotting a walking route though, Google Maps seemed to work fine, though the walking history seemed to be a little bit off due to the VPNs. Everything was offset a little bit north when I reviewed my location history at the end of the day. Also, as a sidenote, Pikmin Bloom is crippled while in China due to them using Google Maps integration — it still does the step counter stuff but basically nothing else in the app works at all. No mushrooms, no flower planting, no expeditions.

But I digress. Supermarket. This supermarket was called Wanhe Supermarket, and it was nice to wander through as well.

I told Kel later on that day that Chinese supermarkets seemed to have a lot more dried and loose ingredients, but less immediate soup-ready and rice-ready items compared to Japanese supermarkets. I wanted to buy some things back for soup for dinner but decided not to as I couldn’t find enough small portions of meat and vegetables to pair with each other.

(Kel added a note later on, together with the pesticide conversation that I mentioned further up, that richer people tend not to buy from “local” supermarkets like these either due to the same issue, and if they do buy stuff they’ll buy from Sam’s Club or Costco or something where they can guarantee that the food items are imported rather than from dubious local sources. It’s interesting how low the food trust here seems to be.)

After this, I went home. I didn’t buy anything except a packet of instant noodles, also by Tung-I. Although I couldn’t find the specific noodle I liked, I found a bunch of others from them that I didn’t know existed. I didn’t get to eat it though, since Kel took me out for dinner when she got home. We went down to one of the little restaurants dotting the dead Wonderland neighbourhood area below the apartments. She took me to a place which sold a bunch of noodle dishes and then side dishes that we could tack on to it, and we had a choice between seating inside in the restaurant and outside on the patio area. We chose the outdoor patio, made our order, and then settled down to chat to each other.

And then this guy came by.

The heck. Kel got excited and said that she’d heard about this guy, who lived in one of the apartments in the area, but had never actually seen him in person before. He was a streamer who owned a pet alpaca, and I found him later on on Douyin, China’s version of Tiktok — his channel is here, and the alpaca’s name is Maodou (毛豆) or edamame bean, heh. She said that he was locally famous and that one of her coworkers had the er.. pleasure of sharing an elevator ride with the person and his alpaca once, and that the elevator ride stunk.

I wonder how he got permission to keep the alpaca around his apartment and how much it irritates or disturbs the neighbours, considering that the buildings are locked down to the point that an access keycard is needed to come into the building and also needed to select your apartment’s floor in the elevator — anyone cannot just access any other floor in the building besides the main level, garbage collection level, and the level that their apartment is on. For most of the day, there’s also a friendly door guard posted just inside the lobby. By the way, I’m not sure Kel is allowed to just randomly host me here for ten days, but…

But let’s not go down that line of thought. This was dinner, when it eventually came out.

Kel didn’t order her own food since she had already eaten dinner separately, but she took some food off of me anyway, since she paid for my meal too. The soup had little brown cubes in it that were made from duck blood, and they were jelly-like in texture. Most of them anyway. A couple felt meaty. I’d eaten it before, probably back in Singapore, but definitely not in a good while. The cucumbers (拍黃瓜, or smashed cucumber salad, though Google funnily translated it as “shoot the cucumber”) were garlicky and I liked that, and the xiao long bao dumplings, which we split 2 and 2, were very juicy.

After dinner, we went back to the apartment and lazed around for a bit to talk to each other before Kel headed to bed, as she had to be up by 7 the next morning.

An alpaca. Geez.

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Where The Wind Takes Me - Day 23

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