On Wednesday afternoon Jason Cooper and I took a trip into the inner city area of Guangzhou that I will never forget. With the help of some of the local Chinese people that were in attendance at the conference that we were participating in, we got some taxi directions to a very traditional and poor part of the city of Guangzhou. The taxi driver seemed a bit hesitant to take us to this portion of the city. It wasn’t an issue of safety as much as it was not a common place that foreigners wanted to visit. He kept saying that he would drive us around because the streets were very dirty to walk around on. He was right, the streets were very dirty, but we got out and walked around.
It was amazing to see the life of the Chinese people go on all around us. The streets were very narrow, the shops were tiny and there were people everywhere. People were buying, selling, delivering, carrying, talking, playing cards, sleeping, playing with their small children and playing with their pet cats and dogs. The people did not seem to care that we were walking around their neighborhood. Life was too important to stop and gawk at some out of place foreigners. It was apparent that the people in the community that we visited were very poor, yet not a single person asked us for money or tried to push us into buying something from them.
Some of the narrow streets and alleys that we walked down allowed us to get a glimpse into the living conditions of the people in that portion of the city. Many of the living spaces were a single room that was only eight by eight feet square. We saw families huddled together in these small rooms, sitting on the floor eating dinner, talking and…laughing.
The houses and buildings that the people were living in were extremely old and very run down. It was hard to believe that some of buildings were still able to stand given their condition. After seeing the deteriorated buildings in Guangzhou it is easy to imagine how so many people could die in a large earthquake incident like the one in Sichuan, China. There was an element of simplicity and survival in the people and the place that we visited and their lives and situation had a profound impact on me. The people had so little yet within the area that we visited there was a distinct sense of community and the people seemed happy.