Guangzhou In A Foreigner’s Eyes 一个老外眼里的广州

Bill Marcus, China, 1995

The Yang Cheng Evening News 
September 20, 1997

Translation by Jiang Yi-feng

Su Shi wrote this in his poetry:  “You couldn’t see the entire outline of Lu Mountain because you are on the mountain.”  Everything is changing everyday including the people around you, the things around you and how the city looks.  But we live in this city and that’s why we couldn’t have a clear and complete perspective of this city. The Guangzhou residents might have a lot of complaints about it. Then for a foreigner who has visited Guangzhou twice, what will he think of this city? 

Guangzhou In A Foreigner’s Eyes

There’s been a great number of changes in Guangzhou these two years. Not only the residents here but also the foreigners who’ve passed by could feel it.

Bill Marcus, 37 years old, used to be journalist in Albany, NY. Now he is a graduate student at New York State University. He visited Guangzhou in 1995 and this July he came again. After going back to the United States, he wrote to the Guangdong Province Travel Bureau an article about what he had seen and felt in Guangzhou. Now let’s get together and feel the changes of Guangzhou in this foreigner’s eyes:

MARCUS: Two years is a short period. Guangzhou’s changes in food,  residency and traffic is amazing. I could never forget its palatable food.  Guangzhou does have the best Chinese and western food among all the Chinese cities. The Chinese food here tastes better than before and even when I missed the cheese and French croissants occasionally, I could buy them easily not far from where I lived. But two years ago, I could only find canned ham and terrible bread.”

JOURNALIST: It’s usually said that “Eat in Guangzhou.” “Eating,” is always what Guangzhouese are proud of. These years, in order to develop Cantonese food, Guangzhou’s Cuisine Department has tried everything such as cooking Chinese food in western ways, making the rough material delicate and mixing the southern and northern flavor. They have also imported a series of new modes. No wonder why Marcus complimented Cantonese food first and couldn’t forget it even when he was back to America.

MARCUS: Now I could use my keys to open the door in the hotel. I still remember that two years ago when I tried to enter my room, I had to yell for the server on another floor. And even when I wanted to go to the toilet, I had to go though this medium, which was really embarrassing. Now not only do customers have more convenience but (the new practice) also shows (the hotel) trusts its guests more in that they allow the customers to let them have a key.

JOURNALIST: The hotel field in Canton does offer better quality service these years. One reason is there is intense competition in this field. They have to treat customers like a god in order to win the market; another reason is that the travel department has changed their old way of paying more attention to hardware construction and neglecting the software construction. Now the department is beginning to evaluate the quality of the hotel by the service it offers. This has encouraged many hotels to exert themselves and raise their quality of service.

MARCUS: I once took the bus and that was a happy experience. The passengers were very polite. I also saw a young man give his seat to a pregnant woman. Compared with two years ago, the traffic in Guangzhou is very good now. Although traffic jams are frequent, traffic lights no longer seem to be viewed as street decorations.

JOURNALIST: Guangzhou residents have fully felt the good of the bus without a conductor. It offers more convenience and nurtures people’s politeness. And as far as the traffic jam is concerned, I think when the subway construction is finished next year, the problem will be solved. In the future if Marcus comes to Guangzhou again, he will surely have deeper feeling about this change.

MARCUS: This time when I went out shopping in Guangzhou, I was very surprised to hear more English in the shops on the streets. Two years ago I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I couldn’t help buying more from shops where the staff and owners spoke English because this was quite familiar to me and made me feel like being at home.

JOURNALIST: Guangzhou residents’ English has made obvious progress. I think this foreigner’s comment is instructive. This change not only shows the higher education quality of Guangzhou residents but it also reflects the greater exposure of Guangzhou to the world. More and more Cantonese speak fluent English.

MARCUS: But, to be honest, some changes in Guangzhou are hard to accept. The first should be noise which might drive you crazy, even worse than before.  The other day, I couldn’t stand it any more and shouted to a biker who kept on beeping his horn when riding to “turn off your (explicative deleted) horn!” But he didn’t understand and went away. I’m afraid invasive vehicle noise and its constant harassment is my worst memory about Guangzhou.

JOURNALIST:  Exactly. Many Guangzhou residents could feel the same as Marcus feels. Some drivers seem to be attached to making noise because they blow their horns as soon as they start driving their cars.  The related departments have to do something to punish those drivers to return the silence to Guangzhou.

MARCUS: The most revolting thing that happened to me was that I always got the unfair treatment. At the airport, a taxi driver showed his enthusiasm and tried to make me pay 250 RMB for a fare which was only worth 48 RMB. After a while of tao jia huan jia, he decreased the price to 80 RMB reluctantly. And later I found out, taxi cost is based on miles. No ‘tao jia huan jia’ is needed.  This kind of experience undoubtedly has a bad impression on many tourists in Guangzhou including me. I think there should be an English notice in the taxi to show how they bill, the way of paying, customer rights and how to complain. Employing these practices will not only save some money for customers but also give them a good impression of Guangzhou as well. Anyway, foreigners need to know how much a bottle of water and one mile of taxi cost ,too.

JOURNALIST: Marcus is not the only victim. Some Chinese people from other parts of China and even Guangzhou residents have had that experience too. We should treat these drivers as vicious as the mice crossing the street and beat them without mercy.

To us, the changes, whether good or not, that Marcus has mentioned may just be some tiny things around us. But they show the trajectory of Guangzhou’s development and reflect the spirit and morality of Guangzhou residents. We should continue the good changes and rectify the bad changes.

Last but not the least, the journalist found that Bill Marcus once said, “Guangzhou, such a beautiful and fantastic and charming city has the kindest and most friendly residents in China. Any behaviors that might retard its development are shameful. I hope this sentence could be a warning to the people living in Guangzhou.”

Original Chinese text:

1997年9月20日 星期六 第七版



“两年时间并不太长,广州在食、住、行等方面的变化却让我感到惊讶、高兴。广州的美食至今令人难忘,无论是中餐还是西餐,广州都是全国最好的。不仅中餐的味道比两年前更为美妙,就是当我偶尔怀念起奶酪和法国面包时,我也可 以在离住处不远的地方买到,不像两 年前,只能找到罐装火腿以及不合口味的面包。”