-Sihle Isipho Nontshokweni
There are two ways for a man to travel a city. With the locals, or as a tourist. The latter route usually follows a travel guide with a list of top 10 things to do in Guangzhou.
October 2015, alongside the South African delegation group that was visiting China, we tried the tourist route. To unpack the history of the province we started off at the Guandong Museum, second on our list was the pen-shaped canton tower, also renowned for being the third highest tower in the world. We then admired captivating views of the city skyline, traversing on the Pearl River night cruise (I highly recommend this cruise).
When we first arrived our bus drove through Yuexiu district.
My eyes thundered open as I observed the “chocolateness” of this area and city.
For this reason, I had to go back. This time to be among the locals.
You see I live in Beijing where the picture of two people of color meeting (even for the first time) resembles a family reunion moment. Glistening smiles, blissful conversation, the exchange of WeChat contacts. It happens instinctively.
On our recent local route tour, Thuthukile and I moved past closed streets, prancing through unkempt, dusty cul-de-sacs, crowded markets, across lanes of heavy traffic, looking up and noting thick, rusty electric cables, hovering over the sky above. Seeing Guangzhou and her people.
Seeing Guangzhou and our people. Savoring the Afrobeat vibrancy that nourishes the city’s atmosphere, in tune with the rhythmic music and the lively faces of black men and women against a backdrop of barraging adverts written in Chinese.
To my surprise though, the family reunion-look alike moments didn’t happen as often in the ‘chocolate city,’ not as often as they would in Beijing.
Perhaps, the most accurate word to describe the sense of this city is betwixt movement. Movement by short time stayers, transit travelers, visa over-stayers, traders, explorers and curious bloggers. The numbers are not precise, but approximately 200 000 Africans have settled in the Chocolate City.
I like to think of Guangzhou as the Johannesburg of China, a magnetic hub. A place where people go to carry the load. To get where they want to get. To find a dream, a life. Even among the locals as the pictures below reveal, men and women carried loads, on mission to deliver, to complete tasks. To get food on the table.
Unlike Johannesburg though, Guangzhou houses Africans from East, West North and Southern Africa. Men, women, children, Africans of all sizes, ages and shades.
One pulling a large carriage bag upon purchasing a bulk order, another prancing in flip flops, with a jersey tied around the waist. A casualness that says, “this is home for me now.”
On one of my evenings there, I sat idle at an African café after a mouth filling meal, Jollof rice and spicy chicken served by a Chinese woman.
In that moment, thinking of the number of Africans in China evoked my senses. In that tiny restaurant, I was privy to the golden stories of the Africans sitting close by. So I interviewed a few. An aging lady from Angola. A male trader from South Sudan, who buys sports gear to sell back home. A young South African lady on a 30-day visa, she buys weaves at cost price to sell back home. Another gentleman from Niger, he buys and sells construction materials. Another from Mali who identified Guangzhou as a home for him, he spoke fluent mandarin. He’s married to a Chinese woman and they have an Afro-Chinese baby girl.
Each person seemed to have a different story. As Roberto Castillo writes, their aspirations varied, stretching further than the “gold rush” narrative anchored on trade and material accumulation. For some Guangzhou had indeed become home.
It’s incredible to see! Especially in a China that is typified as homogeneous with a Han majority.
Undoubtedly, the transnational social space in Guangzhou leaves a lasting impression on its visitors. The rich presence of blackness infects the city, creating an utterly unique Afro-China environment.
To read more on the subject, check out this blog.