Living and having fun in Guangzhou

Living in Guangzhou

I’ve been living in Guangzhou since March 2010, have been to many places and noticed that there really is much to see and do here in Canton! Sure I have heard how others love Hong Kong, rest of them swear by Shenzhen, but I’m sure that’s just because they haven’t really seen what Guangzhou is like.

So you are out and about in Guangzhou, where do you go? In this post I will introduce a few great websites that will point you to the next best restaurant, bar, event or an ancient village to explore.

City Weekend Guangzhou

If you’ve been to Beijing or Shanghai, you might have seen their magazine, but even though we don’t have anything on print here in Guangzhou yet, their website is still full of great recommendations. And new ones coming up all the time!

Check out what to eat and where to drink and party in Guangzhou.

Guangzhou Stuff

What’s going on today in Guangzhou? Check out the events in Guangzhou Stuff and plan your day of fun! This is where I heard of the German Chamber of Commerce’s Students and Young Professionals events for the first time, they are organized once a month and an amazing way to meet new faces.

eChinacities Guangzhou

For sightseeing and places worth visiting you should check out Travel & Outdoors section over at eChinacities. They have great recommendations for cultural and historical day trips as well, featuring many places that are on my wish list.

the nanfang

For interesting news from Guangzhou (+ Shenzhen +Dongguan) head to thenanfang.com. They for example reported how Guangzhou is banning the favourite pastime of middle aged women in Guangzhou, at least in some areas. Oh and if you really want to see some dancing, be sure to visit the North Gate of Sun Yat-Sen University after 6pm. It’s packed every night!

Did I miss a website that should be on this list? Please let me know in the comments. Also share with us what you do for fun in Guangzhou.


Guangzhou: Zhu Village


Zhu (Pearl) Village is located in the Tianhe district of Guangzhou. It’s an urban village these days, but the roots get back to the Southern Song Dynasty. I never knew that there could be so much history to be found in the Tianhe district, as it seems so modern with expensive brand stores and high rises. Luckily I got a chance to write a small piece for a magazine and heard about the Zhu Village.


You can take a metro to one of the stations marked in the map above and then continue with taxi. Or you can take a BRT bus and get off at the Zhu Cun (珠村) station. These busses all reach the village: B1B5B15B16B17B20B26 and B27.


I visited Zhu Village two times, first for the magazine and then to experiense the Chinese Valentine’s Day that was on the 13th this month (7th day of the 7 month in the lunar calendar). You can click the map above to get a bigger version.


The first steps into the village made me a bit sceptical, could there be anything ancient found here?

IMG_2965I do enjoy visiting urban villages too, excellent for exploring the daily lives of locals and migrant workers and taking photos of their everyday living.


I even managed to get this cute dog to pose for me! I’m still shy to photograph people, even though that’s what I would really like to do. Sometimes people also refuse to be photographed and I’ve missed many great shots by being a bit too slow.


It’s a bit hard to navigate inside the Pearl Village, but getting lost in the small alleys is also part of the urban village experience. I would advice you to arrange at least a few hours for strolling around.


During my first few months in Guangzhou a Finnish girl asked me why I wanted to stay in Guangzhou. Why wouldn’t I move to Beijing where there is so much more history and culture. Well, we don’t have Forbidden city in here, but everyday living is also an important part of culture and these villages dating back to the emperors’ times are a piece of rich history as well.


Culture isn’t just “high culture” like opera, plays, ballet, but it’s everything humans do. What you eat for breakfast, what kind of clothes you wear and what you watch from TV after work.


If you are interested in the urban villages of Guangzhou, I recommend you to check Adam Robert Young’s photos. He used to live in Guangzhou and took such an amazing photos with interesting stories.


There are many ancient sites inside Zhu Village, including 44 cultural relic buildings, 33 ancestral halls and 8 society temple altars. You might not be able to go inside to all of them, as old people are using them as poker and mahjong venues these days.


The best time to visit Pearl Village is during the Chinese Valentine’s Day which will next time be on the 2nd day of August 2014. Before going though, you should familiarize your self with the ancient legend of the cowherd and the weaver girl.

Wikipedia tells us:

“The general tale is about a love story between Zhinu (the weaver girl) and Niulang (the cowherd).Their love was not allowed, thus they were banished to opposite sides of the Silver River ( the Milky Way).Once a year, on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month, a flock of magpies would form a bridge to reunite the lovers for one day.”


I read online that if a couple happen to fall in love with each other in Zhu Village, their romance will last for eternity. I saw many couples visiting the village, but according to Wikipedia Qixi Festival is important both to single and married.

“Young girls partake in worshiping the celestials (拜仙) during rituals. They make wishes for marrying someone who would be a good and loving husband.”

“The festival also held an importance for newly wed couples. The celebration stood symbol for a happy marriage and showed that the married woman was treasured by her new family.”


The old temples and buildings were full of decorations during the festival. Miniature houses, people and all kinds of objects. Everything was also on sale and we heard one old lady saying: “They don’t buy anything, why to take so many photos!” My boyfriend explained that the locals had already celebrated the festival and this part was for the tourists to come and spend some money.


A young couple taking a photo of them selves.


In Guangzhou there can’t be a festival without food! We found all sorts of drinks and snacks for sell at the Qixi Square. It’s a bit hectic with all the sellers shouting their offers and different smells blending in together.


During the Qixi or Chinese Valentine’s Day, the local villagers have a tradition to gather together for lunch. Tables and chairs were laid out in front of and inside of the biggest family temple. There was also a local TV station shooting and interviewing locals for the news.

Have you visited urban or ancient villages in Guangzhou or elsewhere in China?


2013 South China Book Festival In Guangzhou


If you live in Guangzhou and want to find some cheap English books, you should head to the Book Festival that is open until the 22nd. It’s free to enter and you can see the opening hours on the tickets below. You can find the Book Festival at the Canton Fair complex by taking the metro to Pazhou station and walking to exit A.


Most of the books are from the mainland and printed in simplified Chinese, but you can also find books from Taiwan and Hong Kong. Hong Kong pavilion has English books too, but they are more expensive than on the International Pavilion.

So for English books head to the area 13.2 and find the International Pavilion (国际馆) marked in the map. They have a good collection there and prices start from around 20RMB.


This year was my second the Book Festival, but unfortunately I wasn’t as lucky as last year. A year ago I bought six books in English, but this time I only bought one. I was looking for anything about China or from Chinese authors, but the collection was much different from last year. They had some interesting books at the Hong Kon pavilion, but those were too expensive.


You can also find lots of stationary and calligraphy products at the Guangzhou Book Festival. We bought three big notebooks for 10RMB.

If you’re a book lover looking for books in English, simplified or traditional Chinese, this fair is definitely for you.



Reader’s Question: Living in Guangzhou

living in guangzhou
Today I’ll be answering to some questions from my reader Ellen who is moving to Guangzhou. If you have questions about living in Guangzhou/China, feel free to send me an email: sara(a)sarajaaksola.com.


Hi Sara!

Greetings from Estonia!! :) I’ve been reading intensively your blog for the past 2 years now and I have to admit that your blog is truly fascinating and unique. By chance, I’m coming to Guangzhou as well, to study Chinese at SCUT. I was wondering if you could help me with some local questions. Firstly, I wanted to ask what’s the weather like in GZ in January and February? What kind of clothes would you suggest me to take with me? I know that generally it’s very hot in that place, however, I’ve seen some pictures in your blog, where you have pretty warm clothes on… Is there point in taking my autumn/winter coat with me?

Secondly, do you happen to know if there are shops in GZ where I could buy Eastern European food (dairy products, sausages, sweets etc)? It’s not like I’m coming to GZ to stay with Westerners and eat my food :P rather that I want to prepare a meal for some friends of mine in GZ and hence it would be good to find that kind of shop. Finally, if by any chance there’s something you badly want from Finland, then please let me know. I’m taking the flight from Helsinki, so I could grab something for you on my way to the airport :)

Cheers, Ellen


Dear Ellen,

First of all, thank you so much for your sweet words about my blog! It makes my very happy to know that I’m being able to help someone by writing these posts.

January and February are usually the coldest months in Guangzhou, but the temperature can vary every year. But in general it’s usually about 15 Celsius during those months. What we have to remember, coming from the North, that when it’s outside 15 Celsius, it’s the same inside too!

There isn’t any heating in the Southern China, so when a 15C feels nice outside, it can feel freezing inside. I remember once sleeping with my hat on when it was too cold inside my room. I didn’t have a proper winter jacket here with me, I thought I don’t need it, so I just wore a lots of layers. I would go for some Autumn clothing and remember a hat and mittens.

Check the weather forecast before you come, for example last Winter wasn’t as cold as two years ago. Of course it also depends on your apartment and if you are willing to spend a little to buy a heater. When its sun shine, go outside as it can be warmer than inside.

Then about the groceries. It’s surprisingly easy these days to find some basic dairy from shops, supermarkets and 7-11. Supermarkets like Carrefour and Park’n’Shop have a good selection, but be aware that anything imported is much more expensive than back home. It can be a bit pricy to be a cheese lover in China for example. Drinkable yogurt is easy to find anywhere, skimmed milk only in the biggest supermarkets.

Shopping for Western food is not so much about finding it or not, it’s about spending the money or saving it. For example at home in Finland I often ate cereals with milk in the mornings, but here it would be too expensive to eat that everyday.

Of course there are things that you can’t find here. As a Finn I’m missing rye bread, Karelian pies, Finnish chocolate and Finnish milk. But I believe that it’s possible to find almost everything you need in order to cook a meal for your friends. It might take more time to shop than back home, but for a special dinner it’s also worth it.

For other questions about whether and food in Guangzhou, feel free to ask in the comments!

Best, Sara


Being happily stuck in Guangzhou


My reader Jason asked me to write about why I love living in Guangzhou and I’ve been thinking of this topic ever since.

It’s not like I chose to come to Guangzhou because I wanted to live here, it was an easy choise as my Finnish university has cooperation with the Guangzhou University. Then I stayed in Guangzhou for more than the planned one semester because I met someone. Even though that ended, I’m grateful that the relationship made me want to stay in Guangzhou and I started my bachelor’s degree at Sun Yat-Sen University. Because at Sun Yat-Sen I met my Japanese classmate who later, when I was single again, introduced me to my boyfriend. That would have never happened if I had moved to Beijing like I first planned to do.


During these three years I’ve grown attached to Guangzhou. I’m a person who likes to stay, I’m not a fan of changes or moving around. I noticed that there is something for everyone’s taste in Guangzhou. My own student circles first in University Island and now around my campus at Haizhu District. Me and my classmates enjoying the cheap food and entertainment in Binjiangdong and Jiangnanxi. Then there are working expats living in Zhujiang New Town, Tianhe and Taojin, seeing a totally different side of Guangzhou between all the Western restaurants and bars. In this city you can live rich in a posh new district or modestly in a small village like I’m doing.


Beijing’s air pollution is much worse than here, Shanghai seems to have a more international atmosphere and Hong Kong doesn’t fit my budget. But Guangzhou even has some clear blue sky during summer (like today), has a nice local feeling and you can eat really cheap if you want to. Hong Kong and that “other island” is out of the picture, because it’s the mainland culture and history I’m most interested in. Even though it might sometimes give me a headache.

Living in a Cantonese area is a blessing and a curse. My Mandarin pronunciation would have been much better in the north with a Beijing boyfriend, that’s something I’ve fully realized recently. But living in Guangzhou also gives me the opportunity to step my toes in a new language, which I hope to learn someday.


But I have to admit that I’m always thinking with my heart and sometimes forget my head. I always do what I want to do at that time of my life, even others would think my decisions don’t make much sense. I worked hard two years in order to get into history major, then moved to China before I graduated and forget all about that. Then I decided to specialize in Teaching Chinese opposed to most of my classmates choosing Business Chinese. I haven’t regretted that decision one bit, hell, I might even continue to master’s if I get the chance.

I have never regretted moving to China and staying in Guangzhou. It has turned my life upside down, for the better! I’m eager to find out what life and Guangzhou have in storage for me.

So why do you live or want to live in China? Are you happy where you live now or do you dream of moving to a new place? Please share in the comments!