Why Guangzhou?

Guangzhou is a busy and therefore booming and bustling. Home to about 8 million Chinese the city is also known as Canton (Kanton). Seems most major cities have a few names attached to it and why not a couple different spelling variations thrown in for color.

For the first time since cruising the highway at a great clip we were in the chaotic mess of Asian city traffic. If you've been to Bangkok, Jakarta or the other great Chinese cities you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't think of your favorite American city at the busiest rush hour. Now strip away the lines on the road. Now get rid of the traffic lights and put in circles or roundabouts. Let's lose the crosswalks. And while we're at it, we may as well remove the pedestrian caution and fear of becoming a human pancake splattered on the tarmac. They simply walk out into the street without looking. Drivers race through the streets with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn. Tooting in some rhythmic fashion making one think that the pedestrians and bikers must be tuned to the frequency and simply walk hypnotically. I wonder what the pedestrian fatality rate is.

Back to the streets. To mix it up and make it spicy throw in thousands of bicyclists, motor scooters and motorcycles. Oh, and let's not forget these motorcycles sometimes are carrying three or even four people. All these two-wheeled demons are on a death wish as they weave, cut and brake then accelerate and ultimate make their way through the urban snarl. I was always at odds about rolling the window down during the many taxi rides I took while here. The spewing dirty diesel fumes, the perpetual grey smog-infested skies and the incessant coughing and hacking of the population just made me nervous. But air. I need air. The window comes down.

Yes. We're officially in Guangzhou. And this time of year it's busier than most. Because in addition to the millions of residents nearly 100,000 foreign visitors attend the Canton Fair. Officially, The Chinese Export Commodities Fair (CECF) is the largest trade show in China. Operating two sessions annually (Spring and Fall) the Fair has been operating continually since 1957. In recent years the fair has grown from a meager offering of 10,000 or so products and commodities to over 100,000 products and approximately 7,500 exhibit booths. It has grown so much that the show is now in two massive exhibition halls including a new complex located 20 km on the other side of the town from the original complex. The show also spills into some of the bigger hotels.

After spending many years working with high tech clients I've seen the biggest of the big shows including Comdex in Las Vegas, which saw its peak in the late 90's and CeBIT in Hanover, Germany. So to imagine Guangzhou you must think Comdex at its peak. Where during Comdex a $89 hotel room is $300 or the Motel 6 runs $150, in Guangzhou the four and five star hotels run $300-$500 nearly 4 or 5 times their normal non-fair pricing of $75 or less. Then again, after spending time in Guangzhou, the only reason to spend time in Guangzhou outside of the fair is if you really have to. Not because you want to.

The fair (trade show) is massive. We planned two days to explore and learn. This would prove to be barely enough time. With a focus on a new business venture we avoided the old exhibition hall altogether. But wondering through the maze of booths and products it quickly becomes clear that China is the 'factory to the world'. With glassware, housewares, shoes, bags, backpacks, toilet seat covers, shower curtains, ceramics, plastics, wood products, petroleum products, animal by-products and you name it — you can find it at Guangzhou. And if you're a wholesale importer distributor, you will find it cheaper than virtually anywhere. But that doesn't make it better — even for the bottom line. Doing business here is what I've affectionately call the “China Challenge”. More on that as we explore.

Photos: (1) Traffic snarl in Guangzhou; (2) Pazhou Complex (new Exposition Hall) at Chinese Export commodities Fair (CECF) in Guangzhou, China; (3) Everything is made in China. Though when you travel in rural China you won't find these seats because they have no toilets, simply foot pads and a porcelain hole on the floor.