Guangzhou – My First Time in South China (Was That a Rooster Ringtone?)

Three of my colleagues and I travelled to Guangzhou in early November to visit current and potential partner universities. Guangzhou is in the southern part of China, a short distance from Hong Kong and Macau. The city was once called Canton, a name derived from the Portuguese word Cantao.

A significant portion of the structures found in the city of Guangzhou and Guangdong Province date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, although some temples, public buildings, and housing are much older. More recent rapid economic growth has brought a burst of contemporary buildings, and the central business district is as modern as any found in the world. I am attracted to modern architecture and saw much of it in many areas of the city. Many of the world’s best architects have designed the buildings that make up the Guangzhou skyline.

temple_of_the_six_banyan_treesGuangzhou Modern

Guangzhou is large with respect to population, nearly 14 million persons. At the same time, when travelling around Guangzhou I never had that ‘very crowded’ feeling, such as the one felt in Beijing, Shanghai, New York, or Los Angeles. Automobile traffic moved smoothly, and many inhabitants choose public transportation, motorcycles, motor bikes, and bicycles to move about. As expected, there is much more walking from place to place than is found in most U.S. cities. Many pedestrians wear surgical masks to stave off the effect of air pollution, a problem many days of the year.

The city is also divided by the Pearl River. The parks and walkways which border the river provide a non-harried alternative to the bustle of a center for business and finance. I spent a wonderful evening on a cruise of the Pearl River. A combination of lights on different size and shape river cruise vessels, bridges, and buildings gives rise to a party atmosphere, one that makes any visitor want to go back and do it again.  I have written about the Chicago River tour in a previous post. It was good. This one was better, although having a tour guide who knows about the development of the river would have made the ride really outstanding.

The university visits went well. We signed an agreement with Guangzhou College of Commerce (GCC) for a 2 plus 2 program. Students will begin their business education (in English) at GCC and after two years transfer to our college of business for the completion of their program. Both institutions will award a diploma. There is much more work to do in preparation for the arrival of the first students in 2019 (106 have signed up for the program), and the planning process, which has begun, will help us create a supportive transition to life at an American university. We will send a delegation of CBA and UNO support staff to GCC in early Spring 2018 to assist the students, well in advance of their travel to the U.S. During our time in Guangzhou, we also signed an agreement with Jinan University. This arrangement will bring graduate students in economics at Jinan University to our college.

While the visit in Guangzhou was excellent, travel to and from Guangzhou was challenging. The Omaha to Detroit to Beijing to Guangzhou route had one too many stops (note: fly to Hong Kong and take the train to Guangzhou). We had every kind of delay one could wish for, or not. The Omaha to Detroit leg was fine, and the transition to Gate 75 (Terminal A) was smooth. The new parts of Detroit International Airport are quite nice, with much of the real estate resembling a very nicely appointed indoor mall. Then the travel wheels fell off, not literally. Departure time from Detroit to Beijing was scheduled for noon. We left gate late, no problem, but then we pulled out of the queue for departure. We seemed to be touring the grounds of the airport, turning left and right, giving all passengers a chance to see the tarmac and taxiways from lots of angles. Then we stopped and were told that the pilots were in touch with Atlanta about a ‘problem’, the one word we never want to hear (but better on the ground than at 30,000 feet). An air sensor in the crew’s quarters was giving a bad reading. Well, after about three hours, the pilots gave up, went back to a gate, and we got off.


So now we needed another ride and fresh pilots because they had timed out and had gone home to watch re-runs of the Apprentice (not really). So, there we were pilot-less, plane-less, and for some legless (a bit of drinking was going on), humming plane songs like Fly Me to the Moon, a Time for Me to Fly, and Treetop Flyer; waiting, hoping… After nearly four more hours we had pilots and a ride. We were wheels-up seven hours after scheduled departure.

By now you know where this is going. We arrived in Beijing way too late for our connection to Guangzhou. After 90 minutes of sleep (shower too) at a nearby hotel, we were once again up and travelling back to the airport. We thought that we had an early morning flight to Guangzhou, and we even had confirmation numbers. But the geniuses at Delta, China Southern and China Eastern had different ideas and we could not board. After multiple phone calls, assurances that all was okay, and general run around, we finally were on our way to Guangzhou at 10:30 AM. In total, it was 41 hours from boarding time in Omaha to landing in Guangzhou!


So, what was that Rooster ringtone? Well, during one of our university meetings as one of our Chinese hosts was making a presentation (we were listening intently), someone’s phone rang (not one of ours), and a rooster began the usual cock-a-doodle-doo. The phone’s owner was quick to shut it off, and I suspect that not everyone even noticed that there had been a rooster calling out. So, you ask, why the rooster ringtone? I thought about this for a while, and then thought about what animal might be connected to 2017. You guessed it, it is the Year of the Rooster.


Happy holidays!

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