Today is my fifth day in Dongguan, Guangdong province. Dongguan is an enormous sprawling city with more than six-and-a-half-million residents (not including illegal migrants from other parts of China) and is China’s third biggest exporting region after Shanghai and Shenzhen. It’s highly likely that, wherever in the world you are reading this, something in the room you are sitting in was made in Dongguan.
It’s not a city that tourists usually come to. In the Lonely Planet guide, not only do they not write-up Dongguan, they don’t even mark it on the map. Only in a country as big as China can a city of this size be ignored.
I’m staying with Alice, who I made friends with in Nanchang. Alice took time off work to show me around Dongguan. There is not a lot to see here but I have seen all of it. I became the first tourist in history to travel two hours from Dongguan through dusty industrial parks to the satellite town of Tongxia to see this factory (Alice used to work in the office there):
We have been to parks, shopping streets and various attractions all over the city. Alice is like my polar opposite, always bubbling with enthusiasm and finding joy in everything around her. Whereas I avoid talking to people whenever possible, she speaks to everyone. We passed an art gallery selling ceramics and she asked if they could teach us how to use a potter’s wheel. They agreed so we went to a studio and learnt how to spin pots.
These are my efforts – I won’t show you Alice’s because I don’t want to publicly humiliate her! I think I could spend the rest of my life spinning pots. It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had.
We also went to Shenzhen, just north of the Hong Kong border, to see some of her friends from college and to visit the ‘Window of the World’ park – miniature replicas of various world landmarks – which Alice had wanted to visit since she was a child.
Her friends in Shenzhen live in an area full of migrant workers from across China. Six people share a two bedroom apartment in a building that is so close to its neighbours that you could reach out of the balcony and shake hands. It must be a hard place to live in, but it’s so vibrant and humming with life and activity that it was quite thrilling. There was a university halls atmosphere with young people from all over the country thrown together.
Alice has been extremely kind during my stay. She’s shown me things I would never have seen if I had been on my own, cooked for me and given me a place to stay. Thank you, Alice!