I am not sure where the description of China as organized chaos originated but it seemed to perfectly describe my experience in Guangzhou about a week ago. Despite the said chaos though I am still fascinated by this seemingly organized country that is actually full of contradictions.
Although many westerns have no idea where Guangzhou is, it is actually the third largest city in China with 12 million people, (larger than any American city) in Southern China on the Pearl River. Unlike Hong Kong however it is not bound by any geographical formations, and its buildings seemed to sprawl out for miles in all directions. There are also tall residential towers and office buildings but they are sporadically placed throughout the city without a super dense urban core. All things considered though it is still denser than New York City, the densest city in the U.S.A.
Also Guangzhou just hosted the Asia Games in November of 2010 so many improvements were made in the city over the last year to accommodate the crowds accompanying this event.
Even after staying there for three days I still do not have a great grasp of the city’s geography since we took a charter bus around as a class and taxis when we went out individually. However on the one experience when I ventured out to a wholesale market with a friend we managed to get lost while we were only about a half a mile from our hotel due to the “organized chaos” of the streets and pedestrian network.
Although all of the streets seemed to be newly paved within the last year, roads and buildings were clearly labeled and sidewalks were wide and lined every street, the chaos emerged when one got out of the car and tried to walk anywhere. With streets at least six lanes across, few crosswalks, fences separating the sidewalks from the streets for hundreds of feet, and many roundabouts it seemed nearly impossible to walk a seeming short distance in less than a half an hour. But after a detour through a old neighborhood and hoping a few fences we managed to make it safely back to our hotel with a new appreciation for New York’s crowded but easy to navigate pedestrian system.