Guangzhou old and new

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When darkness fall, a giant light show makes the landmark Canton Tower the undoubted star of the nighttime. Provided to China Daily

The guardian city on the Pearl River nurtures both classics and new-age marvels.

How beautiful the day is when you are allowed to sleep as long as you like and then wake up to a feast of dim sum. That was how my first day started in Guangzhou, the southern city just 75 miles up the Pearl River from Hong Kong.

Ten o'clock in the morning, usually the busiest time of a weekday, is the right time for a slow breakfast here. Our guide from the Shangri-La Hotel, Guangzhou, took us to Panxi Jiujia, a restaurant where her grandfather used to bring her when she was a little girl.

The queue at the lobby indicated its popularity, and another indication of its history was in the average age of its diners, and some of the waitresses.

"My grandpa comes after doing his marketing in the morning. Here he meets friends and reads the newspapers while sampling his favorite dim sum, such as shrimp dumplings and barbecued pork buns."

There were also tourists like us coming all the way for the authentic Guangzhou dim sum, served fresh from the kitchen. Not everyone is lucky enough to get a table even with a reservation in advance, and some tourists settle for a photograph in front of the restaurant's vintage signboard embossed in gilt characters.

A short walk from the restaurant is a stream known as Lizhiwan, previously the main waterway access to the Pearl River. Double-storied waterfront residences line the banks with twin pagodas looking down benignly on either side. Wooden boats shuttle along the narrow river.

Among the alleyways fanning out from the restaurant is one lined with street stalls serving food in typical Cantonese style - food comes first, not dcor.

Customers savor steaming bowls of noodles or a delicate sweet custard called shuangpinai (double-skinned milk) right on the pavement in front of the stalls. Other desserts include the famous ginger juice junket or jiangzhuangnai, which literally translates to "ginger colliding with milk", and the red-bean ice.

Lunch was at Shamian Island, another must-go on the tourist circuit. It is a popular enclave of the re-created and restored - the former concession of exotic classical mansions and ancient tree-lined avenues is now home to high-end restaurants, shops and bars.

Although coffee is not my cup of tea, I could not resist entering a Starbucks franchise here just to enjoy its vaulted facades, vintage-style blinds and velvet banquettes. Nursing your latte, you can then wander among the area's fashionable boutiques stretching right up to the banks of the Pearl River.

Old Canton, relaxed and laid-back, is carefully preserved in daily life, including food, architecture and narrow, tree-lined alleyways.

But that's not the whole story of the city.

When we arrived at Zhujiang Xincheng, the city's Central Business District, I could hardly connect it with the old Canton. It is a showcase of architectural creativity, from the Guangzhou Opera House, the new Guangzhou Library, the New Hall of Guangdong Province Museum, the twin towers of the Canton Tower ...

The Canton Tower is a good place to set your adventurous heart free. The tallest completed tower in the world shot to fame for its glorious fireworks display during the Guangzhou Asian Games.

Unlike most skyscrapers that tend to exhibit mainly masculine characteristics - angular, simplistic, heavy and based on repetition - the design of the Canton Tower is defined by its slender, gracious shape that mimics the figure of a woman. Dynamic twisting forms composed of straight shafts encircling the core of the structure create an unmistakable feminine 'waist'.

If you can stomach it, go up to the 107th-floor observation deck (433.2 meters) with its terror-inspiring glass floors. Two-tier lifts soar to the deck in less than one-and-a-half minutes, so quickly that you may not have enough time to realize how scary it is looking out at the city through its floor-to-ceiling glass door.

The sightseeing deck offers a panoramic view. The lighthouse Chigang Pagoda, Guangzhou's tallest architecture 20 years ago, is now dwarfed by the tower.

A small section of the deck is extended out to offer visitors a firsthand experience of standing over the clouds. I dragged my feet to the edge, holding the handrail tightly, and tried not to look down at the city underneath. It is both breathtaking and dizzying. You can't stay too long since there are many tourists waiting after you.

After the experience, I recorded my feelings on the ticket, which also serves as a postcard which you can send off at the mile-high post office on the observation deck.

When darkness fell, the giant light show turns on and there is little left to do but to take a night cruise from the 200-year-old Tianzi Pier to the futuristic Canton Tower, picking up pearls along the river as we weave from past to future.

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