Guangzhou Doubletake

by Mark Crimmins

On 13 April 1991 you walk across Guangzhou and see five women in a line working sewing machines on a sidewalk near the Qing Ping Market. A platoon of women in mini skirts riding Flying Pigeon bicycles across a busy intersection. Two lovers sitting on a bench beside a heavily polluted canal. Merchants in an alleyway weighing sacks of grain with hand-held scales. A young woman carrying two huge baskets of vegetables on a bamboo shoulder pole. Six old men playing a game of cards under a bridge. A woman pulling a watermelon rind from a garbage can and sinking her teeth into it. A policeman beating a boy on the bum with a frayed bamboo stick. Bamboo scaffolds thirty stories high. Two men under a bridge having a screaming match about a plaid jacket. An old woman eating her lunch from an earthenware bowl while walking. A great number of motorcyclists napping at the side of the road, heads bobbing, their feet up on their handlebars. A man blowing into his mouth with a bicycle pump. Three women fixing shoes on a sidewalk table. A man cutting pineapples with a machete. An endless mazurka of buses and bikes and scooters whirling up and down the streets. And—as you stand in the middle of the sidewalk scribbling in your notebook—two children falling off a bicycle with no brakes to avoid hitting you.


On 31 August 2010 you walk across Guangzhou and see thirty women dancing in formation in a plaza on Shamian Island. A platoon of People’s Liberation Army soldiers doing parade ground exercises in a park. A young couple on roller blades gliding along the Pearl River Promenade. Two little boys handing out fliers. A young woman putting a sack of vegetables into the trunk of a new car. Men and women playing jianzi with a shuttlecock under a bridge. A woman in a pink T-shirt and sequined purple pants, jogging. Many statues of happy children playing. Bamboo scaffolds sixty stories high. Two dudes on roller skates playing badminton. An old woman clapping her hands alternately in front of and behind herself as she walks down the street. A great number of huge beautiful beds of multicolored flowers. A shirtless construction worker, his pants covered in paint, yelling into his cell phone. Neighborhood cleaners in straw hats and blue uniforms with red armbands carrying bamboo brooms. The waiters of a Riverfront cafe gathered around flat screen monitors of digital TVs watching China play Greece in the Basketball World Cup. An endless mazurka of workers whirling into and out of the Metro stations. And—as you stand in the middle of the sidewalk scribbling in your notebook—a young guy with a funky haircut walking towards you in a T-shirt that says The Camera Never Lies.

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