TRAVEL : CULTURE
IMD's INSIDE CHINA:
The Middle Kingdom Blog
So there's been a lot of blogging about stocks and language, but what about the city of Guanzhou itself? To be honest, it's like any big city. There's the tourist district and the wholesale markets and the parks and museums and restaurants, etc. Info on all of that can be found on Tripadvisor or some other basic travel site so I'm not going to try to duplicate it. Instead, let me tell you about two of my favorite places in Guangzhou.
The first is Tristan's Mexican restaurant. When a dude from Los Angeles misses home, what he really wants is comfort food: tacos, guacamole, overstuffed burritos, ice cold cerveza. Turns out Tristan, the owner of this cozy cantina near the Tilu Xilu stop on the #3 subway, is from LA himself. (He's the guy with the faux-hawk haircut behind the counter, natch). He used to live in Beverly Hills and worked the hospitalitty industry both there and Santa Monica. He's done a fine job replicating the shredded cheese, black beans and sour cream delights you dream about at night when the taste of la mian (spicy noodles) for every meal has lost its charm. Punky rock and roll is on the stereo system and the Taco Tuesday all you can eat deal is simply tai bang le, as the locals might put it. Highly recommended, and you're sure to meet some talkative expat types while you're there. Just like home, with firey yellow salsa for your chips gratis.
It's not that easy to find since it's located down a small side street, but once you roll up it's like a slice of heaven floating in cigarette smoke for the intrepid traveller. (Yes, there's no law against smoking indoors here in China). Here's how I got there: get off the #3 TiluXilu subway stop and go south (the opposite way from the Sheraton and the Tianhe Sports Center mall area you can see when you pop out the G, H or C exits). You are actually heading towards the Canton Tower and the downtown tall building district as well as the Mall of the World, if that helps. (If that doesn't try to take a taxi there, pop in the Sheraton and ask the coincierge for directions, or just use the Wechat app which shows your current location and gives you a GPS guided green trail to get there. Even closer is the APM line which goes from Canton Tower to only about three blocks from Tristans, near the Haungpu Station. Exit from that towards the big street and turn left, you're almost there). No matter where you're coming from, turn left on the main thoroughfare called Huangpu Da Dao and head east about two to four blocks. Turn left again when you come to an access road with a little green grass down the middle, and you're there. There's a few bars and coffeehouses on the same street worth visiting as well; Tristan's is in the middle of the block. Here's the Tripadvisor page for more info: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g298555-d9878584-Reviews-Tristan_s_Texmex_Restaurant_and_Bar-Guangzhou_Guangdong.html
Well, the only thing better than Mexican food for me is good music. Sure, harmless pop and disco rule the Chinese airwaves and there's nothing wrong with it. They blast out of the storefront speakers of every clothing shop and bar in town, play on the LCD screens of every Didi cab you take, and invade your brain with insufferable mewling (like it or not). There's a kind of simple boots and pants and boots and pants charm. But what do you do when you want something more sophisticated, something that reminds you of the greater world outside of China? Is there such a thing as an Asian with global tastes, crate diggers with an appreciation of the finer things? Of course there is, you just have to get lucky and find it. (Same as you found my blog).
One day, feeling like I'd never really locate my tribe in this city where the constant blare of traffic horns, beeping kid's dimestore rocket rides, and plonking piano Cantopop are inescapable, I stumbled into a little slice of heaven on wax: The Vinyl Store of Guangzhou featuring jazz and funk for days. Just down the way from Tristan's, but set back in a true alleyway near a bridal boutique and the local Police station, is an oasis I dragged myself into like a thirsty man wandering the desert near death and bereft of friends.
Actually, I had just bought a beer and was going to sit and drink in quiet off the beaten path before I got my Mexican food, so I follwed an alleyway into a quiet little hutong to swallow my swill, and there it was: a Blue Note record label sign hanging in the window. I did a serious double-take. Blue Note! How could this be, a pool of fresh water for my parched soul in a barren desert full of Chinese sand dunes? But it wasn't any mirage, it was real.
I went inside and had my mind blown. They were playing The Charlie Shoemake Sextet plays the music of David Raksin on the hi-fi, all vibes and 70's trap kit kool. There were Sly Stone and Miles Davis albums in the racks and a Sunburst Les Paul knockoff standing guard on the tiny corner stage.
I was home.
The Vinyl House Guangzhou has shit so deep-cut that even record shops in America would be proud to have half their collection in the stacks: Richard "groove" Holmes records, original pressings of early 70s Lou Donaldson solo albums, Martin Denny exotica, Herbie Hancock disco era jams, Maynard Ferguson, all these classic vinyl grooves that hip hop smapleheads would flip over. Mint condition, too. Not comprehensive, per se, but eclectic.
Flipping through the bins I just couldn't stop clucking my tounge in admiration. They had music I myself had tried to download one time or another but could never even find online, original pressings of Idris Muhammed, LPs by Roy Ayers and Eddie Kendricks and Gato Barbereri and Donald Byrd and Don Cherry and Jaco and the list goes on. Stuff I'd never even heard despite trying for years to collect anything and everything I dug which reminded me of the prime 1970s era of my youth. They had unbelieveably great funk and jazz sides of every flavor. It was like striking oil and I was greasy with those crude tears of joy spitting out over the speakers. On the turntable goes J Dilla, then Ornette Coleman, then Cornelius Brothers and Sister Rose, then Sam Cooke. Heck, I want to give you a taste of the vibe but that Charlie Shoemake isn't even on youtube, it's so rare. Here's another cut by that nearly all but forgotten vibe playing maestro; it's his song Quicksotic, for those of you who want a snifter of the stuff.
After catching my breath and dabbing the corners of my eyes, I am greeted by Sam Yang. He speaks English pretty well since he spent some time as an exchange student in London. He tells me the shopowner (who is out of town at the moment) is an airline pilot who loves jazz and funk so much that he opened up a boutique shop just because his collection was too big not to share. Sam is an aspiring hip hop producer with an MPC. He introduces me to several other regulars, some who play in bands and others who work as DJs around town. Later, upon visiting again, I run into the owner's wife, a wonderfully kind lady with a beaming smile and a welcoming attitude. She invites me to the shop's third anniversary and I share a beer with her while I introduce her to my teenage daughter (who is in town to teach alongside me at a little local xiao xue); all are delighted to meet each other. What warm people Zhong Guo Ren can be when friends and family mix!
And it's not just any beer they have in the fridge either, it's the mother of all liquid breads, Trappist beer from Belgium! Will wonders never cease. Turns out that China is indeed large just like anywhere and boy does it contain multitudes. They also have fine whiskey, tea and espresso for the discerning palate.
So, how to find the place? Follow the same path to Tristans (above). When you're facing the main thoroughfare (called HuangPu DaDao) take a brief stroll towards it and then vear left down the little side alley before you get to it. It curves off to the left into an apartment complex area; take a right and continue down the path past the bridal salon. There you are. Here's the official address in case my pathetic attempt to guide you just won't do:
Vinylhouse Cafe, Room102, No188, Tiyu Xiheng Jie, Tianhe District, Guangzhou
广州, 天河区， 体育西横街， 102号房，188号
Here's a recent write up on them as well: https://radiichina.com/photo-of-the-day-vinyl-house-guangzhou/
Kevin J Salveson is the founder of Ideas Million Dollar.