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Will Barsby

Guangzhou's flower festival is an amazing, unique experience that I will never forget! Never-mind, agriculture and horticulture, the festivities are much more than just a few daisies and roses. Exceeding all expectations, the fairs promise to impress and astound.

I arrived in Guangzhou, bleary eyed, late at night, one chilly, early January evening. After a few days of adjusting to life in China, sorting out an apartment and meeting new work colleagues, I was ready to explore more of what Guangzhou has to offer!

As it was January, Spring Festival would soon be upon me. With streets, shops, bars and restaurants all getting ready for the festival, I started to notice orange trees… lots of them! Everywhere I went orange trees lined the streets, the smell of the sweet fruit filling the air around me.

As the festival drew closer, the cityscape started to transform from the usual black, grey and white of the buildings to the red, gold and green of the festival ornaments, the trees that line the area where I live filled with an explosion of colors, lights and lanterns.

The celebrations of the Lunar New Year are not limited to just New Year's Eve, like in England and most of the west. There are two weeks of
festivities, one before and one after, with food fairs, parties and flower fairs happening all over the city. A colleague of mine had told me about some of the Guangzhou Spring Festival Flower Fairs. Being new in town, I had to check them out!

After a quick internet search, I had a ton of information on where the fairs were, and a feeling of what to expect.

One of the many fairs that caught my eyes during my search was the "Yuexiu District Flower Fair," near one of Guangzhou's hottest shopping areas, Xihu Road.

The fair, which is only open four days, boasts over 800,000 individual plants, with over 130 different types to choose from! The street, which stretched as far as the eyes could see, was full of bobbing heads as thousands of people explored what horticultural products were on offer. It looked like there were more beings than plants, with strict entry and exit points.

I headed into the sea of people, the smell of flowers filling the air, the sound of stall owners bartering with the punters to get a sale. At first, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer size of the market. Not knowing where to look, there were people, flowers and different colors in every direction!

As I wondered down the line of stalls, the vast choice of flowers, potted orange trees and tiny, intricate landscape displays filled my camera's lens. The shades were amazing, blues, pinks, reds, greens and purples everywhere, an ocean of livid, living color. Food stands were dotted between the long stretches of flower stalls, offering snacks from fresh oysters, smothered in garlic and chilli to huge crab legs, bright orange in color. There was plenty on offer for anyone looking for fl orae to decorate their homes or shops and ample nibbles and drinks to keep up their energy.

The Year of the Horse was welcomed in with fi reworks and festivities on a scale of which I had only seen once before, when I welcomed in the New Year in Sydney, many years ago!

Another of the fairs that caught my eyes during my internet search was one being held at Lychee Bay, in Guangzhou's Liwan district, an area full of history, with waterways winding their way between the high-rise apartment buildings and small food-stalls. Traditional looking boats, all of which were covered in flowers, lined the dock of the bay.

Waterfront flower fair on the Lychee Bay

Lychee Bay

A fare of RMB 80 bought me a trip on one of the flower-laden vessels, lasting over an hour, a bargain I couldn't decline! The boat slowly drifted down the water, blossoms, decorations and people slowly passing me by on both sides. The guide on the boat, a Chinese girl, dressed in a traditional red gown, painted a picture in my head of what the waterways were used for in the past, pointing out some of the ancient buildings still standing proud over the water.

As the boat turned the narrow corners of the channel, the wonders waiting for me around each corner were unique, every bridge was decorated with different lights and flowers, the large lakes, connecting each canal were all filled with huge installations of giant, lit up lilies and beautiful islands, filled with palm trees. This New Year's zodiac animal, the horse, took centre stage as a huge statue in the middle of the park.

The boat trip ended at the bottom end of the bay, where hundreds of smaller boats, all filled with little pots of flowers, lined the bay's waterside, along with decorated, lit up Banyan Trees. The water reflected and remembered every color of the spectrum!

There's a saying in Chinese, "No flower fair, no Spring Festival." It's easy, from a foreigner's perspective, to see why.

I felt immersed in an unfamiliar culture in every sense, yet comforted with the feeling of excitement, shared by everyone. Families, friends, couples and individuals sharing laughs, smiles and enjoying the experience together, everyone united by the festival.

If you're in town, I strongly recommend visiting one. A must see for anyone whose time in Guangzhou coincides with the fairs.

Take a camera, you won't regret it!

(By Will Barsby)

Editor:Lynus Tan
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