Guangzhou’s South China Book Festival

Blog, Meanwhile in Guangzhou...

Last week I made my way to the Pazhou district, home of the Canton Fair Complex. It’s a few kilometers off to the east of the city, so not dissimilar to London’s Excel Centre in that regard.
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I went hoping it would be a trade fair, where I’d go stall to stall to discover wonderful publishers and agents and (cut a long story short) live happily ever after. I brought my portfolio and my beautiful business cards but no sausage. This is strictly for the thousands of shoppers here, fascinating in their sheer number and diversity. I managed to get there on the final day of the festival and it was packed. Perhaps some people weren’t actually there for books…

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Other than the staggering number of books and booksellers in attendance, there’s enough stationery than you can shake a technical pen at, children’s desks and chairs and playrooms, art exhibitions, talks, launches and café-cum-bookshops, the unhurried spaces made for, well, reading and drinking coffee for as long as you like. I’ll do a post about some of Guangzhou’s best soon.

Looking more closely at the children’s books available it was really pleasing to see a number of the UK’s most recognisable names on the shelves and tables, mirroring what I’ve seen in book shops all over the city: a clear appetite for some of the best kid lit Europe and the US offer.
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I also get a little shiver of awesomeness up my spine when, lo and behold, I spy a stall for my current employer… I wonder if my book will be on display here next year?

Being a bit of a magpie I can see bright lights over yonder and soon I find myself leaving books behind for a literal transition to the digital. In this zone books are e-books,everything’s pixelated, over-saturated and people have dead-eye … it’s the tech zone.

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Not even as busy as the dorky book zone, the nerdy tech zone features hot new game trailers on big screens, cosplay artists wielding animé swords and hotpants being photographed by hordes of men with large zoom lenses (no metaphor, one suspects their penises to be average), big robots (a handy foil for the zoom lens gang), a proper karaoke stage having the ‘kara’ rocked out of the ‘oke’, and way loads more than my (non)reading skills could deduce.

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And then another cool lightning storm kicked off. I was watching that when I accidentally snapped this guy:
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Whilst wondering if taking the photo was grounds for getting a good kicking, I decided was hungry for noodles and so went off to the food hall downstairs (I ran away).

Slurping away on noodles with tofu paste and people watching, it feels like everyone is here. Every dot on the social spectrum. I know I’m seeing Chinese society anew, but I’m sure that the crowds are not made up just from the wealthier citizens who elect to stand out whenever possible. It’s fair play in China to flaunt cash through fashion.

In a fit of cynicism I suspect that at a London book festival these £2 noodles would be a £6 chorizo and rocket bun. It would cost almost 10 times as much to get here and back on public transport. Would the crowds be so large or so inclusive?

I head back upstairs to see what else is going on and find yet another space, a space that I can only describe as ‘the normal zone’ because here the stuff to do and buy is as recognisably Chinese marketplace as it comes. Fresh food, dried food, streamed food, Chinese medicine, Chinese calligraphy supplies. I even got myself two very handsome brushes for a meager £3.50 or so. There’s also two silk art auctions, t-shirts, jewelry, and there a whole stall for tupperware… you get the picture. Like Covent Garden Piazza but thankfully without the living statues.

So who knows how many people are here for the books – that section was certainly the largest, most fun to be in and the busiest, not counting the food hall – food is more than a mere king here, it’s a demigod.

Kids, couples, gangs of teens, mums, dads and grandparents, from all walks of life: the grand collective shopping experience brings them all under the same roof to celebrate books for all. Good Thing™.

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