Much of southern Guangdong is a sprawl of untidy and often grim manufacturing, where sweated labor produces the world's toys. But Kaiping, 136km southwest of Guangzhou, 164km from the Macau border, and also reachable by sea directly from Hong Kong, is China at its most bucolic. Peasants in conical straw hats bend over their plants, and position hand-powered threshing machines on shoulder poles, much as in other provinces. But here they often toil beneath the gaze of extraordinary towers called diaolou, which are partly Portuguese Gothic, like Citizen Kane's Xanadu broken into nearly 2,000 fragments and sprinkled across the county.
Some squat brick fortresses dating back to the 17th century were intended as places of refuge for whole villages. But more alien watchtowers were mostly built by Chinese who traveled out through the treaty ports and returned wealthy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to buy land, build a house, and marry. Simple concrete towers were merely lookout points intended to provide warning of approaching bandits, but by the 1920s these had evolved into massive fortified residences up to nine stories high, sprouting turrets and loopholes, balconies and cupolas, borrowed from half-understood European styles encountered everywhere from Macau to Manila. Of around 3,000 originals, 1,833 still stand, towering over almost every village.
Formerly known as Canton in the West, Guangzhou is the third largest city in mainland China after Shanghai and Beijing, and the capital of Guangdong Province in southern China. It is adjacent to Hong Kong and Macau forming an urban tri-angle. The food and the language of the area are still known as "Cantonese" and it is perfectly acceptable to use either the western or Chinese term interchangeably. The Cantonese are proud and hardworking people known throughout China and the world over for their famous cuisine and tack for business. Tucked away in the back streets, the old Guangzhou of traditional neighborhoods still moves at an age-old pace, with families and friends often sitting outdoors enjoying tea and banter.
Guangzhou also has the largest urban park in China, an island of refurbished colonial buildings and some world class galleries and exhibition spaces. In addition, possibly due to the distance from the country's political centers, the citizens of Guangzhou have developed a laid-back and play-hard approach to life.