I was actually in Guangzhou to visit the Canton Fair, but ooops, I left my passport at the hotel. For some reason, seemingly unknown to anyone, you actually need to have a passport with a valid visa to gain entry to the Canton Fair, maybe they want to keep the locals out! If so, with red hair, white skin and an Australian accent I should be able to get in, right?
No chance, the front gates are guarded by guards from the PLA, yes, that’s right, Chinese military guards. But maybe that reflects what a big deal the Canton Fair is, this is one of the worlds biggest trade fairs, attracting thousands of buyers from all over the world, and from the worlds leading companies. So considering the times we are in, and the fact that that companies from all over the globe have representatives here, the gaurds are perhaps warranted.
Anyway, I got a little lucky, and was spotted but a non-military staff member who let me through the front gate and after the security x- ray screening I was at the registration counter. I wasn’t going to get past this guy though, I explained how I had travelled from Australia and that I had just travelled an hour on a train, but, had unfortunately had left my passport at home. The answer was no.
The english speaking guy at the registration desk wouldn’t budge and flatly refused entry. Riled by his unwillingness to show any flexibility I asked for a manager and sure enough within minutes there was a girl at my side leading to another office. After 15 minutes waiting at the front of this office, while they did I don’t know what, I thought, this is really ridiculous, I’m obviously a foreigner and this isn’t a de facto passport inspection service so I’m out of here. They didn’t loose anything by me not being there, but I’m staggered as to why there are such hurdles to entry…is it a security measure, I don’t know.
The footpath leading to the main entry of Canton Fair is an interesting place, packed with hawkers touting offers aimed at foreign trade buyers while giving away pens, bags and even calculators as enticements to get hold of your business card. Cool, business cards are cheap and I need some pens, I wont leave Guangzhou empty handed!
Walking along I get a holler from a hawker, ‘sir…sir..would you like a free shuttles bus to the International Sourcing Expo?”, she spoke such good english I couldn’t help but chat! I told of the trouble at Canton and she said ‘no problem’ and had me on a bus to the expo building where as soon as I got off I was met by another staff member who guided me quickly through the registration and within minutes I was in the International Sourcing Expo.
The expo featured home wares and gifts along with fashion accessories. It’s certainly not as big as Canton, but it features many smaller boutique manufacturers with quite unique products that would be otherwise hard to find. They event organisers event give you a coupon for a free coffee and snack at the fairs cafe! I guess these fair organisers don’t have a reputation to lean on like the Canton Fair does, so they have to work hard and provide a good experience for the attendees.
I spent some hours walking around the International Sourcing Expo (ISE) building checking out many interesting and unique home wares, gifts and fashion accessories. Then headed back to the subway and before leaving had a quick look around the Jinhan Fair for Home and Gifts at the Poly World Trade Centre which is a little bigger than the ISE but still not on the scale of the Canton Fair, all the same it is also very interesting and most people, looking at the multiple ID badges hanging around their necks, seem to be visiting each of the fairs.
Guangzhou Trade Fair location map