TRADE is key
The age-old phrase that 'if you don't see it, we ain't got it' doesn't translate readily into Putonghua, but it could so easily be Guangzhou's unofficial motto.
Trade is built into Guangzhou's DNA as the prime manufacturing hub in the Pearl River Delta, notching up stupendous annual gross domestic product in excess of 900 billion yuan (HK$1,107 billion) last year.
With modern communications, highly developed infrastructure and a strong economic base, Guangzhou is well-positioned for doing business. Most importantly, the city's can-do, international outlook makes it especially visitor-friendly, not least thanks to chefs who have exported Cantonese cuisine to the furthest corners of the earth.
Many expatriates head to the International Convention Exhibition Center, which covers 1 million square metres.
Many of the city's industries are grouped by specially designated zones.
The Economic and Technological Development Zone is west of the city. It specialises in chemical products, electric machinery, foodstuffs, electronic equipment, metallurgy, metal fabricating and beverages
Guangzhou Nansha Export Processing Zone is closer to Baiyun International Airport, and its major industries include automobile assembly, biotechnology and heavy industry.
Guangzhou Free Trade Zone, in the east of Huangpu district, is a hub for logistics, processing industry and computer software.
While Guangzhou has been on business travellers' maps for centuries, the city has practically reinvented itself with the creation of a new central business district, which dovetailed neatly with hosting the Asian Games in 2010.
Zhujiang New Town, boasting an Automated People Mover system that calls at nine stations spread over three-and-a-half kilometres, has copious office blocks, glittering five-star hotels and trophy projects that have granted Guangzhou new lustre.
Foremost is the Opera House, built at a cost of 1.38 billion yuan and designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, whose freestanding concrete auditorium set within an audacious exposed granite and glass-clad steel frame won lavish praise from critics. The opening night saw the staging of Turandot, Puccini's opera about a mythical Chinese princess, marking a giant step for culture and the arts in China.
'It's a breathtaking structure, a really remarkable piece of architecture,' says Timur Senturk, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton. 'This area has changed so fast in the last few years, and [visitors] tell me that this is one of the most developed areas in China, thriving and very open to doing business.'
Guangzhou's new library and museum are both significant milestones in the city's rapid progress. The museum, on the bank of the Pearl River, is spread between four exhibition halls and contains more than 130,000 exhibits reflecting the region's arts and culture, while the library houses more than 4 million volumes.
True to Guangzhou's cosmopolitan antecedents, Canton Tower in Haizhou district was very much an international project. Dutch architects Mark Hemel and Barbara Kuit came up with the design, which include an eye-catching 'waist' halfway up the 600-metre icon - and London-based Arup provided engineering expertise, while Chinese firms set about the actual construction.
The tower's prime attraction is the observation deck, 488 metres above ground. Visitors are transported around the edge of the deck in transparent pods, allowing a sensational view of the city and beyond. Canton Tower is illuminated at night using the latest LED technology, which allows it to glow rather than be illuminated by old-fashioned floodlighting.
More long-term developments are planned for Zhujiang New Town, including a sensational shopping mall and more recreational space. Construction should be completed by 2015.
CULTURAL MELTING POT
After Hong Kong, Guangzhou is probably the most cosmopolitan city in China. It is home to thousands of foreigners and has a sizeable African population drawn to the region by opportunities to trade. Guangzhou also has a substantial Muslim population, with many Africans following Islam.
Some estimates put the African community as high as 200,000. It is concentrated in Yuexiu and Baiyun districts, where shops and restaurants selling specialities that would seem at home in Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo add a dash of spice to Guangzhou's international make-up.
Furthering Guangzhou's reputation as an exotic hodgepodge, Qingping Market is the largest of the city's many outdoor bazaars, stretching for about 1,000 metres. Just about everything is up for sale, from herbs and spices to a variety of unusual animals. It's also a good place to pick up some souvenirs, with traders offering porcelain, jade, old banknotes and antiques of varying ages.
Guangzhou's dining reflects its shopping scene: every taste and pocket is catered for. Cantonese is naturally well represented, with E Gong Cun in Fangcun district triumphantly parading its celebrated roast goose night after night to popular acclaim.
Other Chinese cuisine is similarly available, while the kitchens of the world - Italian, German, Japanese, American - serve up their national dishes to appreciative customers in search of a taste of home or to Guangzhou natives trying out foreign fare.
In spring and autumn, the entire world - or so it seems - descends on Guangzhou for a commercial circus so mammoth it almost brings the city to a halt.
First held in 1957, the event's official name is the China Import and Export Fair, but Canton Fair is the phrase on everyone's lips. About 50 Chinese delegations meet businessmen and women from around the globe who have come to trade at the shop window of the workshop of the world, generating in excess of US$250 million in turnover in the space of a few days.
Guangzhou is China's third-largest city with a population of more than 13 million, yet its reputation as a port and secure anchorage stretches back hundreds of years. Substantial Persian and Arab communities thrived here as long ago as 1000 AD, while Portuguese traders arrived in the early 16th century.
Other European nations followed, as did Australian and American traders. By the 19th century, Shamian Island had become the prime base of foreign operations, with Britain and France overseeing two concessions. The architecture of those times has largely survived.