On a sunny afternoon, Xie Xingfang likes to stroll through the old city area, looking for the traditional Cantonese food that delights her and millions of other locals. 'Cantonese food is always my favourite, and if any visitor to the Games wants to find out the best part of the city, I have no hesitation in recommending they try it,' said Xie, a former badminton world champion and Olympic silver medallist who now works for Gagoc (Guangzhou Asian Games Organising Committee). 'Guangzhou boasts more than 2,000 years of southern Chinese culture and Cantonese food is the best thing to illustrate the cream of this culture,' the Guangzhou-born 29-year-old said. 'I spent most of the past decade in Beijing training with the national team and the thing I missed most from home was Cantonese food,' said Xie, who is still one of the most popular sporting icons in Guangzhou. Xie's favourite Cantonese dishes include the traditional desserts, small fusion dishes of western and Chinese food provided by the affordable cha chaan teng and lavish Cantonese-style seafood meals. 'Considering the geography of such a big country, it's a great honour for Guangzhou to become the second Chinese city to stage the Games,' said Xie, now a deputy director of the recruitment section of Gagoc's volunteer department. 'Guangzhou is a very special city. As the capital city of Guangdong province, it was one of the first to open its door to the world. In terms of economic development, its gross domestic product per capita exceeds US$10,000 and is among the highest in China. 'In terms of sports, Guangdong province, with Guangzhou athletes as its backbone, always finishes among the top three at the National Games. It comes as little surprise then that the Asian Games are being held here.' But Xie also admitted the honour had become a great challenge, as the Games were being held on a huge scale. 'We are talking about multi-sport games with 42 events, which will accommodate more than 10,000 athletes and 4,000 officials. The city has had to make a lot changes to meet the requirements,' she said. 'When I retired from badminton last year and returned to Guangzhou, I found the entire city like a big construction site - new highways, a new subway system, a new bus system, new facilities and many other public works all over the city. This has caused a lot of inconvenience to the 15 million people who live and work here, but thanks to their great patience, all the construction has come to an end and we are all ready for the Games. 'With this new infrastructure, Guangzhou has become a better city for its citizens. It has also provided a base for future development. People may complain about the big bill for hosting the event, but without the Asian Games, the government would not spend this money on the citizens. So, we are quite happy to see the money being spent on providing a better living environment.' Xie was born in the city's Haizhu district and her sporting talent was first discovered by her primary school teacher. She spent time at the municipal amateur sports school before being promoted to the sports school at provincial level, followed by a place in the national B team when she was 18, and then the national team. Xie was the Asian and world junior champion in doubles with partner Zhang Jiewen, also from Guangzhou. But she was told by national coach Li Yongbo to change to singles because of her height and good co-ordination. She clinched back-to-back world championship singles titles in 2005 and 2006. She also won three All-England singles championships in a row from 2005, and many other titles in major open tournaments. But her results at multi-sport games could not match these achievements. She did not make the China squad for the 2004 Athens Games and two years ago in Beijing, when she was at her peak, she lost the title to Zhang Ning in an all-China final. At the 2006 Doha Asian Games, she was beaten by Hong Kong's Wang Chen in the semifinals. Xie's love story with Lin Dan, the popular 2008 Olympic champion, is still hogging the headlines, with speculation about when they may marry. 'At this moment, his badminton career comes first,' she said. 'He wants to win the singles title again in London [in 2012] and therefore our wedding will not take place before that. 'And he is eager to become the Asian Games champion. He has never done it before,' said Xie, who is worried the pressure of the home crowd will affect her boyfriend's performance. 'If we play overseas, we can focus on our own game without knowing what the spectators are saying,' she said. 'But playing at home, our games can easily be affected by the fans through their words and gestures. It is always a distraction.' Lin lost to Taufit Hidayat of Indonesia in the singles final in Doha four years ago, but he will definitely be the player to beat in Guangzhou. This autumn, Xie signed on at Peking University, where she is doing a major in social work. 'I want to know more about society and also help those who are in need,' she said. 'Having worked in Gagoc for more than a year, I know I lack a lot of academic training if I want to be a success in my field of choice. A degree will definitely help, as I am preparing for my future. Commenting on China's medal hopes, Xie expressed great confidence in the younger generation. 'The China team is always competitive, as we have produced a lot of quality players, generation after generation,' Xie said. 'Our generation ended after the Beijing Olympics and it is now up to the new generation of stars to shine on the international stage. 'Our women's team is always strong and only the South Koreans can challenge us. But having lost in a surprise defeat to them in the Uber Cup final in May, we will be more alert against them this time.' China will miss reigning world champion Wang Lin because of injury, while out-of-form world number two Wang Yihang is also out of the reckoning. But they are still the team to beat with world number one Wang Xin and in-form Wang Shixian leading the squad. The other team members include Jiang Yanjiao, Lu Lan, Yu Yang, Wang Xiaoli, Ma Jin and Zhao Yunlei.