Africa abroad: scramble for Guangzhou

Maybe I’m too early. There are flatscreen TVs, fashionably ripped jeans and perfume brands I’ve never heard of – but not much selling going on. Security guards lean over the stairwell. Traders count their stock. The four-storey Tianxiu building, in central Guangzhou in southern China, comes alive later perhaps.

I won’t know for sure, though, not today. It’s three in the afternoon, and I have just a few hours in the city. I’ve made a beeline for Tianxiu: Guangzhou is home to the largest African community in the country, and this is the heart of it all.

Fabrics on sale

Continue reading “Africa abroad: scramble for Guangzhou”

The wrong place for headspace

Sound of silence
The sound of silence

Some smart folks at Selfridges lured me in with their reverse psychology the other day. Cashing in on the post-Christmas tightening of purse-strings, they’re offering a limited-edition range of debranded products; “headspace pods” provide a few minutes of escape; and a space usually reserved for exhibitions or pop-up shops (the pop-up shop: another concept I’m struggling with since returning to the western world), has been turned into a Silence Room.

What’s marketed as an “insulated inner-sanctum” is not actually that quiet: you can hear the noise of the café next door (and this was a Tuesday evening; what would a Saturday be like? But it felt good, sitting doing nothing in the semi-darkness, shoeless and phoneless as per requirements, with just a few teenage girls whispering in one corner and a couple asleep in one another’s arms in the other. The couple left before me, but were still dawdling in the foyer when I left. “I’m nervous to go back out there!”, laughed the girl. Continue reading “The wrong place for headspace”