Author Archives: Lucas

Guangzhou Mobility Fetish

guangzhou bike umbrella

I’ve been noticing these bike umbrellas around Guangzhou. They’re round on the front and long in the back, kind of the mullet of rain deflection. The long tail is so your passenger is also kept dry – and having a passenger on the back of your bike is pretty much the norm here.

Today, as we went around the city, Hanting, Trevor and I kept our eyes out for these umbrellas. I almost bought one (a pink one with raindrops pattern!) – it was only 45 yuan – but the place didn’t have the bracket that you need to fix them to your bike.

The brackets used to connect them to the bikes are gorgeous make-do pieces of vernacular design in their own right. Like the sticky tape used to strap the cushion padding onto the seat in the image above, the key here is to make it work (not to make it “pretty”).

Here’s a typical one –

bike umbrella mount

The bottom of the umbrella is a hexagon tube which slots into the bike mounting brackets. Bolts or brackets connect to the stem of your bike, and then make an elbow turn and have a hollow tube.

And here are a few variations on the mounting brackets. These photos show electrified tricycles, but the umbrellas are used on ordinary bikes just as much.

I love these things because they extend the mobility that you might have with your bike. Back in Bulli, if it’s raining Albie and I would probably take the car, even for a short trip, and really the only reason is that the car operates as a sort of “drivable umbrella”. But with this “convertible” roof, we could take the bike out more often in the wet.

Guangzhou “Smelly Creek” Walk with Trevor

Yesterday after a long lunch with Trevor, Anthony and Hanting near Observation Society, Trevor and I decided to walk the small creek that I spotted yesterday from the window of my hotel room.

The creek runs very close to the OS gallery, it was only a matter of 30 seconds to reach it from there. I asked Trevor if the creek had a name, he said it was just generally known locally as the “smelly river”.

The waterway looks more like a canal, with stone walls shoring up the edges. Unlike our creeks in the Illawarra, it’s clearly an official recreational route, with pathways all along and people jogging and riding bikes.

To walk this little “joiner” of a creek is to realise just how vast Guangzhou is. It looks like a small distance on the map, but it took a few hours just to do less than half of it, heading north. Here’s Trevor inspecting the map as we decide how much of the river to tackle:

trevor looking at map, smelly river

The “x” marks on this map show how far we got:

annotated map

There were numerous obstacles, bridges and giant highway obstructions, as well as outflow pipes from the surrounding neighbourhood which flow into the creek, and fat hydraulic pipes spanning its breadth.

hydraulic pipe, guangzhou river

At one point we had to make a huge diversion due to a blockage of the river where it looked like a new roadway was being built. The waterway was completely blocked by a dump of rubble. This might be one of the reasons the water is not moving at all, and why it’s on the smelly side.

rubble blockage

Our diversion took us through a market selling vegetables, plastic household items, as well as live animals like eels, frogs, turtles and scorpions:

scorpions in market

Trevor lives in Hong Kong, and hasn’t had much time to explore Guangzhou beyond coming here occasionally for exhibitions, so this was as much an adventure for him as it was for me.

And although this walk was an urban exploration of sorts, getting to know the neighbourhood, it was also very much about the two of us spending time together, getting to know each other, while moving continuously through space, with “adherence to the creek” as a guiding score.

And as Trevor said halfway through our walk – after a while you don’t even notice the smell.

trevor and lucas on walk

Minor Waterways of Guangdong

I’m in Guangzhou for a short residency organised by Gallery 4A in Sydney, and hosted by Observation Society (OS) here. In early June, I’ll have an exhibition at OS together with GZ/HK artist Trevor Yeung.

Yesterday in my haiku I couldn’t look past the bright blue roofs on the houses in the low-lying neighbourhood below the 46th floor of my hotel window. Today, peering closer at them to try and work out why they were so blue (I can only guess that the blue roofs are the ones that have been more recently repaired?) I noticed something even more interesting – a small waterway wending its way through this district:

view from hotel, guangzhou

The waterway you can see in the upper left and upper right of this picture, it sort of loops down towards me and then away again, and its surrounded with dense green growth on both sides. Here’s a close-up:

guangzhou waterway close up

On my map, this seems to be an odd thin creek (or canal?) which cuts off a the corner of the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River). There do seem to be a lot of these creeks running through this district.

closeup of map haizhu district guangzhou

The whole Zhu Jiang is part of a massive river delta, which I presume means that the land is very low lying, so that instead of running fast and cutting deep into the land on its journey to the sea, the river slows down and spreads its energy in all directions.

aerial photo pearl river delta

Being in such an unfamiliar place, and where I don’t speak any Cantonese, it came as a great relief to see that local creek.

I’m off to see if I can find it with my feet now.