Beijing, everybody knows. Shanghai, is equally well known. But most people's knowledge of China stops right there. The more enterprising will know of Shenzhen. But then , that's about it. The rest of China remains a mystery to many who have not ventured in that direction.
Well, its now Guangzhou's turn to be in the spotlight (pronounce the zh, like a j). The Asian Games start in Guangzhou on Friday, the 12th. It was my home city, until recently, and so, if I may, I will dress up the long suffering bridesmaid, as the bride that she will be for the next two weeks.
You may know Guangzhou better as Canton. The province in which Guangzhou is situated is called Guangdong which the British , long ago, transliterated to Canton. Confusingly, they ascribed the name to the city, not the province. But, even in Guangdong, the bride is often, the brash noveau riche, Shenzhen. Even in her backyard, Guangzhou remains a bridesmaid.
But for most of China's history, when the culture turned inward, the outside face was Guangzhou. It was always the most open and outward looking city. The Cantonese traveled far and wide in the world. Most of the "Chinatowns" that you see in every city in the world, is far more likely to be Cantonese. The Chinese food that you see internationally is mostly Cantonese. Even the infamous "Hakka Noodles" abomination that you see in India is of Cantonese origin.
What of the Asian Games ?? It will no doubt be a huge success ; Guangzhou has been preparing for it for years. It will have the usual Chinese efficiency, but it is likely to have more of a "heart" - something the Beijing Olympics lacked a bit. Cantonese are like that - they are less regimented and more spontaneous. The writ of Beijing lies like a heavy hand, up north, but down South where Guangzhou is, it is usually ignored.
The sport will be tremendous. In many disciplines, it will be a virtual World Championship - the only events where it will be short of world class will be Athletics and Swimming. China will sweep the medals, like always, but others will have their time in the sun too. For India, it will be a thud after the Commonwealth Games - those were far short of world class and India garnered a rich haul of medals. It won't be like that in Guangzhou where the standards will be much higher. But there will be quite a few high points.
From an Indian point of view, the star event will be the unglamorous 10m Air Rifle Event. In the Beijing Olympics, Gagan Narang, India's best bet faded away, but Abhinav Bhindra rose to win gold beating Zhu Qinan of China who had won the gold in Athens and was the favourite. Zhu was inconsolable and is desperate for revenge. But Narang is in terrific form as is Bhindra; it will be a great fight.
Vijender will win in boxing, but Sushil Kumar will have a tough fight against the Iranians in wrestling. Saina Nehwal, India's golden girl may struggle. Three Wangs stand in her way. On her day she can beat anybody, but to beat all three of them is a tall order. The women's 4*400 metres relay team will win gold. But the real high point for India may be the emergence of Tintu Luka. She's the favourite for the women's 800m, for long the domain of Shiny Wilson. She's a truly world class athlete emerging under the tutelage of PT Usha. In the Commonwealth Games she stood no chance against the Africans. But in Asia, she can, and should, win. She's young and rapidly growing, and will be the star of the future for Indian athletics.
So tune on the Telly. Watch the sport, but also enjoy the sights and sounds of "my city". She'll be at her best and wonderfully beautiful. Viva Guangzhou.