What does one do in a 24-hr Bookshop?

Apparently not read.

Let me start from the beginning. Emily found an awesome coffee shop in Guangzhou on Instagram (a rarity since they block most social media and so you need a VPN to access them, which you can only get when leaving china, hence most Chinese people don’t use Instagram). We went once before back in November, just following Halloween and it was decked out in all those cosy autumn vibes; pumpkins and squashes littered the long centre table, warm flower arrangements dotted around them in between stacks of books. And they’re pumpkin spice latte was to die for. What is this place you may ask? Lock Chuck.

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The owner, Chuck is super friendly and inviting, we became friends straight away; bonding over a love off matcha. Safe to say I got their matcha latte (imported from Japan) along with a matcha cupcake, and a black tea cupcake I shared with Em. Later topping up my caffeine levels with a perfect black americano. This place is quaint, cosy, has killer coffee and the perfect cake to compliment it, not to mention the friendliest of hosts. There was no doubt we would return. However, we live in Humen, Dongguan whilst Lock Chuck is located in Guangzhou. It takes us either a 15-minute bullet train (which is pricey and must be booked in advance) or a 1-and-a-half-hour bus ride (cheap).

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We found out this week that we were to work through the weekend mounting up to an 8 day working week. With that ahead of us, we thought lets pay Guangzhou a visit whilst we still have a free weekend. One small problem; the two Emily’s are passportless after having to send them off to sort out their visas. And without a passport, you can’t book trains or hostels. But hey! Did that stop us? No! Besides its almost Christmas, I have a hectic month ahead of travels (for Chinese New Year we get just over a month off) so the cheaper the better. Cue the bus, which was easy enough to get, fast enough and comfy. I say fast, as in comparison to the 17 hour sleeper bus we took to Guilin, it was! From there me and Em (check out her Instagram: UndoubtedlyThomas) grabbed a taxi to Redtory, an old derelict tin factory that has been converted into an art village. Leader (this is her last name, used to differentiate between the Emily’s) headed her separate way to one of Guangzhou’s massive malls for some much-needed Christmas wardrobe shopping.

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After getting slightly ripped off from the cabbie, 35 minutes later we were there. It was a place not too busy but not a ghost town, unlike Xiaozhou, another art village we visited during our last visit to Guangzhou which is off the beaten track and rather hard to find, a place that used to be the hub for artists to flock too but has now fallen to a time people forgot. Although exploring places with no one but the friends you’re with and the graffiti on the walls is an experience unique in itself.

 

Redfactory was a little livelier, we even spied the occasional westerner! We walked about glimpsing art students at work in a vast long open hall, though we couldn’t enter, lest we disturb them. We wandered about the complex, popping into the odd shop, picking up a small gift for my sister and being the subject of a stranger’s photograph. Unfortunately, many of the shops were closed.

We also queued in a swarm of people for about 10 minutes only to find out that it was for a lecture and the exhibition we wanted to see, you could just walk right in. 20 yuan (£2) later and we were in. To say it was a strange exhibition was an understatement. The exhibition was titled Time Tested International Video Art Research Exhibition. One video playing in the left corner was a surrealist mix of one of the Prohibition’s speakeasy’s and a drug induced rave, there were lots of old cube TV’s dotted around the room with looping videos, and the whole vast space was filled with a background of white noise. On the right side, a projector showed a couple screaming at each other indefinitely. You get the gist. As we made our rounds, we picked up a straggler; a Chinese guy who asked if he could talk to us to practise his English. We get this quite a lot so slightly reluctantly, we said sure. So, he proceeded to follow us around and actually not really speak that much. Giving off an awkward energy, we hoped to politely leave him as we left the exhibition. But oh no, he replied “I follow you and talk”. A further 2 minutes of me and Em staring at each other hoping the other would be savage enough to say no. A young girl even came over and asked if everything was ok. In the end, our overly polite British ways meant we had a tag along. Now don’t get me wrong, all would have been well if he spoke and chatted but it was just a bit of an awkward uncomfortable vibe he seemed to be bringing. It sapped a little of the fun out of the end of it. Eventually, we did have to leave and told him. But not before a few photo ops that he also partook in, along with taking photos of us too, which is very common here in China. After that we stayed another 10 minutes, to take a few photos, shake off the uncomfortable vibes and see a few places we missed. Then we hopped in a cab and headed to Lock Chuck.

 

As soon as we got within glimpsing distance, we could see it was filled with happy souls refuelling their caffeine levels over idle chitchat and the vinyl playing in the background. As soon as Chuck spotted us, his face lit up with a beaming smile and he gave us both a big hug. He told us how he’d been waiting for us to return (as plans had been made but had to be pushed back) and that Luisa, a friend of Chuck and one of those Instagram friends you make but haven’t met yet, was super excited to finally meet us. Leader was still finishing her shopping so me an Em went ahead and ordered. Unfortunately, they don’t offer non-dairy milk but I made an exception. Since the only Christmas feels in Humen look like a pound store Santa’s grotto exploded, I couldn’t pass up on some real festive feels. That’s another thing I love about Lock Chuck, they bought a real Christmas tree down from the north of China, and had real wreaths hanging and berry arrangements speckling the table.

Anyway, I opted for the gingerbread latte, which like I said I’m not usually one for milk in my coffees, non-dairy or not, nor do I like overly sweet coffees either. But Lock Chuck didn’t disappoint; it was hot, spicy and festive AF. We had a little chat with Chuck and he later told us Leader had arrived. Which wasn’t hard to tell since she had the taxi driver pull up right outside the shop. Now if you’ve seen my Instagram’s (on my personal account rufflepuffle) of Lock Chuck, you’ll know it’s a quaint square-ish room, with a coffee bar in one corner that opens out to the front, 2 tables inside and a couple outside. That’s it. It’s also on a small side street. So, Leader rolling up directly outside, 6 bags of shopping in hand along with her big backpack on. It was a sight to see.

We’d signed up for a gingerbread making workshop that was part of Lock Chuck’s pyjama party. Which was a ton of fun. I mean, who doesn’t love edible art?

Luisa finally arrived and we had a chat as if we’d been friends for years. She was born in China, moved to Barcelona when she was 9 and then studied at universty in LA! Check her out on instagram at xinitabonita. I also got to meet another Instagram friend; Ella, another what felt like long term friend, check out her photography Instagram account, infinite.ella. Her 1st language in Chinese but she has chosen to write a blog in English, which is incredible! She set to go to Uni in the States in January, so I’m happy I got to meet her before then. But who knows, maybe I’ll pop over for a visit sometime. Just kidding. Or am I…

Anyway, I met a ton of other awesome people, made some chubby, chewy gingerbread cookies and frosted them with icing. They went down a treat along with a complementary shot of very rumy eggnog! Later followed by a peppermint mocha and eggnog latte (again spiked with just the right amount of rum to make your taste buds sing). With the warm lights of the tree hugging the room, the smell of fresh baked gingerbread cookies and mulled wine filling the air, Christmas songs playing, and good people to chat and dance with, I think it’s safe to say we happily almost outstayed our welcome, not leaving ‘til the very end at 12 pm. And like I said, we had no hostel to stay in…

Following our pyjama party, which we couldn’t even full heartedly dress up for because a) I didn’t pack with me any winter PJ’s because who knew South China got that cold, and b) I packed UBER light for this weekend, literally just whacked on a t-shirt with my leggings and boom. PJ’s. Anyway, following Lock Chuck we grabbed a taxi, which Chuck kindly helped with, to 1200 Bookshop, which is a 24-hour bookshop.

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However, at 12:30am we rolled up to find the long staircase filled with YA’s either deep in the confines of their books or sleeping in their laps. Moreover, we were pretty hungry so where else to eat in China at gone midnight then Mc Donald’s. A couple packets of chips later and we returned to 1200 24hr Bookshop at around 1:30 am. As you enter, there is a long corridor that ends with a long staircase filled with people perching for a read, just off the staircase about halfway up is a low-ceilinged room covered wall-to-wall in bookshelves. It also hosts sofa’s, tables and a plentiful supply of plugs; the ideal spot for a student or introvert. We managed to grab a table after a guy offered to move which was nice of him.

 

If you follow the staircase up, it’ll lead you to a long room filled with books, more tables and seats, a small café bar, a toilet and a couch surfing room. Oh, but the one thing they don’t have? Wifi.

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So what is a 21st century YA like myself to do at 2am in a 24 hour bookshop? Did I mention all the books are in Chinese too? Have no fear, I brought my own! Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World by Murakami which I bought in Eslite, the biggest bookshop in Hong Kong, when I went for the weekend back in November.

After some rose tea and settling in, it was 3:30am and time to finally read, right? Wrong. Time to sleep? Nope. Apparently, sleep wasn’t a necessity I deemed important. The urge to draw however was. But alas, I had no paper. Or did I? Well there was the paper in my book. And so it went, why read a book when you can draw in it instead?

This state of insomnia doodling continued ‘til around 5am, at which point the girls had long fallen asleep. Caught between an hour of sleep or a nice leisurely time to freshen up and do my make-up, I opted for the later. So with make up on fleek, clothes probably smelling a little funky from the overall overly warm BO smell that lingered in that room. I took a 10-minute doze around 6am, until we had to leave to allow the store to clean up. We grabbed a yummy noodle breakfast for £1 each, metro’d on over to Lock Chuck for a farewell caffeination since I was running thoroughly on empty.

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Then it was a nice nap ride home to Humen to start our 8-day working week.

So, all in all a pretty chill weekend for us.

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From left to right: Chuck, Ella, Luisa, Emily Thomas and me
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