Guangzhou is a great walking city, and one takes a certain comfort in what one hopes will be the familiarity of Cantonese cuisine.

The city is home to the U.S. Consulate, and when one adopts, there are certain formalities that culminate in a mass swearing in by a government official.

We had five days in Guangzhou for exploring until the swearing in and the issuance of our daughter's Chinese passport.

Most adoptive couples stay at the White Swan Hotel, a nondescript white tower with a lobby that looks as though it was designed by the same team that designed your town's largest Chinese restaurant. The decor is accentuated by a floating antiquities sale that fills the lobby area with beautiful screens and lacquered chests.

A number of local businesses have developed around the hotel, each of them catering to American and British visitors with time on their hands and the need for infant clothing.

By this time we had started a list of apparent Chinese "laws," one of which appears to outlaw the concept of browsing. Walk into any store and a salesperson will hover just off your right collarbone. They never try to hard-sell, but they are there to assist, should you need it.

My forays got me into some trouble almost immediately. I saw a kiosk selling Christmas decorations. Some were black and some were red. I picked out a lovely hanging box in black metal and was looking forward to hanging it on my tree when the salesperson threw out the word "funeral." Wrong kiosk.

We were staying at the Holiday Inn, a new hotel, and surely one of the chain's centerpiece properties. You enter the hotel through an arcade filled with small shops and food stands. Everywhere we looked in Guangzhou, we saw people eating. Notice I did not say slurping, one of the stereotypes that just didn't pan out. We saw relatively little slurping or spitting. But each of the food stalls seemed to be doing quite well, and you could not walk through the crowds that gathered in front of the small gas stoves and woks without feeling that you had ingested at least half of what was being consumed.

The arcade entrance to the plush Holiday Inn was directly across from a stand that sold one item only: pig intestines on rice. It made you enter and depart the hotel in a hurry, actions that really must have reinforced the doorman's opinion that Americans are crazy.

What I liked most about the Holiday Inn was the fact that room service really did not understand English. That made ordering fun, and we came to accept the fact that we were going to be tasting things that one doesn't find at the local take-out in Peoria.

We had upgraded to a suite, as we thought an extra $58 for a six-night stay was reasonable. It came with an entertainment center of the human kind. Next to our hotel was a massive condo construction project. It was being built, as these things are, floor by floor, and the construction was not only right outside our window but only two floors below our room.

Now, if you know anyone in the building trades, you might suggest that they pay their union dues on time. In fact, they may want to pay a little extra. On the work site out our window, a beehive of activity that fascinated our daughter, a great deal was done by hand. During breaks, the workers simply lay down where they were. Fortunately, they didn't clang their steel all night long. The site closed at 4 a.m., allowing us about two-and-a-half hours before it all began again.

I loved walking the streets of Guangzhou. One right turn out the hotel door was a narrow street that looked like it might have come from a period movie. There were two blocks of shops selling fish in tanks, fish in metal tubs and goldfish of every hue. They were packaged in tiny, plastic bags.

Farther down the street was a large family that sold nothing but live scorpions. They were mixed up in large pots just prior to the sale. Used for a delectable local soup I am told. Next came the puppy vendors. With the strictly enforced rules on one child per family, the Chinese have taken to buying small, exotic dogs to carry in their shopping carts.

In the middle of the street, a woman taught her child how to do math on an old abacus, as they sat at a small wooden bench. Everyone walked around them.

People did not smile at us. But they smiled back if we made the first move, and always they came up to see our baby. If her forehead was covered by her blanket, they would stoop down and fold the blanket back so they could see her features. Her eyebrows arch upwards in the corners, a point of great discussion and joy to the Chinese.

Continuing down the street we came to a pedestrian overpass over a six-lane highway. On the other side we found older buildings, some clearly built in a British colonial style, with shady streets. A Chinese actress was filming a commercial in the middle of one street.

We discovered a Chinese school of massage and enjoyed a 90-minute massage for $10. The only disconcerting thing about the massage was that it was a semiprivate room and an earnest young manager would keep walking in asking if "OK, OK?" I was having a hard time pretending that I was in Bali.

But I haven't told you where you end up if you leave the Holiday Inn and turn left instead of right. Continuing out of the arcade, past the pig intestine store, you come to a huge walking street that goes on for miles.

Someone in Guangzhou has clearly paid the electric bill because neon signs and billboards blanket the night sky in ways that Vegas can only imagine. The streets are surprisingly clean. The young people are well dressed and animated. Music blares from the storefronts. Jewelry shops predominate. Side streets have the best food stalls. I try to talk with the owners of a tea shop, and they show me the tins where they keep the really good stuff. A shop nearby sells medicinal herbs in liquid form. This means a few ounces from a large jar holding the entrails of a snake or worse. The liquid is thought to be healing but it all has to ferment for a while.

I take an escalator up to see what McDonald's is up to. The frantic crew is practicing crowd control, leading customers to hidden, available seats as soon as they order.

Eight years ago, I was traveling in Hong Kong with a group that included an executive of McDonald's. He invited me to dinner with the head of their operations in China. At that time, he pointed out, China had 15 cities with a population of more than a million.

Walking the streets of Guangzhou with a Chinese baby offers a perspective few tourists would ever get. We were constantly approached by well-wishers. As new parents of a Chinese girl, we felt that we were somehow invited to see and feel the soul of China. Every few minutes brought a new encounter despite the relative shyness of the population.

I thank each of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chinese who offered the thumbs-up sign to us as we moved, with our pink baby stroller and its occupant, through the exciting, clean, frantic streets of their city.

Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm, and has been named to Conde Nast's list of the World's Top Travel Specialists since the list began.

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