Our talking attracted another crowd.
There were nods of approval and sighs of comprehension. I was sure that the older people understood a lot more than they were prepared to let on.
Many had probably studied when they were not supposed to.
When I told the 58 year-old foreign Chinese man that I was heading for Shanghai, one of the onlookers changed his stare to a smile and stepped a little nearer.
"I am from Shanghai," he offered.
He broke off to speak to the old man; a courtesy for interrupting his claim to fame; talking in the tongue of the foreigner.
"Can you understand Chinese?" Shanghai returned to me.
I apologised and said that I was trying. I certainly wouldn't master the character drawing though. Everyone laughed; so they did understand.
The first man felt a little shunted, he thanked me for the conversation and said that he always enjoyed speaking to foreigners.
Shanghai moved my camera bag a little and sat down beside me. He had learnt his English mainly from the radio station.
He was in Canton to visit some friends, had spent 69 hours on the boat and would travel back by train. He had spent all day queuing at the station and still didn't have a seat.
"On the train I am always looking," he said. "Maybe I find no-one somewhere and I have a place."
This was highly unlikely though and he was prepared to roll out some newspaper and claim a space on the floor.
He spread out my map and helped me to plan my tour of China, advising me to stay away from the cities and to see the country.
"When you get home, you can read your tour books about the sights. It is better to see more of the country when you are here," he said.
"Maybe spend a week in Beijing; there is a lot to see there and now in Autumn is the best time."
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Turn The Page: The Foreign Bookstore.