Gweilo in the Diaolou

By on November 30, 2015

Gweilo in the Diaolou: the misadventures of an Aussie in Rural China. 

Gweilo in the Diaolou – first the meaning: Gweilo means “ghost man” in Cantonese – effectively white guy. Diaolou are fortified watch towers, only found in Kaiping county in southern China. So it’s about this white guy (me) trudging around Kaiping and a few other areas, a complete fish out of water. No language skills, no knowledge, no culture. Basically no idea.

Everywhere I went in Kaiping I was stared at. Glared at. I don’t think they see too many people like me. They don’t see too many Gweilos. It was very off-putting at first. I was completely out of my depth.

Two hundred eyeballs were staring, fixated on the freak that just walked into the restaurant and up the stairs.

It was dumplings, diaolou and dragons. I visited the villages, Niu Lu Tao, Gangning, Sha Wan, amazing townships of Baisha and Chikan; a restaurant in a place called Lechongcun which was next to a place burning tyres. We were lucky to get a table. It was packed. The restaurant was the size of a Bunnings Warehouse. We sat outside in the mud. At least they had cold beer.

I visited an island where they had fridges but they weren’t turned on. I couldn’t get cold beer but I could buy ice-cream.

I saw the water dripping UP the walls in Ma On Shan and Guangzhou.

I fell into a grave.

I was privileged to participate in the Qingming festival, where the whole village travels up the mountain to the graveyards of their ancestors and pay homage. I fell into a grave.

I’ve been introduced to Chinese toilets. They’re a bit different to ours. They take a bit of getting used to.

I played ping pong. I stuffed cash into red envelopes. I gave away $100 notes to complete strangers.

I went in search of my great grandfather. He was also a Gweilo.

My travels to this amazing country are a bit offbeat. There’s no Great Wall. No Terracotta Warriors. There are decaying villages, dragons and drums. There’s Mama’s chicken which is tougher than eating a piece of carpet. There’s the tv host with the blue hair. Did I mention the restaurant next to the dump burning tyres?

I love this place. I love the history. But most of all I love the people. And I love being the Gweilo in the Diaolou. I hope you enjoy my escapades as much as I did. Who knows? Maybe I will bump into you one day in a Diaolou in Kaiping? (Remember to duck – the ceilings are low.)


Paperback and ebook versions can be purchased through Amazon and also through my website:

Captains File: India
Captains File: India

September 15, 2016

Gweilo in the Diaolou Chinese Edition
Chinese Gweilo

April 28, 2016

Bringing the Cows Home
Bringing the Cows Home

September 2, 2015

  1. Reply

    Rachael Mills

    January 11, 2017

    Interesting, I have it in mind to visit China sometime soon but going to the rural areas never crossed my mind, reading this now has aroused my interesting in checking out the villages when I go there.

  2. Reply


    January 10, 2017

    I love it when people make their own paths instead of following what everyone else is doing. I’ve also done some international traveling in Asia, so I relate to being stared at and to the surprises that pop up constantly. Your book sounds awesome — and it certainly seems like you’ve had enough adventures to fill it full of great stories. What initially brought you over? Your search for your great-grandpa?

    • Rob Harvey

      Rob Harvey

      January 10, 2017

      My wife, Shuk, comes from a little village called Niu Lu Tao, near Kaiping. I wanted to visit the village and at a later time, look for my great grandfather. China just keeps giving me adventures. ­čÖé

  3. Reply


    August 31, 2016

    Rob, I loved your book. It was so entertaining. Your personal journey into the unknown must have been both hilarious and full of anxiety at the same time!

    • Rob Harvey

      Rob Harvey

      September 1, 2016

      Thanks for your positive comments Warren!

  4. Reply

    Liz Paz de Liu

    June 9, 2016

    There is something new l learnt from this book which is the LOL Method. LOL stands for Little Old Lady. According to the author, when you across the road in China, the safest way is follow the old ladies.

    I love the LOL Method!

    • Rob Harvey

      Rob Harvey

      June 9, 2016

      Thanks Liz, me too! The LOL method works quite well. They never got old from taking risks crossing the road!

  5. Reply


    June 6, 2016

    Insightful and lovely storie to read.

  6. Reply


    January 5, 2016

    A very interesting story. It gives me a new angle to China. That is active´╝îreality and funny.

  7. Reply


    December 26, 2015

    This was great travel story. Very different from the first one but the humor is still ever present! Very much in a Bill Bryson sort of style. Two thumbs up!

    • Rob Harvey

      Rob Harvey

      December 27, 2015

      Thanks Alan. Yes, I too am a Bill Bryson fan.



I quit my marketing job 20 years ago to become a writer, only I ended up writing html instead of words. Now I'm just writing words. I have a passion for China, through my partner Shuk, a passion for cooking and a passion for history. Oh, and a keen eye for the absurd! Have some fun on these pages and I look forward to your feedback. Rob.

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