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Driver license for 1 week?

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Of course, destination signs are a problem, but if one knows the hanzi for the target city or place and has a good roadmap, it should be doable, no? (...) How about Google Maps? They look good and have Pinyin, only without tones. Although for some reason they don't match their own satellite images, as if they are a bit shifted. And Pleco will read the signs...
And your hypothetical American will do that while driving? Taxis should be the easiest way to get around. Write your destinations in Chinese (or ask the people at the hotel to do it for you) and it should be fairly straightforward and inexpensive to get around. As to trains, I think many hotels can arrange train tickets, it might be an option. Or you can hire a car + driver for the duration of the trip, if there are several long-distance trips it might come out cheaper and more convenient.

ATMs, especially at the airport, should be available 24/7. Your friend is not the first foreigner to fly into Guangzhou and need some RMB right away. Check on the bank card or with the bank if the card works in other countries.

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draemon, have you been to China? Have you been driven around a city the size of Guangzhou before?

I would imagine that renting and driving a car during a short trip in China would be the most expensive, most dangerous, most stressful, and least efficient way of getting around. Every other mode of transportation is safer, cheaper and faster, at least when you're not an experienced driver with lots of local driving experience.

Any tips on intercity travel by taxi? How about trains - are they tourist-friendly?

All big cities will have a special counter at the major train stations specifically for foreigners, where you can buy tickets in English. Often, this is the counter with the shortest queue.

With trains, you get what you pay for, but even a first-class ticket will be cheaper than driving a rented car between major cities. First class K-trains are comfortable, close to the European standard. Cheap hard-sleepers were also OK. In general, if you move between major cities, there will be enough fast, nice trains to take.

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oooooh driving in china...

Yea..... You--your friend should certainly stick to taxis or a full time driver to get you--him around. Driving is really REALLY different here. I might have different advice if I knew your friend was comfortable in China, with plenty of experience in vehicles on Chinese roads. However it sounds like someone who is brand new to life out here.

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