Shenzhen, China, it’s like Hong Kong, but less.
I have been looking forward to China with a mix of excitement and anxiety. I have always wanted to go and explore the place, meet the people, try the strange foods and generally be whipped out of my comfort zone, and now I am here. After leaving Sarah behind (part of the reason for feeling anxious) to go on her journey to Bali, Marty and I caught a plane from the country I called “home” for 2 and a half months, and landed in Hong Kong.
I have always had an affinity for the city, there is something about the place I really love. It was odd to experience it this time from the eyes of a budgeting backpacker, accommodation is expensive for what (after Thailand) seems very basic. We managed to find a twin room in Kowloon for about $70 a night, and headed into the city to explore, it is fair to say it is not Marty’s cup of tea, especially because his budget is smaller than mine, so our time here was pretty quiet, we wondered around for a day and then organized to leave on the next.
We decided to catch the train from East Tsim Sha Tsui station to Shenzhen, and about 40 minutes later we were pulling into the Hong Kong/China border, crossing through immigration (where they stamped one of my precious few blank passport pages!!), and having smoko to recover from the “stress”. A taxi driver latched onto us and quoted $40 to get to our destination (Shekou), deciding that this guy saw 2 farang alighting from the train and thought to himself “meal ticket”, we opted out and headed for the metro (while being told by our honorable friend that “train was no good”). The train is in fact very good, english throughout, and for about $2 we were headed to our destination.
Night 1 in Shenzhen
So there we were in Shenzhen, our first night in China, and I am sorry to report that unless you are looking to shop, I wouldn’t really bother, Shekou in particular has more Western eateries than Chinese, the locals are well and truly attuned to the lore of the westerner, and above all there isn’t a hell of a lot here! I couldn’t even find anything to take photos of.
That’s not to say you can’t have a decent time in Shenzhen, just that you probably wont have a great time. On our first night out (after accepting that the areas soul had well and truly moved on) we went to a deserted pool hall and played a few games while the local owners discussed (presumably) business. From there it was onto the cultural delight that is KFC, I have been a bit ill for a few days and this happened to be my first meal in awhile, and I can only say…Bravo KFC china, good burger.
As we meandered on from the evenings meal we happened to see a couple of policemen in conversation with the locals, thinking nothing of it as I was a well behaved westerner, we wandered in their general direction and were surprised when being called to a halt, and asked to divulge our passports for inspection. “Well I never! there must be some mistake here good sir, can you not see I am western and therefore immune to your rules and regulations?”.
He could not, and I was not, after looking through my passport for about 5 minutes, he said I was OK to go, and requested Marty’s, Marty being somewhat incapable of hanging onto his belongings, had left his passport at the hotel, although we explained as much, the policemen continued to request it, and grew agitated stating that, how was he to know we weren’t here illegally if we didn’t have a passport? Fair question I suppose, but, I’m western God dammit and immune to eastern law! Eventually he said Marty could go. Leaving him with a warning, “If I see you….I see you”… funny man.
After returning to the hotel to pick up his passport we continued on hoping to find a sign that Shekou still had something going for it, an hour later and it became apparent that aside from a few bars, it did not, and I don’t like bars. Marty however, does, and feeling that some sort of compromise is fair, we went into one of the less seedy looking places (less, not not), and sat down at the bar for a drink (in my case a coke zero, I don’t really drink).
Immediately we were accosted by Shenzhen bar girls. Now bar girls are not prostitutes, at least not all of them, bar girls are basically there to make you feel good about yourself in order to get you to buy more drinks (for you and them). I have a few issues here, one is I don’t need my ego massaged, it’s pretty solid as is, and 2, I can be pretty tight at times, and buying a drink for the pleasure of being lied to doesn’t really appeal. It didn’t take long for the ladies in question to realize this, but it was a slow night and they sort of hung around anyway, making attempts at whimsical banter, I say and mean attempts.
At the best of times I am not a big one for forced conversation, add to that the language barrier, and well there were a LOT of awkward silences, so deciding to turn this thing on its head and potentially gain something from an otherwise fruitless evening, I decided to find out a bit about Shenzhen, the people in it, and in particular these people we found ourselves surrounded by.
While whiling away the time with games of pool, and nursing the same coke zero for a couple hours. I found out that Min Min (one of the more laid back seeming ladies) was from a small town near to Shenzhen, that she didn’t like her job at all, and would like to try doing something else, she explained that like many other Chinese people, without any sort of qualification (and I guessed solid direction as a child) she had nothing to offer a potential employer, and was stuck.
After discussing the things she could do for a bit we came to the conclusion that she could cook, and enjoyed it. I suggested that she start a street food stand in Shenzhen like they have in Bangkok, explaining how I was disappointed at the lack of tasty local food here. She thought it was a great idea and said she would give it a go.
I have my doubts as to whether or not she will, but that’s not the point, when we left she thanked me for the conversation, and I had the feeling that she had actually enjoyed it, and more than that, that she felt good about being treated like a human being, and not just a bar girl.
I hope these sort of night are not too frequent, as I said, I am not really into bars.
Day 2 in Shenzhen
Today we headed out to the I.T. part of Shenzhen, more my style than the previous night, and so it was with some excitement we alighted from the station to be greeted by wall to wall, building to building, toys. I had read about SEG, the main 8 storey building for computer and tablet bits and bobs, we headed straight there and spent about 3 hours exploring its contents. Like so many of my forays into toyland, I came out empty handed. Although I have a passion for gadgetry, I also have a passion for getting the right one, and despite its bounteous supply of goods, the one I wanted wasn’t there!
It is worth noting that I have been into a few places like this before, and usually the thing that breaks you is the constant attempts to get your attention, but here no seemed to mean no, and that was the end of it, it was refreshing. I also noticed that there was a distinct lack of ferang, which is a nice change after somewhere like Bangkok, perhaps it is an ego thing but I quite like the interested looks of locals, I can almost see the mind ticking over when they see this odd looking person wandering around their markets.
So tomorrow we leave, Shenzhen is probably great for shoppers, and maybe there are some hidden gems somewhere, but from what Min Min told me, I don’t think so. It is less western than Hong Kong, and it seems we are heading in the right direction, but I am yet to find the real China.
Nanning is our next destination, it was going to be Kunming in Yunnan, but then we realized that China is bigger than we thought, and to get there from Shenzhen takes about 24 hours by train. So Nanning it is as a middle point (not sure what’s there, organizing is neither Marty nor my strong point). We did have a brief look at what is in Yunnan and it sounds more promising, some mountain hiking, possibly a giant panda or 2, and the dwarf village (as seen in Idiot Abroad), sweet.