Misadventures In 深圳
March 29, 2010 § 1 Comment
Thanks to mother’s foresight, I acquired a multiple-entry visa in Chicago and was therefore all set to trek to and from mainland China without having to spend time and loads of money applying for a mere double-entry visa here in Hong Kong like my friends do because China hates America. So far, I’ve taken advantage of my freedom three times, which I’ve separated into a three-part tale.
The last week of January, I visited Shenzhen on a whim with a guy I had only known for two weeks [if even]. He was going to visit some friends [Chinese exchange students] he had met back in California who were going to the city during their winter break, and I didn’t have class on Wednesdays so I tagged along.
We departed on Tuesday evening and planned to meet Mike’s friend Edmund [from CUHK] and spend the night in Shenzhen at a hostel that his friends had already booked. From HKU, the journey to the border takes almost an hour and a half, CUHK is pretty close to it:
Not more than five minutes after meeting Edmund at 上水 [Sheng Shui] and right as the train to take us to mainland pulled into the station, Mike realized that he had left his passport in his desk. UNBELIEVABLE. He ran off, leaving Edmund and me to bond for the next three hours as we awaited his return. Thankfully, Edmund was a nice fellow, and we got along pretty well as he and I wandered around the area near the MTR station.
Unfortunately, the border closes at midnight, and the last train left before Mike could possibly have returned. What to do, what to do… We considered spending the night at karaoke and catching the first train, but eventually decided to stay at Edmund’s university instead, since there was no point in going all the way back to HKU.
It turned out that Edmund lived in an all-male building. When we first arrived before Mike had reached us, a gaggle of guys were in the lobby [the outside of which was all glass] having a ping pong tournament. I tried to be inconspicuous as Edmund had a short discussion with one of them and the rest stared at me, wondering about the girl he was trying to bring home at midnight. The two of us took a walk around the lovely [and more expansive] campus as we waited for Mike [and the ping pong tournament to end].
Edmund’s building didn’t have security at night, but we still entered sneakily just in case my presence aroused too much suspicion. While talking with Edmund’s roommate, I found out that he had actually BEEN to Naperville [my ‘hood] before because his aunt & uncle own Trudy’s Flowers, which I drive past ALL THE TIME. Absolutely insane.
That night I slept in Edmund’s bed [which was more comfortable than my own] while he and Mike spent the night playing ping pong in the lobby, resulting in 15 minutes of sleep for both fools. We woke up at 5AM and left at 6AM with Edmund’s friend Sandy, who apparently had stayed up the whole night due to relationship troubles and wanted to join us on our excursion.
The process of crossing the border was quite complicated. I had to show my passport at four different stations, some of which were on different floors. Mainland China definitely has a distinct smell, which I noticed almost immediately. Ah, the fragrance of the motherland! I was so glad to be surrounded by Mandarin instead of Cantonese and simplified instead of traditional characters. We met Mike and Edmund’s friends, three lovely girls studying in southern China, and ate a deliciously cheap brunch before setting off to do some shopping.
I bought a pair of Adidas sneakers [110RMB] and some Kpop paraphernalia [alas, they had very few SHINee products] in the large shopping center we visited. I didn’t think much of the clothing styles I saw, and the quality looked even less remarkable than Argyle Center in Mongkok. Everything was so cheap! I bought two fresh starfruit on a stick on the street for only 1RMB [15 cents USD]!
Shenzhen has a reputation for being dangerous, but so far each time I’ve gone, strangers have been helpful and nobody has been robbed. There are definitely beggars and dirty places, but every urban area is going to have those.
After a yummy seafood lunch, our group found a massage parlor for our tired feet — one hour for only 20RMB! It was my first foot massage, and I was certainly self-conscious about somebody touching my feet & lower legs, but my masseuse made me more comfortable by carrying on a conversation and being relatively attractive.
At the end, I went to find him to give him a tip, but he ended up giving me his name and phone number instead, which made me feel awkward about giving him money right afterward. Someday I shall go back to that place…someday…
Four days later, I went back to Shenzhen, this time with a different group of people. Once again, I was kind of tagging along with no agenda of my own. Laurent, Fiona, Jacqueline [three Canadians] and I took a completely different turn from the first time and went to 世界之窗 [Window to the World], which we more or less randomly chose from Laurent’s guide book. We figured we would spend a few hours there [the book estimated two hours], and go shopping.
Whoever had written the guidebook made a rather grave miscalculation. Window to the World is a humongous park full of miniature [but still sizable] replicas of international landmarks, from Egypt’s pyramids to Thailand’s temples to the garden of Versailles. We spent a good seven hours exploring and taking fun photos, and even caught the surprisingly magnificent nighttime show at the end. The sunshine-filled day was one of the most fun experiences that I’ve had this semester, and it was definitely worth the $20US entrance fee.
This past Saturday, I traveled across the border with yet another group of friends: Paris, Justin and Cathy. We were supposed to join another group that included Laurent, but they ended up splitting up/going late/all sorts of shenanigans so we left early in the morning without them. Our priority was to shop. Thankfully, Cathy had a place in mind [the rest of us did not plan ahead at all] and we headed to 老街 [“Old Street”?]. It was the first time in Shenzhen for all of them, so Cathy [who is from mainland] and I took turns leading our group.
The first time I went to Shenzhen, the fashions seemed rather poor to me, but this time the mall we went to was extremely chic. A large fraction of the stores sold menswear, which is rare [I saw some amazing D&G sneakers], and unlike the ultra-cheap shopping centers where you can find the shirt you just bought down the hall for $10 cheaper, the styles from store to store all varied.
One thing that I still haven’t gotten the hang of is haggling. Not only do I handle rejection badly [“Can you give it to me for cheaper?” “No.” “…Oh. Okay…”], the way I shop is to fall in love with something at first sight, which means I then have to have it [as long as I can afford it, and in Asia, I usually can]. Besides, unlike the thrill that some people get from forcing a shopkeeper to slash prices, I only experience heightened levels of stress from what I feel like is an evil game designed to wrestle money from somebody who probably needs it more than I do.
At one point, I stopped in a shop to admire a jersey dress, but turned to leave when the shopkeeper told me that it was 300RMB [$43 for a simple dress]. She then pressed me to give her a price I would pay, so I halved the price even though I would’ve only bought the dress for 100RMB or less. In this way, she basically pressured me into bargaining with her even though I felt highly uncomfortable about it [just let me shop in peace!].
I had been wanting a pair of gold high-tops for a while, so when I spotted them in the men’s section [the women’s styles all had freaking butterflies or were Converse, ick] of a shoe store, I couldn’t resist, even though they were 280RMB. I had a mere 25RMB left in my pocket afterward; Paris & Cathy were pretty much in the same boat. Justin, on the other hand, didn’t want clothes or shoes, so after five or so hours of shopping, we located a salon so he could trim his faux-hawk.
All three of them ended up getting their hairs cut while I idly sat by, and then we took our tired feet to a spa. We had originally planned to return to Hong Kong at 9PM, but that goal was unsurprisingly sidelined, forcing us to speedwalk our way through customs like we were Cinderella trying to make curfew. There was a slightly traumatic moment when we ran through the gate to the subway JUST AS IT CLOSED ON THE PEOPLE RIGHT BEHIND US as if they were contaminated and being quarantined o____o it was seriously a scene right out of a zombie movie.