Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Shenzhen (深圳)

I hadn't really ever seen any reason to visit Shenzhen, Hong Kong's closest neighbor. 

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, immigration had incorrectly stamped my passport so I had to travel to Shenzhen in order to do a visa run - basically exit the country so that I could re-enter and properly authorize my work visa.  At the time, I was in a rush and dreaded this administrative hassle, so just went through immigration into Shenzhen, walked one block around the customs building, and then passed back through immigration into Hong Kong.  All of this is to say, I spent no time in Shenzhen.

Shenzhen is a marvel in its own right though - a completely artificial city that is notorious for the distribution and sale of fake goods.  Like everything in China, the city has changed very quickly, such that visitors five or ten years ago would probably feel like they were visiting a new city if they came again.

Shenzhen is only a 1.5 to 2.5 hour (to 3.5 hours depending on traffic and border crossing traffic) drive away from Hong Kong's city center.  So when I found out I had to attend work meetings there, I had a bit of a chuckle.  This was going to be the least glamorous and most anti-climactic business trip that I had to take!

It's a kind of disorienting city in that there's no clear city center.  Everything just seems to be wide avenues and big buildings no matter which way you look.  Most tourists or expats would tell you that the city center is in Luohu and Dongmen street, which on any given day crawls with eager hawkers of fake designer bags (every kind imaginable), fake DVDs, fake jewelry, and the latest fake electronic items.... You can buy housewares, clothing, suitcases.  You can get virtually any piece of clothing or art copied.  All of this involves a certain degree of shamelessness, quick mental math and haggling skill, the thought of which frankly exhausts me before I've even begun.

For the business trip, I had to stay at the Futian Shangri-la in Shenzhen for one night.  I loved the hotel staff - I felt like everyone was fresh faced and eager to please.  They were really pleasant.  One manager struck up a conversation in the elevator with me, pointing out the spa and business centers, asking if I'd visited the hotel before and how often I traveled to Shenzhen, if there was anything he could do to facilitate my stay, etc.  This was in marked contrast to another colleague who said that upon his arrival they offered him a complimentary upgrade to a suite and winked suggestively that he could invite "friends" up to visit him.  I guess it's a different folks, different strokes kind of policy.

Views from my hotel room.  As you would expect, there is construction everywhere.

This building on the near right is fittingly labeled "Tax Free".

 The hotel room itself was comfortable, although I probably wouldn't have picked these furnishings:

One nice thing about China is the huge bathrooms in the hotels.  What a contrast to my tiny one in Hong Kong!  I really liked the TV over the bathtub.  There is surely no better way to get your daily dose of state news propaganda.

 The hotel hallways were eerily empty at all times:

You're in mainland now - simplified characters!
 I took some pictures of my border crossing on my return trip on Friday evening.  Everyone scared me with how long the border crossing would take right before a weekend.  And then I showed up to this: 

 To be fair, my driver took the Shenzhen bay border crossing, which is only for cars and buses.  This likely eliminates a lot of the traffic that one would see at the Luohu or Futian crossings, where there are a lot of pedestrians trying to cross.  I didn't even have to exit the car.  My driver opened the window, I smiled at the officer, he looked at my passport, scanned it, stamped it, then waved us through.

Going through the Hong Kong booth, I just needed to show my HKID.  Then, just like that, we were in Hong Kong:
Funny observation: the signage of the first set of booths are in simplified characters because it's still mainland China.  The second set of booths are in traditional characters because it's now Hong Kong.

We flew over the very long suspension bridge:

And that was the end of my trip!

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