Monday, May 12, 2014

Shopping Trip to Shenzhen

I went to Shenzhen for a quick trip on Saturday, to pick up some movies and also to get some clothes made.  I started out bright and early and took the MTR, first from Central to TST, switching to East TST station, then switching again to the Hung Hom line until I got to the very last stop, at Lo Wu.  The entire journey took me just over an hour.

Once I arrived at Lo Wu, it was a very quick process to get through immigration (exiting Hong Kong, entering Shenzhen).  It was a little surreal to realize I had woken up, drank my morning coffee, and conducted a border crossing into another country before noon.

This is the plaza outside Lo Wu port. 

The train station is outside.

This is a shot looking back at Lo Wu port.
When you emerge from Lo Wu, you see a bustling market of people selling... baby milk formula.
Due to the fears surrounding domestically produced milk formula (just one of the many examples of issues with consumer safety in China), there is a thriving market in Shenzhen (as one of the closest and easiest ports of entry) for foreign, or non-mainland China contaminated, milk powder.

As further detailed in this New York Times article, the controversy started in 2008 when six babies died and many hundreds more were reported to have been poisoned with milk powder contaminated with melamine.  Since then, a lot of distrust, fear and uncertainty have caused a world-wide run on one of the world's most innocuous items.  Seeing the warning signs all over the Hong Kong airport and customs counters about the strict two-can milk formula limit, one can be forgiven for mistakenly thinking the Hong Kong authorities are campaigning against the smuggling of another kind of white powder.

I am not certain if people are smuggling more than two cans over the border here , or if they are hiring mules to cross the border for them.  (Milk powder mules - did you ever think it would come to this?)  But the end result, once these people make it over the border with their milk formula, is the impromptu marketplace you see here, with interested parties walking over to browse the different brands and haggle over prices:

 I marveled at how open, blatant and unenforced this black market was.  But then I figured, the people who really care (the Hong Kong police) do not have jurisdiction here, and the people who do have jurisdiction (the Chinese police) really have no intention of getting involved.

And why should they?  The PRC government is the real entity that ought to be doing something about this - by making sure that their food and drugs are properly inspected and regulated such that this kind of black market does not need to happen in the first place.  Rather than addressing the issue at the root of its problem though, it's much easier for the Communist party to put to death a few of the top executives, claim they have handled the problem, and ultimately look the other way (in Chinese, to "open one eye, close one eye", or "睁一只眼,闭一只眼").  Shameful.
There are some funny signs in Shenzhen - it says in Chinese to mind your head, but in English it says to mind your eye!  Not sure how it got translated this way...
I went to a tailor, Judy, recommended to me by some colleagues, located on the fifth floor of the Lo Wu Commercial City. 

This is a crazy large mall crammed full with a ton of little stalls, each also individually crammed to the hilt, selling copies of practically anything imaginable.
I have yet to receive the dresses and skirt and pants the tailor will make for me, so I hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend her services, but from what I've seen of her handiwork, I think the stuff will turn out pretty well.  I really hit it off with her too.  I of course was also completely flattered when she initially thought I was from Jiangsu.  She thought I was native!  Woot woot.  I love being able to fool locals into thinking I am local too.

In between discussing pants length (ankle), skirt style (high waisted), dress pattern (length, pleats, cut, lace), we also chatted about China versus America, politics, gun violence, growing up in America as a Chinese female, working in Asia, etc.  I like to think that I can bring some interesting and different insight into these situations.  She certainly seemed curious and wanted to hear my thoughts.

After all this discussion (and some measurement-taking),  it was time to find material.

Wow, this fabric market is so much fun and also dazzlingly overwhelming at the same time.
I could not get my phone to take a good picture because the fluorescent lights are so… fluorescent. But basically it is a massive complex full of stalls, full of every imaginable type and color of fabric, stretching as far as the eye can see.  Woo HOO!
 I selected some jersey material from this array of options at one of the clothing stalls.  It was a little overwhelming but also really fun.
Every time I take a trip to mainland China, I am struck by how much I both like and dislike the place - but lately, the feeling has been more and more one of like rather than dislike.  I really appreciate the energy and can-do attitude of the Chinese people.  I love being able to converse with the locals in Mandarin.  I obviously have a few bones to pick with the Chinese Communist Party but overall, I think China is truly one of the most dynamic and interesting places in the world currently (although I pretty much find anything and everything dynamic and interesting...except maybe American football). 

My morning trip into Shenzhen really clarified to me how distinct the energy is in mainland China. Shenzhen is a mere hour away, and the border crossing from Hong Kong a matter of a few meters in distance and a few minutes in time. But as soon as you cross into Shenzhen, a palpable energy and urgency and vibrancy seems to be steeped into the attitude, cultures and customs, such that everything on the surface seems similar, yet everything feels radically different.


  1. wow i tot only Guangzhou have that house of fabrics! ok haha thanks 4 sharing tho :)

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