Having travelled in each other's company for almost two weeks, myself and Dave found ourselves in Shenzhen, the first stop inside China from Hong Kong. We left Hung Hom station in Hong Kong and paid HK$33 (just over £2) to get to Shenzhen, roughly an hour's journey away. Because Shenzhen is in mainland China, you will need a Chinese visa – you can get these in advance, or I'm told you can get one on the border. If you opt for the latter choice, bear in mind you can only get a five day Shenzhen visa and you will have to pay for it.
Nothing really attracted me to Shenzhen aside from the fact it's in the People's Republic Of China (to give it its full name) and very close by. The trains are the same as the subway trains, they're quick and clean, and not very crowded either. To get to Shenzhen, take the Hung Hom station from Hong Kong and go to Lo Wu, that's the last stop inside Hong Kong officially, then you have to walk across the border (indoors, you just get your passport stamped) and you're in China. It's reminiscent of Hong Kong in many ways, it's full of tall buildings, lots of shops and even more people. For the first time, I hadn't booked a hotel or hostel in advance, so we had to try our luck in finding a place to stay. The usual girls in red sashes will try and get you to go into their hotel that they work for; we went into one, took a look around the room and promptly left – many places (including hotels and restaurants) have, shall we say, different toilets. By that, I mean imagine a normal toilet, but make the rim of it so it's level with the ground. These horrid squat-toilets are an abomination, I refuse to ever consider using one, if only for fear of falling in. So onwards we went, more similar hotels located on the umpteenth floor of some apartment-style buildings went by, and we settled on a place downtown on the corner of a large street. It cost RMB208 (£16) per night, for two double beds (I've yet to go to a place that isn't a dorm which hasn't had double beds in every room) and all the usual amenities, and it was a real hotel! So £8 each per night cannot be sniffed at, which draws me to a point I feel I have to make – if you can travel with other people, whether it be people you know from home or people you meet on your travels, do it. Being around other people encourages you to do more, you both have a collective idea of what there is to do in any certain place, but most of all it's cheaper. Double beds are plentiful, so if you have someone who can share one with you, fantastic, because I've been in rooms for around £9 a night and having someone share cuts that cost in half. That's the amount you'll spend on food and travel in a day – and when you (read: I) have no set travel dates, every little counts towards lengthening your stay. The room we were in had two double beds, so room enough for four people comfortably, I just end up feeling as if I could be saving money if only there were more of us.
Impressions of China from this rectangular city, is that it's polluted like Hong Kong, it's still busy, it still feels pretty safe, and they like their scooters. The scooter thing is because (as I later found out) motorbikes are banned, so the powers-that-be are trying to push scooters instead, possibly due to safety as many don't wear helmets, and if they do they don't fasten them to their heads, rendering them pointless.
Dave's mother plays mahjong with another woman back home in America, this other woman has a son who's living in Shenzhen, so suggested Dave go meet up with him and his wife, inevitably, I tagged along and ended up visiting a large park on the top of Shenzhen looking down upon it with Dave and his mother's friend's son's wife. It's a place we probably wouldn't have found on our own due to the various bus rides to get there – buses seem impenetrable when no one seems to speak English in mainland China, restaurants are bad enough! It's a large park full of greenery, little commercialisation – in that I actually wanted to see a small shop somewhere so I could buy an ice-cream, thankfully we found one as we were coming down from the top – and sports a large statue of a prior leader of China (the one before Chairman Mao). The view from on top of the hill shows how in progress Shenzhen is, all of the surrounding buildings that have any height above the usual street-level ones have sprung up in the past couple of years. As with most of China, it's a developing place and will only serves to get bigger. Building sites are visible from the view, as well as many fresh-looking constructions and a steady haze covering those in the distance.
We visited the local farmer's market after this, a large repetetive outdoor market of sellers selling pretty much the same things, positioned in the same places too (watermelons top left, tomatoes at the bottom, carrots to the right..). It shows how cheap fresh fish, meat, fruit, vegetables and all manner of dried goods can be in China, as if the stores we've already visited weren't cheap enough. The fish section is mostly what you'll see elsewhere, although more turtles, octopus and other small bits that wouldn't go in my mouth either – it also smells, a lot. Not surprising I suppose, but enough to put me off seafood for a while! The meat section is also recognisable, except for the sellers who all tend to smoke right next to the open raw meat (hands no more than a few inches away), and meat with no real cooling, left to stew in the warm Chinese air. Suffice to say I prefer not to see what my animal was before it became my food on my plate (hence an aversion to octopus, because I can see what the tentacles are, and the word tentacle itself puts the shivers up me), nor where its come from, especially so in the case of China where food hygiene isn't something universally recognised yet. The dried section (so called because I can't think of a better name) includes many teas, lots of mushrooms which don't look like mushrooms, nuts, fruits and all the things to use the aforementioned with. Walking around and smelling is good enough for me, as much as a full-sized royal tea set was, it's simply too big to carry and too delicate to think about posting home. Despite not buying anything, it was nice to walk around it all, but seeing battery poultry and fish (they clearly hadn't enough water for even half of them) wasn't all that pleasant.
After our market tour we headed to, of all places, Wal-Mart. See, I've never been to one (Asda doesn't count), and at the least was intruiged to see what a Chinese version of a large supermarket would be like. In reality it was big but not huge, it had a decent bakery section with cheap food, but also sold live turtles which the staff will kill for you when you decide upon the one you want, it had crabs in the same regard, except they're all tied up so they can't move – they just sit there waiting to be chosen (or not) – and frogs sold by the packet, three on their back in a plastic tray covered with cling-film. It's the consideration I've had for such animals that makes me feel distressed at seeing them turtles and frogs were never to be eaten but to be looked at and seen as being friendly – obviously it's different when you grow up in a country where they're treated with a different regard, but it's not something I wanted to see or hear about in all honesty. I'm sure there are certain things we eat (veal, perhaps?) that invoke a similar feeling when they visit the UK, so it may well be a case of double-standards but my pity for frogs and turtles remains.
Having picked up fresh boxers, socks, some £4 sandals, razors and other bits to keep me tided, we met up with Dave's mother's friend's son, and had what can only be called a feast. Collectively we ordered lots of different dishes and picked off of each one, a great idea when there's four of you there to get a bit of everything rather than sticking to one meal that you might have regretted ordering after realising what it is when they deliver it.. yes, I ordered shrimp with noodles, what I got was shrimp with noodles, and lots and lots of tentacles from an octopus reaching from within it, as if trying to escape the noodling tangle it had gotten itself into. I recoiled in horror at the dish they had presented me, but thankfully David (Dave's mother's friend's son) reminded me we were sharing. Phew! We plouged through various dumplings (meat inside a thin, almost slippery casing, not the typical dumpling you might be thinking of), vegetables, pork slices and many more foods I can't remember; it was good. And very cheap of course, something ridiculous like £5 each including a few large bottles of beer each. From here we said goodbye to Dave's mother's friend's son's wife as she left for home, and myself and Dave and David went to a local pool and snooker hall, where you pay another very small amount to play on any of the tables in there, whilst having a girl wait on you, both for drinks and to replace any balls on the table (if playing snooker) and hand you any rests you might need. Handy! And for roughly an hour, we paid around £2, including beer.
We departed and said goodbye to David, and retired to our hotel room. Dave needed to set off in the morning for his midday flight to Chengdu to meet an old school-friend, so we got some early sleep thanks to the long day we'd endured and subsequently slept in and missed him to say my farewells to him, it had, after all, been two weeks since we'd met and started hanging out – of course we've got e-mail addresses exchanged and can each other in tune with the other's travels thanks to the wonder of blogs. One quick word on blogs if you were wondering about an update.. China doesn't allow them. You can't visit someone's blog or post on your own within China, many other websites are blocked too, such as Wikipedia and the BBC News website. So, getting back to Hong Kong is going to be a relief, not least because most people speak English!
Cihan, who I'd met in Macau (a Turkish guy living in China), live in Guangzhou, and is only about an hour or so away from Shenzhen, so I thought why not and hopped on a train. RMB75 (£6) straight from Shenzhen and its confusing train station, I arrived and found a hotel close by for RMB220 a night (£18) for two nights, just so I could get my bearings, and recover from lugging my heavy bag around again - it takes me about two nights to get ready for moving it again. The hotel (Lilac International Suites) is more than adequate, it's nothing special but it has a laundry room with machines at RMB10 (80p) a go, including drying, very handy as I was looking for a laundrette at the time. The hotel also has wired internet (and a wire to plug into your laptop), an added bonus that perhaps is reflected in the price. Other than that, the bathroom was very nice and the well lit thanks to the large windows, but the view wasn't the best – it was just one big construction site and a half-finished building. This led to being woken up slightly earlier than I'd wanted because of the noise, but wasn't too big of an issue. One major issue I have with China that annoys me daily is spitting, hocking and spitting everywhere – most of the people seem to do it, and it doesn't matter where either, in the street, in internet cafes, Cihan said he's seen someone do it in a restaurant too, just hocking and spitting on the floor. Hearing that hock when walking down the street or just sitting in my room writing on this blog irritates and disgusts me every time I hear it – the government here is trying to stamp it out as much as possible because of the imminent olympics in Shenzhen, Shanghai, Guangdong and Beijing and the image it's going to portray. I'd say their worries are most valid and hope their campaigns work because it's extremely off-putting as a visitor.
Guangzhou as a city I've not really seen in a city sense, I've visited little in the way of sites and more tried to enjoy the food and just walk around more than anything. There doesn't seem to be a great amount to do here, but it is big – the shopping can be good, but sadly I can't engage in it much because of my bag. Because of this and the strain it's putting on me, I've tried to find a shop that sells decent hiking-type bags, and failed in Guangzhou. Annoyingly I found one in Shenzhen and didn't replace my bag, I really should have done. As I was leaving Shenzhen, the long strap on my bag snapped, hence the need for a bag sooner than I'd anticipated. Dave said I'll end up getting a big hiking back-pack, or at least that I need to, I denied that I needed one, and thankfully I outlasted my bag, so I have a subtle victory in some sense. Anyway, Guangzhou is rubbish for large back-packs, I've found. Great if you want a hangbag, fantastic for one of the ones that you drag along on wheels, but otherwise, no. I found one for RMB448 (£36), it seemed okay, but only one in a whole store of bags that suited my needs. I found one more for RMB302 (£24), similar quality but unsure if it'd last, and only one in a whole store of bags. Moving on I found a place selling a whole load of bags and had one similar to those I'd just found for RMB100 (£8)! I bought it fairly promptly and left. I took it back to my expensive RMB220 per night hotel and was happy. That morning, I got myself ready to move onto my cheaper RMB120 (£10) hotel and started to open the bag.. the zip on the top pouch goes. Balls. I try the bottom one on the back, it falls off. The one on the right seems fine, the one on the left sticks.. The string ties to seal everything in the bag seem a bit thin, but I get most of my stuff in it, my books and clothes mostly. I hoist it onto my back and depart, despite the zips, it's fine. I get to the subway, get the train to Shiqiao (where my new hotel is), get out of the subway and start to head towards it. Half way there - SNAP SNAP. Both arms break at the bottom and the bag falls off my back and onto the floor. Double balls. I then proceed, through the 27 degrees celcius heat, and drag the bag to the hotel in its more than damaged state. I needed a new bag. Another search proved fruitless, so armed with Cihan as my translator again, I took the piece of shit bag back to the store and attempted to mimic what had happened. Cihan taught me some quick Chinese so I could make my demand of them, ni-yao-worder-chen, I want my money. I repeated it a few times so they go the message, then started on at me in Chinese, my simple retort of saying tin-ba-dong (literally translates to 'I don't understand') and pointing for them to speak to Cihan annoyed them more. I looked at the same bags that I had bought, and started on zips. One fell off each of them, the women there weren't pleased. This is after about ten or fifteen minutes of Cihan trying to explain that another bag is just going to break. I look around the store briefly whilst he talks to them. I don't want a bag that I have to drag on wheels, hardly the epitome of back-packing, but was feeling a little annoyed at this point at how they were refusing to refund and saying to try another of the same bag and bring that one back if it breaks. I don't have the time, nor the patience, to go back to the hotel and pack everything I'd just unpacked, and walk around with it until it breaks. So, we danced a little more, Cihan explained it again, I repeated ni-yao-worder-chen and nothing happened. I found a large bag with wheels that also has another of the same type (just slightly smaller) within it, picked it up and walked out of the store, Cihan realised and came out with me, the two women, one a very nasaly old coot with one of the worst bob-haircuts I've ever seen, starts going off on one to me. Of course, my repetition of tin-ba-dong just annoys her more as she demands for the bag back as they repeat that there is another bag inside. I repeat, this time a lot louder to compete with passers-by and the traffic behind me: ni-yao-worder-chen, I want my money back, or you're not getting your bags back, love. She starts waving her hands around like a woman ready to blow a fuse, Cihan explains that means she's inviting me into her crap-hole of a store. I say again tin-ba-dong, and get Cihan to tell her I want my RMB100 back or I'm leaving with the bags, she says give her the bags back and she'll give me my money back. Obviously she thinks Adam isn't as smart as her, she thinks wrong. I tell Cihan to tell her to put the money on top of the dodgy DVDs at the front of the store (it's an open-fronted one), which all of the stores seem to sell, no matter what they primarily stock (in this case, bags, lots of bags) and I'll put the bags down next to it. She says something, I say tin-ba-dong, ni-yao-worder-chen! I start to walk away and Cihan laughs, then she goes crazy again, I repeat ni-yao-worder-chen, ni-yao-worder-chen, passers-by are now standing around and chuckling, watching as this woman becomes increasingly irate, so then she says something which Cihan interprets to be 'just take it', and we leave.
That was fun, I now am the owner of two matching suitcase-type bags with wheels, one smaller than the other. The smaller I offered to Cihan, he informed me he has no need for one, he lives here after all, so I took it downstairs to reception and gave it to a very pleased guy. I'll have to make do with this suitcase thing until I can find a decent store to get a backpack from, possibly in Hong Kong. All that over a broken bag and £8.
So a recommendation, get a decent bag, and get it in the UK, where consumer rights exist and are generally known and accepted. I haven't found an equivalent of Blacks (a walking/hiking specific store in the UK) in Asia, but being more of a hub, Hong Kong should possess such a store, since it has so many people passing through it. Well, I'm hoping so.
That's my experience of China so far, it's grubby, it's murky, it's very warm, the sun doesn't shine through much due to pollution and the general atmosphere in the weather and it has some great plates to eat, as well as some not so great ones. I'm looking forward to returning to Hong Kong. From there, I'll be heading on to Bangkok, for a tour of the coast and the islands, I want a tan!