Welcome Home: Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen Bay

I start my new job tomorrow. Granted, it’s just training week, but I still have to get dressed up and be somewhere specific for 8 hours continuously. And someone will pay me to do that. 

Martin and I landed in China nearly a week ago.

One week in travel time can be a lifetime. One week in regular living time is nothing.

I have a Chinese bank account, an apartment, a local phone number and an ever growing list of WeChat contacts (since Facebook is blocked, everyone in China uses WeChat.) I’m learning Mandarin. I have a metro card. I even have a work appropriate wardrobe (OK, maybe just one pair of pants and three shirts…but I’m getting there!). 

In the six weeks since my last post, we spent another week in Kuala Lumpur and a few days in Hong Kong before returning to the United States to finish some paperwork for my Chinese Work Visa. We ended up spending about four weeks bouncing from brother to sister to parents to more parents to cousins, trying to see as many people as we could while completing our paperwork as quickly as possible. I took a break from blogging and even from taking photos. 

Kuala Lumpur

Now we are in southern China – Shenzhen to be exact (pronounced Shen-Jen). Hong Kong is so close that we have to be careful not to accidentally step across the border until our visas are updated to allow for multiple entries into China. 

Shenzhen may be a big city of about 10 million people, but it is a young city. Just 30 years ago, it was a sleepy fishing village. Then China decided to make it a “Special Economic Zone” and gave it special laws to make it attractive for businesses. Now, it is full of shopping malls, skyscraper apartment complexes, and young entrepreneurs. It has a vibrant energy. It like feels anything is possible here.  

Eating in China has been challenging.

One day while apartment hunting, I asked my rental agent about the food in China. During the conversation she said to me, “I heard that some people in the United States even choose not to eat any meat! All they eat are vegetables!” I told her that I was one of those mythical people (with the exception of fish). She stared at me stunned. She could not fathom why anyone would choose not to eat meat. 

This mentality combined with my lack of Mandarin language skills has made eating a trying task. Fortunately, our hotel has an amazing breakfast buffet with plenty of tasty western and Chinese dishes. The term for “vegetarian” literally means “to eat vegetables,” but that doesn’t necessarily exclude meat. So, I’ve learned how to say “I don’t eat meat.” Pictures on a menu and a translation app are all essential tools. Martin is amazing at finding vegetarian restaurants. One is nearby our hotel and we’ve made friends with an eager worker whose English is good. We also found the only vegan restaurant in town called Green Room; it just opened 7 weeks ago. They have a bloody good Bloody Mary.

The weather is hot and humid, and the rain can be quite intense.

But I am loving it. Today the sun came out after two full days of rain, so we took the train to a park along Shenzhen Bay. We gazed at Hong Kong, at families strolling along the shore, at the mangroves, at the city skyline. 

The buildings are downtown Shenzhen; the mountains are Hong Kong.

The buildings are downtown Shenzhen; the mountains are Hong Kong.

Shenzhen Bay

Shenzhen, like most Chinese cities, is crowded.

Every day, I brush shoulders with more strangers than I prefer to count. Today, a child sneezed on my arm and neck. The metro is crowded during rush hour, yet perfectly comfortable during most of the day. Traffic is often at a standstill. Many people – especially those delivering food – ride electric bicycles on the sidewalks. They have horns and weave through the crowds with ease. I’ve yet to find my Matrix-like flow. 

Despite its crowds, Shenzhen is clean and quiet. 

The metro, which is underground, is amazingly quiet and clean.

Conversely, in Chicago, a woman sat next to Martin and I one morning. She was clearly flustered and running late. She did not look well. She rifled through her purse frantically and pulled out two new condoms and a large prescription bottle filled with liquid and wrapped in a condom. Then she pulled out a case of needles, which she quickly shoved back into her bag. Into one of the new condoms she poured the liquid, which was obviously urine, tied a knot, and stuffed it into her bra. (How she did that on the moving train without spilling, I’ll never understand.) She re-wrapped the bottle with the other new condom and shoved it into the bottom of her bag. She threw on a sweater to cover up her needle-marked arms and ran off the train to pass a drug test. 

I’ve seen nothing like that in Shenzhen. Instead, everyone constantly types away on their phones. They stand in perfectly straight lines when boarding the train. Security guards hold up green and red paddles to tell people when it is safe to board, which is funny because the train is behind a glass wall with automatic sliding doors. Safest, quietest train I’ve ever seen. 

All next week I’ll be at work, and Martin will be setting up our apartment.

While the apartment is furnished, we still need bedding, cleaning supplies, dishes, and cooking equipment. The kitchen is small and simple…and all mine. I can hardly wait to spend time cooking again. 

Over the past 23 months, Martin and I have benefited immensely from the kindness of friends, family, and strangers for accommodation. Now that we have a place of our own, I want to open it up to guests. It’s a small apartment, but it comes with travel stories, delicious food, and Shenzhen city adventures. You all are welcome. I hope to see you soon.

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1 Response

  1. Molly B says:

    Good to read your writing again. Looking forward to more stories from your China adventure!