Gob On You (Shenzhen) – 28th April 2001

Surviving on my wits! Finally got some money! Otherwise was in trouble! Forgot my PIN number for my card – idiot. Luckily Bank of China let me withdraw over the counter – feel much better now. Met a nice lady on the train who looked after me and got me on a bus close to my hostel. Vivian came to meet me in her lunch hour. She will be very busy so not sure will see much of her. Not sure whether to stay in SZ or go to Beijing early to meet Yuan Yuan – call her later. SZ is better than GZ and where I’m staying is well developed. Food is good – seems reasonably priced and I found coffee – thank god! China has a strange smell – kinda cross between soy and dirt and old incense – and that is when it doesn’t stink like shit – if China wants to attract more foreigners it should figure out what the hell that smell is – could be raw sewerage…. There’s people everywhere of course – and girls – beautiful girls – everywhere! Slept a lot so far. It’s about 30 degrees here. Too hot. But will venture into the city later, it looked very trendy.

5th August 2021 – I’m enjoying looking on Maps to try and remember more about Shenzhen. I can see there are lots of interesting places around the area I was staying now. This is around Shennan Avenue. This highway was relatively new at the time and a lot of landscaping was being completed. There were a few high rises but not as many as I can see now. Although I didn’t go and look, it felt like the development hadn’t gone out much further yet but I can see that has all changed.

The nice lady (and her friends) on the train worked for Amway, which I found surprising. I knew of Amway when I lived in the UK but never came across it in Australia and yet here they were in China. I felt a bit guarded that she might try to sell me stuff but she didn’t and she kindly got me from the train station to the bus station (right next door I think) and explained to the driver where I was trying to get to.

I knew only a little about Shenzhen at the time. I’d heard it was developing quickly from its original farmland and that it was next to the Hong Kong border. In fact, at that time there were so few skyscrapers that it was obvious that those I could see in the distance were in Hong Kong. It’s only looking on the map now I realise how close to the sea I was. There was definitely no salty sea breeze going around. I can also see that there is a metro or train line now, where a bus was the only option before. There was also not many cars on the roads.

Vivian was a smart young lady around my age but it soon became apparent to me that she was looking for a husband and a way to progress her life outside China. This would become a common theme amongst almost every female who approached me on this trip. Looking back, I think I jumped to many conclusions at the time without understanding much about the nuances.

Anyway, Vivian was nice, kind and helpful and we went sightseeing together a few times over the next few days even though, as I mention, I was already thinking about getting up to Beijing more quickly.

I compare Shenzhen with Guangzhou but I really only got a superficial look at both places. I think it was just that there were fewer people in Shenzhen and as everything was newly built it seemed a lot cleaner and modern.

I was staying in a hostel which was pretty big, maybe 6 or 8 floors and many rooms per floor. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting from a hostel and I found that many people were migrant workers and students living there semi-permanently. I was in a small room of eight that was pretty much 4 bunk beds in one room and a shower/toilet in another. This was also my first time coming across squat toilets which was a real test of my skinny thighs.

Luggage was just kept on the floor or your own bunk. Despite the room being fully occupied I barely saw anyone else whilst I was there. There was an older Portuguese guy on the bottom of my bunk and he was making connections for production, import and export of furniture. I made friends in the evening with a happy-go-lucky Chinese student who took me to the restaurants next door where he helped me find food for my pescatarian diet. This involved some finger-sized fish that I would spend ages trying to take the bones out of before realising that it was easier just to crunch them up and swallow them! I was on a steep learning curve but revelling in it.

It was stupidly hot and humid for me, not like the dry heat I had grown accustomed to in Australia. This necessitated finding beer which was a successful endeavour with one caveat. Despite beer being ridiculously cheap and available, it was almost never cold! On that first night returning to the hostel I asked if there was a fridge anywhere but I was out of luck. Seeing my disappointment (and disgust at having to drink warm beer – oh, how I have changed since leaving England!) they quickly offered a solution. Grabbing a set of keys they took me to the Coke vending machine, opened it up and stored my beers inside. Anytime I wanted one I just had to come and ask them to open the machine. I found this delightful and caring, though I think they weren’t quite prepared on how fast I would drink and keep asking them to open the machine up for me. The beers weren’t strong and due to the humidity, it was easy to drink quickly. This also required navigating toilets more often than I would have liked too but that problem becomes less a stress the more you drink anyway.

The coffee I found was probably just the 3-in-1 sachets but at least it was caffeine. The struggle to find coffee when travelling was real then!

New countries have new smells, as I had discovered on arrival in Australia. The smell in China may just have been people, the close proximity of everyone, their flasks of tea….I don’t know. The stink of shit was probably the reality – at a point where it wasn’t a stench that made you gag but like the sweet aroma of your own farts. Though sometimes it could veer dangerously close to inducing vomiting. Anyone Chinese person I mentioned this to had no idea what I was talking about. Not only for them was it the normal smell of fresh air but I later learned through experiences with durian and stinky tofu that many did not view smells as either good or bad, but that the smell was just the smell. This realisation was quite dramatic and made me understand, or at least view, things a little differently.

The girls, the pretty girls….well I have no particular memories about girls in Shenzhen and I’m sure there were far more plain, ordinary girls around that I did not pay particular attention to. But, there was one afternoon when I was walking to get some food along the completely quiet pavement next to the highway and a beautiful girl in a tight black dress was approaching from the opposite direction. She didn’t notice me at all and as she was about 20 feet away she hocked up a huge gob of spit and deposited it on the sidewalk. My first real spitting experience shattered illusions.

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