Sunday, December 11, 2016

At the Edge of the Middle Kingdom

What would you expect from a city that sprang from a small town back in 1982? Thirty-four years ago there was a sprawl of military structures on the border. Today Shenzhen is rumored to be the richest city in China; “If you want to feel poor, go to Shenzhen” is the ending or a modern day proverb. It stretches for over 700 square miles and is divided into ten districts, four of them recently added.
There are two central business districts, one which has supplanted the original. There are beaches (one of them four miles of white sand) and mountains and what claims to be the world’s largest bookstore. Although geographically in Cantonese territory, Shenzhen is a Mandarin-speaking city with a trilingual subway system. Citibank ATMs are found in 7-Eleven and Starbucks isn’t hard to find.
Two of its beaches are a little over 800 feet from one of my favorite Hong Kong islands, Peng Chau. A subway whisks travelers from the airport to the border in an hour, which is about what it takes to go from JFK to Manhattan. Trains leave every twenty minutes to Guangzhou and the journey takes an hour--no reservations necessary.
Zara provides clothes for well-padded Western women, just like in Bangkok, but Cantonese food is harder to find than the cuisine from other parts of China. Food streets are common.
The Shenzhen Library has a black granite waterfall wall that can be seen from the second floor and a collection of books in English on the third. Western magazines are easily bought, except for The Economist and those of that ilk, and there is an English language newspaper that costs one yuan, which is I think somewhere around fifteen cents.
I began to write down places I wanted to go and how to get there in a notebook and had to stop after an hour. This city is going to be as surprising to me as Bangkok ever was, and probably every bit as frustrating. It even has illegal taxi drivers for that ultimate blood pressure elevator.
I can’t wait.

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