Shenzhen: Making a Pig’s Ear of Spring

After kicking off the year with many visits to regional Guangdong it was time to re-aquaint myself with the one and only Shenzhen, the city that still holds a special place for me even though I’ve now lived longer in Guangzhou. This time I try something different which is to catch a bus. Having discovered the joys of Tianhe Coach Station and remembering that I have to elect a specific part of my destination (e.g. Guangzhou will get you the station at Guangzhou Train Station and likewise Shenzhen will land you at Luohu – neither are particularly good if your point of interest is on the other side of town), I opt for Shekou expecting to arrive at the dirty old terminus that I photographed back in the day when I lived there (see map above).

Shenzhen however had other things in mind. This is a city in rapid transformation. The bus is a different one to those I’ve taken in the past which stops at the university and then Window of the World. This one cruises down the same road through the Nanshan wilderness but instead of turning left toward the university continues southward via Houhai’s BOOK CITY and if it were not for the fact that I spotted it, would have been utterly lost.

The bus stops a touch further up the same road not far from Shekou Walmart. Along the way the driver has been wittering the name of each bus stop in Chinese – which I ignored as it hasn’t stopped at the university. My thoughts are to stay on until the terminating station, which as mentioned should have been Shekou. WRONG! Before I know it the bus driver is out of his seat and walking toward me, uttering the same Chinese sentence. He seems to be asking where I am going but also suggests that this is as far as the bus is going which as it’s a mere bus stop seems bizarre though the Chinese call it a bus station (of course).

A quick owl like swivel of my head sees I am the last man standing as far as this bus is concerned. As luck would have it I’m only carrying my light bag on this trip so I’m able to jump onto a street I know very well and have walked down many times but for a whopping new mall can barely recognise! What I should have done was get the bus 70 which I know goes to my destination but for some reason I am a little wrong footed and decide to walk – at least back to the fancy circular overpass which is the only familiar point to me. A few photos later and I’m thinking hotel, metro or breakfast? Bombarding myself with different cues not surprisingly melts my mind as to what to tackle first. At BOOK CITY there is a new Bread Talk – at least it wasn’t there last time I looked in whenever that was.

From there I continue my stately pace but there is something else different about this part of town, it is in the midst of a metro line expansion. Line 11 a block or so west didn’t hamper me too much while it was under construction but this one, Line 9, does as it lies right in my path. Negotiating with it is to no avail as everything I try is blocked. Finally I give in and aim for the metro station at Houhai, on the orange line 2. All of this has taken a surprising amount of time and the day is approaching its midway mark. I had managed to make a pig’s ear out of something normally so routine.

Realising my mistake I instead seek out a hotel. Something else fast encroaching is the summer heat meaning a rest is in order soon after arrival. Speaking of rapid development last time my journey took me to this dirty middle road in Baishizhou it was a 7 Days Inn, now it’s a fully fledged ART HOTEL! With the same cool lobby as before. My floor is graced with airy lace curtains which blow inward courtesy of a light breeze though sadly don’t extinguish the view of the hideous yellow carpet that looks like a thousand and one cars have parked on it during its lifespan. The rooms and their doors are swanky enough though and not a moment is wasted on a brief lie down except for moments later the electric keeps shutting out: on/off, on/off. It’s no good and a call to reception results in a change of room.

No rest for the wicked as they say as I head north to MAGMA, a new burger bar I’ve heard about at the top end of Shahe street, it’s a fair walk so I’ll admit to being a bit miffed at it being closed. Must be an evening only establishment, great! Fortunately just outside of Taoyuan metro lies a row of eateries. Another minor mistake slaps me on the face here, by choosing a buffet – forgetting that it’s bordering on 2pm when they close and the food will most likely be lukewarm at best. Sure enough on sitting down one of the boys wastes no time in shutting off the lights in my part of the canteen making an already humble eating experience even more gloomy. The remainder of the day and night deviate little from this feeling. Overall it is probably my most forlorn day in my favourite Chinese city since 2012 when I failed to find any work on an equally sombre grey day.

On a positive it was still Shenzhen and there was only one place to rejuvenate this tired spirit, a morning breakfast at Starbucks on Xinglong Street is just what was needed; a white almond croissant and caffe latte as the heavens open making the morning ever magical. The car headlights, roads and scattered leaves shiny in the silver spears of rain. It was more like autumn than spring. Some rather glamorous women with equally shiny hair stop off in their Audi’s and Mercedes to grab coffee to go. Aside from being amazed I wonder what they do and where they work; they were clearly wealthy – possibly company directors which given the cities boomtown status isn’t so far fetched. For me, for now things don’t improve much. Things they say can only get better and on a week when I did idioms with my wonderful students two spring to mind. Chin up and Every cloud has a silver lining, I could sure do with one of those.

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