Thursday 16 April 2020

2017 Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong


What a week.  Last Sunday, a 12-hour flight to Shanghai with Huawei.  Monday did a little sight-seeing – the gardens, which though largely fake, gave a good idea of who they were.  In the evening, to a journo event high above the Bund.  Amazing.  The view to Pudong surely one of the best in the world.  Alas, didn't see much of Shanghai after that – very full schedule with Huawei.  But the energy and scale of the place just astonishing – I'd love to come back.  Not much need to use Chinese. I took the metro back from the exhibition to the (great) hotel, and Chinese helped negotiate my way.  Very efficient, very cheap – about 50 pence.  Lots of signage in English, although no other Westerners visible.  Also good telling you what next station would be, good announcements in train – Chinese and English.

Flying in, the scale of the place was apparent – hundreds of high-rise flats everywhere – really high.  Even though my hotel – the Sheraton – was high, nearby flats were higher.  Roads, often five or six lanes – everything planned on a huge scale – and well-planned.  China is starting from a clean slate, and it's using that well.  

On Thursday, we flew to Shenzhen, where Huawei has its headquarters.  The flight was delayed by more than two hours, so we got in to the Hotel Amber – owned by Huawei – late.  Even bigger rooms, fab breakfast (at Sheraton, too).  This morning we toured Huawei headquarters – vast, with good restaurants.  Ate a great meal there, organised by "Bond" – the name of the local Huawei bloke.  He spoke English, but we soon fell into Chinese, since his English wasn't that good.  Mentally draining, but good practice for me.  

Friday afternoon, a tour guide had been laid on, but the other Brit journos in our group decided to go to Hong Kong early, so they could see the city.  This left me with the guide.  I would have cancelled, but Huawei had paid, so I thought it would be rude to refuse.  So we set off in the minibus – driver, me, and her – to see the centre.  Took ages to get there – traffic really busy, and Shenzhen bigger than I expected.  We went to the Ping'an tower – 116 floors – gobsmacking.  And around it, lots of other high buildings, with more being built.  Shenzhen in ferment, pullulating with building.  We left the bus near Coco Park centre – I thought the driver was going to wait for us, but nope: we walked in the crushing heat, and suffocating humidity – just like Indonesia.  

We went to a huge book hall, since I needed a map of Shenzhen.  We could only find huge ones, so I was left with that. By now, we were talking in Chinese all the time.  Great – but exhausting, not least because she had a slight accent which made it harder.  She asked if I liked walking, and I said yes, and we went to the central park where people were flying kites high in the sky.  And then we began climbing this hill.  That would have been fine, but I had left my water in the bus, thinking we were going back in it.  Luckily, there was a machine selling liquids, and I bought what I thought was water, but turned out to be sweet.  No bad thing.  But this was not the weather for climbing 1000-step hills.  We went down, and tried to hail a cab.  She used her Uber equivalent, and he finally turned up.  After driving us, she paid him using WeChat as everyone does, scanning a QR code.

The next day I had free in Shenzhen.  I wanted to travel on the metro, which was slow but interesting – I was the only Westerner on it then, and the whole day.  As it was Saturday, it got busier and busier as the day wore on.  My main goal was the famous Huaqiangbei electronics market.  Nothing to look at from the outside, it was astonishing within. 

Now 393 metres above sea level, on the 100th floor of Hong Kong's International Commerce Centre.  Very lucky – perfect viewing weather.  My ears popped twice in the lift.  Able to email pix home – the wonders of tech.  So good to have connectivity – free with my mobile phone contract – in Hong Kong.  As the sun sinks in the West, the sea turns into that old shook foil…  Amazing all the ships at anchor; they look like toys.  And flats, flats everywhere – many 50 storeys high.  So tall.  Getting hazier now, but was able to grab some memorable pix.  Since I think – think - that I'll get a meal on the place, decided to have a snack up here as I watch the sun set.  Bit tacky – and all the people taking pix against the faux backgrounds, not the stunning view itself – but I'm reluctant to leave this place… Haze growing…


Back in London, but I must get things down – so much happened in such a short trip.  Saturday, I was free and alone in Shenzhen, as I wrote.  I walked to the nearest metro, Wuhe – probably 1.5 kilometres from the hotel, past real China – shops selling chicken feet, markets with screaming salesmen using headsets.  But still no dogs.  In my whole seven days, I saw just one dog in Shanghai, and one pet in the arms of a girl in Shenzhen.  So no dog poo at least…

Huaqiangbei amazing, hundreds of tiny booths each selling one class of thing – torches, spools, wires, etc.  Very quiet – saw two other Westerners there.  Most people playing with their phones – or their children – it was Saturday.  Further up, a floor devoted to lighting – rather dull.  Several restaurants, but I decided to move on.

Started walking West – and soon regretted it.  Because (a) Shenzhen is very big, built on a huge scale, and (b) humidity and heat are punishing.  So I flagged down a taxi, which was cheap.  Five-minute trip to Shenzhen Museum in the wacky Civic Centre.  Museum big and spacious, but not much there.  Some nice scrolls, exhibits showing Shenzhen through the years – with reference to evil colonialists.  Then took metro to Coco centre, blissfully air-conditioned.  Huge, and almost identical to Western malls.  I realised that modern China is identical in this, even though its origins are very different.  Wandered around looking for food, ate in reasonable place.  Then across to Dongmen market, which was equally full, but rather tackier.  Livelier – people with clackers banging to attract attention, more populist here.  Huge blocks of flats looming around.  Then back to the hotel to crash out – really draining in this heat.  But impressed by Shenzhen – its size, energy, growth.  

The next day, the big trek home.  First, the border crossing.  A 50 yuan taxi to Futian crossing.  The taxi dropped me some way from the entrance, but the flow of people made it clear where to go.  Not too busy – it was 9 o'clock Sunday.  First through Chinese checkpoint, then across walkway to Hong Kong and another checkpoint.  Then to the metro station, and a 75-minute trip to Kowloon, with a couple of changes.  Pretty busy on the MTR, but no problems.

At Kowloon, finally managed to find the left luggage lockers, where I left my two cases for HK$130.  Bit pricey.  Along the way, did one of the daftest things in recent years.  I put a padlock on my hand luggage and realised that the key was in the case I had just locked… I couldn't just leave it since I would need to open it for the airport check-in.  Solution: accessing the key from the outer pocket, ripping the lining.  Very lucky.  Very stupid.

Then back on the MTR to Hong Kong.  Lots of people out for Sunday stroll.  Notable the huge number of women sitting in the shade of walkways – maids, it seemed.  Their cardboard constructions a contrast with the flash brand names of the aircon malls where I took refuge from the stifling heat and humidity.  Ate good lunch there, then back to Kowloon.

Went around Kowloon Park, saw more women – mostly Muslims, singing and dancing.  Walked around arcade that looked like little India, then back to Kowloon station.  There I retrieved my luggage, and then checked in directly – very convenient.  But first, I thought I'd see if I could go to the viewing platform on the 100th floor of the financial centre.  Amazingly, no queue – and only HK$160 – a steal.  Up 100 floors in 60 seconds – my ears popping madly.  Then at the top – the most staggering view, with perfect weather.  Just magical. 

Finally went down, took super-efficient Airport Express to Hong Kong airport.  I was last here when I stopped off on the way to New Zealand some years back.  Another big thrill: flying in an A380… Great flight back.  I slept about nine hours of the 13-hour flight – very comfortable seat.  All-in-all, one of the best trips I have taken ever.  Thanks, Huawei...

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