I first heard of Shenzhen three years ago when I read a fabulous biography of Deng Xiaoping, China’s preeminent leader in the early post-Mao years. He recognized that China needed to introduce market economies into its system and starting in 1980 chose Shenzhen, then a village of about 30,000 people but with close proximity to Hong Kong and a good port, as the first Special Economic Zone. This is where China would experiment with what Deng called “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Largely, that translates as “capitalism.”
That first experiment was a pretty significant success. In the 35 years since all that started, Shenzhen has grown to a city of some 10.5 million people. If you’re doing the arithmetic, that’s a growth rate of a little 18 percent per year. For 35 years. Pretty unbelievable. To put that in context, it would be like Monroe, Michigan, growing into a city of 7 million by 2050. Heck, if it grew that fast it would warrant a visit from Stephen Colbert or someone like that!
So there we are, in Hong Kong with Mark recovering from knee surgery and me still getting over whatever awfulness I got in my tummy as we were leaving Bhutan. The hotels were way too expensive and we weren’t happy with any of the options when Mark said “Hey, why don’t we catch a train to Shenzhen and see what that’s all about?” Great idea. We could save some money, stay in a very cool hotel where the lobby is on the 96th floor, and see this little slice of Chinese – indeed, world – history in the making. How bad could it be?
Ugh. Turns out there is even less to do in Shenzhen than in Hong Kong, particularly if you’re comparatively immobile. And still hot as hell if you go outside; up to the low-90s pretty much every day by 9:00 AM or so. The food options are pretty grim. The hotel aspires to greatness but they haven’t learned to actually provide decent food or services yet. And when I decided I needed to see a doctor to see what the hell was going on in my tummy (OK, to be honest when Mark decided I was going to see a doctor), it wasn’t at all clear he had much to offer.
So it’s been a pretty grim week here. We went into Hong Kong once to have dinner with Shideh one more time. That process is interesting; even though Hong Kong and Shenzhen are both in China, Hong Kong is treated just like a foreign border. So coming into Hong Kong you go through passport control on the China side of the “border” and then the same on the Hong Kong side. You have to make sure you have both currencies. And then coming back to Shenzhen it’s getting your passport checked twice more, on each side of the border. It’s the only “border” we’ve ever taken the subway to, as far as we can remember.
There’s a nice park a couple blocks from the hotel, and if you get there before 8:00 AM or so it’s merely in the mid- to upper-80s, so you can join hundreds of Chinese getting their morning exercise walking, running, dancing, playing badminton, practicing tai chi, etc., etc., etc. I managed that a few mornings when my stomach was calm, but my recovery has been two steps forward one-and-three-quarters back so it didn’t always work for me.
A couple days after getting here to Shenzhen, though, Mark’s doctor gave him the all-clear to travel by the end of the week. Very quickly, then, we went online to see where we could get frequent flyer tickets to. The winner was Munich, with a connecting flight – again – through Bangkok. I love having this flexibility; we’re free on July 5 and not meeting the Germains in Greece until the last week of July. Pick a place to spend those three weeks. Germany wins, though the Greeks might not be happy with incoming flights from Germany these days.