Cheng Chin Yuen

Saturday, September 30, 2006

20th Sept - Xia Men to Shen Zhen

The nice girl at the guesthouse reception wanted to give us a storybook for our long bus-ride to Shen Zhen but we refused as politely as we could after finding out that the book was a gift from her brother. She belonged to the countless who left school and their poor farming villages early to come to the city to find a job. When there are no guests, she tries to catch up by going through her secondary school textbooks, hoping to pick up where she left off at secondary one. Her future plan is to enrol into a night school when she has the cash.

The 11 hour ride (7.35am to 6.30pm) to Shen Zhen wasn’t bad at all on the sleeper bus which had about 32 double-decker bunks arranged in three rows in a larger than average bus. Surprisingly, the bunks were wide enough and were raised at the head so that you could watch the movie on any of the 4 small TVs without straining your neck. Even more surprisingly, no movies were screened which was a good thing since I was directly in front of on screen and didn’t had any earplugs. All shoes must be taken off and wrapped in a plastic bag before making your way down the two narrow corridors. The bus driver was rightfully very anal about this. Bunk belts were of course optional. His sulky side-kick couldn’t understand why guitars shouldn’t go into the under carriage compartment with the other gigantic suitcases.

Tucked in nice and warm beneath the comforter, I woke up only for lunch which was included in the ticket price. Karen went to settle some serious bowel issues while we were grouped with the other passengers and assigned to a table. There wasn’t much time to get the rice, pick some morsels for Karen and feed myself before the poor starving folks around me wolfed and gobbled down the series of dishes. It didn’t really matter that the fish was mushy, toufu sour and the half chicken, more bone and skin. It all went down their systems in record time and a few had left by the time a very satisfied Karen appeared. Luckily we had our pastry stash back on the bus.

Eager to get on with the journey, I placed my laptop bag on a teeny rack at the foot of my bunk as I removed my shoes. It ended up falling more than a metre onto the floor. What followed was a few seconds of sheer terror till finally, by the combined grace of air-blister padding, a Hedgren bag, SONY’s quality and about 1 centimetre of springy carpeting, my laptop came to life. All was well in the universe. I spent the next four hours writing and developing a tremendous urge to pee. I think having a laptop on your crotch for an extended period of time on a moving vehicle has something to do with it.

As the driver predicted, we were delayed by the jam 30 kilometres outside Shen Zhen. This was not helping at all with the mounting pee problem. I stopped typing and focused on tensing and relaxing the relevant muscles…for a long time.

As most bus trips go, we reached the terminus, I collected my stuff, zoomed to the toilet and opened the floodgates and let out the yellowish litres. You don’t drink too much on a 11 hour ride.

When the LP says that there are no cheap places in Shen Zhen and a bed in the hostel’s dorm costs 60 yuan, the best option are the touts. These networking gurus of the streets never fail to meet at least our tight budget. It’s just a matter of the living conditions. On your part, you need to be realistic about your budget ceiling and bear in mind that these touts deserve a cut from it.

We were lucky this time and our tout was the average guy just trying to make an average living off the streets. ‘60 yuan for two. Bathroom outside no problem. Place must be clean.’

A short walk later, we were in a 25-storey apartment block covered entirely in scaffold and green mesh just next to Shangri La and only 5 minutes from the Metro and airport bus depot. The family in 1405N was watching TV and a little shocked when we barged in and occupied their daughter’s room. True to his word but more of it being their daughter’s room, it was indeed very clean and comfortable. The high heels beneath the TV and her underwear in the closet didn’t bother us too much. It felt more like a home-stay especially when the toilet bowl had a large gaping crack in it and you could see the blue flames of the heater while you showered in a 0.25 square metre space. Everything was functional and that was good enough for us. You couldn’t stand directly in front of the sink because the washing machine was there and somebody’s pants is giving off that familiar smell of stale sweat. I was a good little insight at how the average urbanite lived in Shen Zhen. Give me a HDB flat anytime.

On the way to dinner, we saw a mother sitting on the pavement feeding herself and her baby from a rubbish bin. It could be just a hoax to bring in the yuans of pity like Leper Lady in Beijing. Both mother and child looked quite well nourished.

The long underpass that led to the swanky railway station had the illogical comic relief of India. The half of the pass nearer the station was immaculate, the other end remained in the early 1980s. Standing at the ceramic-concrete borderline you simply laugh and wonder what is this bit of India doing in China.

21st Sept - Shen Zhen to HOME!

Today we saw China’s most ‘jia lat’ beggar lying half naked on one of Shen Zhen’s overhead bridges. At 2.30pm, the concrete surface must have been burning but he lay flat on his chest with both crutches under his armpits. His taut waxy skin suggest some horrible history of severe burns or perhaps and acid attack. But it was his eyes that made everyone give him a wide berth the instant they saw them. His eyelids flared outwards most unnaturally, adding deep red bloody rings around his enlarged monster-like eyes.

At the stalls in Dong Men Market, do not pay more than half the quoted price and the ‘walk away’ technique always gets the salesgirl running after you. It is really amazing how desperate for a sale they are and how cheaply things can be produced here. Karen did her shopping while I shopped for more patience. At one tea complex, I found out that the price of tea could range from 40 to about 1000 yuan per kg!

Karen was done with her shopping too quickly and we had too much time to kill. We toyed with the idea of watching ‘The Banquet’ but the 35 yuan ticket suggested that we wait for the DVD. The evening show costs 65 yuan. Instead we washed the heat down at McDonald’s with hot chocolate and hot fudge sundae. When it is this hot, you succumb.

As we walked to catch the airport bus, I think about the last seafood dinner we could have enjoyed in China if we hadn’t blown all our cash on shopping. But our friends back home needed presents or they wouldn’t be our friends.

We left for the airport early, ate some KFC and took the Tiger Airways flight back home. Nothing out of the ordinary except for one announcement apologising for a delay in our flight. It went ‘Dear passengers, we forgot to tell you that due to a problem with the aircraft (and therefore no fault of the airport) flight TR951 to Singapore has been delayed. The flight is now scheduled form 2300 to 2305.’ These guys are serious about every minute.

Final verdict after 79 days in China : Go to India.


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