Thursday, April 12, 2007

Hong Kong Day 7

Shenzhen, China

We decided to take a day trip to Shenzhen, China, more out of curiousity than anything else. Many go to Shenzhen to shop - primarily for namebrand knockoffs. We, however, spent the day on a "cultural tour" of Shenzhen.

Our trip was part of a coordinated tour of Shenzhen, which is really the only practical way to go. Otherwise, we would have had to apply for visas on our own, which I'm told is a very difficult process. The tour was scheduled to last 10 hours, but did not start until noon. Which meant it was going to be a long day.

We started our tour on a fast ferry from Kowloon to Shenzhen, travel time about 1 hour. Drew loved it, of course.

During the transit, our tour guide filled us in on what we would be doing during the day, and warned us to be very careful of pickpockets and scam artists. After that, we all tried to take a nap to prepare for the rest of the day.

On arrival, we quickly passed through customs and immigration, then met our official tour guide, a Chinese government agent. That's right, China requires all tours be guided only by officially-designated agents. Hmmmm.

Our first stop was a shrine dedicated to some watery goddess holding a piece of broken sky, nothing spectacular. But, we had our first opportunity to speak with our official Chinese tour guide, Benny. He was nice enough, but the way in which he spoke and the things he said made it perfectly clear that Benny was reading from a prepared script written to mislead tourists.

That hotel over there? A five star hotel, the first of fifteen so-called five-star hotels in Shenzhen. The bus we were riding in? Why, it was a brand new bus designed and built by the people of China. The shopping centers and parks? All five star, of course. Benny then proceeded to tell us that China was a modern socialist republic, compared to Hong Kong's democracy. Not communist at all, no.

Everyone was happy, everything was clean. Shenzhen seemed to be the ideal place to live. Of course, the reality was dramatically different.

Everywhere I looked, I saw a people suffering from poverty and repression. Although the bus stayed carefully away from the poorer side of town, we did pass by one high rise housing unit that was so obvious Benny had to say something. That building, he told us, was where laborers from other parts of the country would stay while they were in town to work in the industrial plants. Which helped explain how the city grew from a population of 50,000 in the early 90's to over 10,000,000 today. People were coming in from all over China to work in probably the only semi-socialist (as opposed to communist) city in the country. But not to worry, Benny explained, everyone had a nice apartment elsewhere.

We visited a park along the way to the "cultural" spot we would visit. Here is a photo of Anna and Drew with Shenzhen in the background.

Along the way we stopped at what was called a mineral museum, which turned out to be a jewelry store with some jade sculptures out front. The place was pretty dismal, given that it was supposedly the official "Chinese Mineral Museum."

We finally arrived at the "cultural" spot on our tour, which turned out to be a garden-like amusement park, without the rides. It was called Miniature China, and had miniature villages spread throughout the park that represented the 22 different regions of China. Here is a shot of one of the miniature cities.

Now, don't get me wrong, it was a nice park and provided plenty of interesting sights for the family. But, again, as a cultural experience, it was more like visiting Disney's Epcot Center and calling it a United States cultural tour.

We had dinner at the park restaurant, which I'm told was pretty tasty. Unfortunately, I had developed a stomach bug and couldn't even drink the water. But Mary, Anna and Drew loved it.

We then walked around the park for a bit and took some pictures.

Next we went to the evening show, which was a recreation of a Chinese New Year's celebration. This was very beatiful, and as Anna said, very elaborate.

We caught a train back to Hong Kong, cleared customs and immigration, and headed for the hotel. Finally made it to bed around mignight.