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The previous late night saw us rise a bit later than usual and a bit bleary-eyed on Sunday. The enthusiasm soon came back when a new adventure came to the fore -  Wozza and I planned to go to Hong Kong (the third time for me in as many days) to try and find a Pocket PC for him. Fortunately, he'd done his research and had settled on the O2 XDA Atom Life

After a few stops along the way we found ourselves braving the chaotic streets of Mongkok. After trying 5 or 6 shops we eventually found one that had the Atom Life in Black and in English (all prior shops only had English in white, Chinese in black) at an electronics store in the Mongkok computer market and negotiated a fair price. A little more trawling around and we emerged with the Atom, a Bluetooth headset, an Infra-red folding keyboard with PDA stand and a 2GB memory card.

Satisfied with our purchases we MTR-hopped down to Tsim Cha Tsui for a satisfying Spaghetti House lunch and then made our way to the KCR for the ride back to the border. 

At the end of this little adventure I realised how comfortable, familiar and complacent I've become regarding transport to/from/in Hong Kong. It seems like not a particularly big deal to jump through the Shenzhen Metro, the different border crossings, the KCR rail system, and then surf around on the Hong Kong MTR. Every single place we wanted to go to was accessible. Hong Kong really has nailed public transport.

Trees in da hood

Andrew with Hughie

For the weekend we had Wozza, Kiah and Hugh come and visit us. In actual fact, the visit from Kiah and Hugh turned out to be a very brief affair as they were making an impromptu return to Perth for a few days for an important community event in their home town. 

Getting here from Huizhou turned out to be a bit of an ordeal for them. The first company car broke down in Huizhou, so they had to go back for another one. When they arrived in Shenzhen the other company car overheated. Fortunately it chose to break down right in front of our apartment complex!

After a bit of chilling out and downing our last remaining box of Barbecue Shapes we set out for tea, to a restaurant called the Polo Club. It's a restaurant that's run by an Australian and the food doesn't have any Chinese influences, unlike nearly all of the other so-called western restaurants in Shenzhen.

We needed to get Kiah to the Airport by 11pm, so we took the familiar Shenzhen Metro, Luo Hu border crossing, KCR to Sheung Shui and finally the Airbus A43 bus combination to get us there. No problem.

The return journey was a little trickier. We knew that we couldn't use the KCR for the return because it would have stopped operating by then, so we'd need to use the Huang Gang crossing to get back. We spoke to a store operator in the Airport and he said that the last bus for the border crossing leaves in 10 minutes. Just go out of the terminal, over the zebra crossing (2 roads) and go to the small house looking building. We followed his directions and we wound up at the VIP luxury car service into Hong Kong. Hmmm.

We made our way over to the regular ticket counter where we learned that we could take the Airbus A43 back to Sheung Shui and then take an N73 from the bus terminal across to Huang Gang to get back into Shenzhen. This we did and after a speedy taxi ride on the Shenzhen side of the border we made it back home at 1.30am.

That takes me back

We've had a work visitor from Australia here for the past few days and it's been really interesting talking with him about his first impressions and experiences in China.

He's not a big fan of Chinese food or sea food so that's been a bit of a struggle for him, particularly as he ate something one night that didn't agree with him. He's really struggled with everyone staring at him, a white foreigner with a laptop who definitely doesn't look like he lives here. He's also found it tiring having to protect his bags and pockets like a hawk to guard against pick-pockets. As an asthmatic he's been ducking and weaving the plumes of exhaled cigarette smoke from all the men walking down the footpath. 

I remember getting sick from some steak I ate at a local Chinese restaurant. I remember being stared at by everyone, on the street, in the Metro system, eating at restaurants and standing in lifts. I remember being really careful to guard every opportunity against pick-pocketing. I remember finding, and still do find, the engulfing cigarette smoke of about 50% of all males disgusting and I ponder the long-term detrimental health effects, particularly since smoking in restaurants is allowed. I remember comparing practically every circumstance to an equivalent in Australia and finding being in China quite challenging.

Now, I haven't been sick recently, at least not due to bad food anyway. I'm used to the staring and it doesn't bother me so much, however I paid extra attention in the Metro this morning and I noticed that people still stare a lot. I've developed a few techniques and habits to help guard against pick-pocketing which lowers the effort required. I still can't stand cigarette smoke, it's one of the most disgusting things in this place. 

My colleague's experiences reminded me of many things. Some of these things were slowly fading into memory but they have been brought back sharply to mind. I, for one, am thankful for the reminder, to see again how things appeared with fresh eyes and how they seem now. 

Room with a view

The gang at the Metro station

Monday dawned bright and early, the same as Sunday really, only probably a few minutes earlier, and like Sunday we were not there to see it. We missed it by less, however. ) After a very normal start we all went to the Meridian View Centre, aka 'the top of the Diwang', to see what we could see. And all that we could see… was the surrounding city. But then that was expected. We did get to see Margaret Thatcher and Chairman Deng Xiao… Ping! (ahem) sitting near the entrance, looking very… waxy, really. They hadn't changed much since last time.

View 1 View 3 View 2

It was a moderately clear day with average visibility. It was good to see the information boards on the interior walls hadn't changed, complete with the 'we're so much like Hong Kong; the border is barely there' theme. Some of them were quite amusing. 

Tab squatting like a Chinese person All of us trying the squat

Tab gave us a sterling example of Chinese squatting (the waiting procedure, of course), and we were in awe of her flexible ankles. Even more so after we tried it ourselves with varying degrees of success. I think everyone had the gradual tilt back until the centre of gravity changes and you gently fall over. This photo required much concentration, and was taken before a few people succumbed to natural forces.

After the top of Diwang, we went to lunch at our favourite and only known Taiwanese place (which is most certainly a part of China that should realise its mistake and come back to the friendly arms of the government like the lost brother it is, if you ask any Chinese person on the street, which must be the truth) where supremely delicious food reigns. It's more delicate in flavour balance than Cantonese cuisine, and this restaurant has the least polluted seafood that I've found here yet. We enjoyed fat pork, seafood-topped and fried dumplings, complete with vinegar and ginger dipping sauce, then each had a soupy bowl of noodles with shrimp/ meat or a chicken and rice set meal.

Dave trying to enter PIN number

Preparing for a fiscal trip to the beach that Tab was hanging out for, Dave 2 discovered the Chinese 3/4 size of everything applies most readily to the ATMs. 

We were home in time for a game of Uno, complete with the adult's (extra-nasty) rules, then Dave 2 and Tab had to pack and go and catch their plane. We went out to the road to catch a taxi, but there were none to be caught there! Or at the taxi stand! After 15 minutes we went to the road, bypassing the taxi stand, and finally managed to capture a live one whereupon we sent Dave 2 and Tab on their way. 

Group shot outside apartment complex Diwang Building

And then there were three again. After they left, we went to the new development mall called Coco Park, located the first stop after the intersection of the two metro lines. There we sampled Papa John's Pizza, or one made by a Chinese franchise. Andrew and I've been before, and the pizza they make has a very nice base and doesn't taste like a Chinese interpretation of pizza (Pizza Hut over here flavours their meats with Chinese spices), which is why we returned. So we ate, chatted, and looked at the building opposite, which had multicoloured lights that consistently went up, down and around in various patterns and colours that would thrill a technophile. We however thought it was a complete waste of electricity and effort. No doubt some business owner was very pleased that his building stood out in the night.

On Tuesday morning we said our goodbyes to Dave 1 and I saw him off at Hong Kong airport. It was a little bit sad, seeing the last of our friends off. I realised how much they mean to us, also how much we relaxed with and related to them. But that pales into insignificance when remembering the joy we shared just being together.

Dumpling day

Sunday dawned and we readied ourselves to set out to spend the day making dumplings at the apartment of Diana, one of my Chinese colleagues. To make dumplings was quite a treat. We were privileged to be asked, as a Chinese person would usually only make them with their closest friends. It's common practice in the northern parts of China and it's a tradition to do so at the time of the New Year's Festival. 

We met up with some other expatriate friends (along with one of their visitors) outside a major shopping mall where we could catch the bus. All together we were 8 foreigners. I'm sure we caught the attention of the locals, having such a large cluster of Caucasian folk in one place at one time. The bus we needed was the number 300. Not the 300A, not the 300B but the 300. This was made slightly more difficult because the A and B designators weren't adjacent the bus numbers, rather they were on cards in the windscreens of the buses. Fortunately Diana had written down lots of useful info including the full bus title which showed 5 Chinese characters on one side of the '300' and three on the other. Hey, when you can't read the Chinese characters you can always at least count them ) .

After arriving at the right bus stop we were met by our very cordial hosts, Harry and Diana. Their apartment is fairly new and about 45 minutes to the north of the centre of town, outside the Special Economic Zone border. Diana and Harry had already done a lot of preparation work before we arrived however there was still lots to do. For the next hour or so we chopped, diced, washed, stirred, sliced, mixed, ground, cleaned, de-shelled, kneaded and rolled, all to prepare the ingredients.

Our first goal was to prepare the ingredients to make 4 different types of dumplings:

  • Carrot based pork dumplings
  • Standard pork dumplings
  • Shrimp dumplings
  • Tofu dumplings

Tab on shrimp duties

One job was to prepare the shrimp. Philip and Tab set to this task with gusto, Philip beheading the fresh shrimp and Tab de-veining and tailing them. Here you can see that Tab is getting right into the Chinese culture by adopting a very culturally-appropriate posture for the task at hand. While they were doing this Dave 1 and I set about tenderising the port mince (with chopsticks!) while Dave 2 reclined on the couch, feeling lethargic and achy whilst his body contended with foreign germs. 

Mixing the pork The result of our labours Making the dough

The next task was to assemble the dumplings. Here Diana rolled out a bit of dough, scooped up some mixture and formed a perfect dumpling in less time than it's taken you to read this sentence. So, it looked easy. Hmmm. For the next 1 - 2 hours we proceeded to fumble our way through making about 150 dumplings. Some were big, some were small, some were odd shapes and some were just plain weird-looking. Try as we might, nothing we ever made came even close to matching anything I've ever seen in a restaurant. Still, good fun was had by all.

There's a whole range of factors that need to be considered when making dumplings. The pastry needs to be circular and slightly thicker in the middle, the moisture level of the pastry must be just right, the amount of mixture needs to be measured precisely and the biggest challenge of all is folding them in the right way. Get it wrong and the dumpling may open up whilst it's being cooked, destroying the dumpling. Needless to say, we failed miserably at making good-looking dumplings, our only hope was that they'd taste better than they looked.

Everyone pitching in Can I hear something?

A Chinese tradition is to put a small coin inside a few dumplings. Those that find the coin, when eaten at Chinese New Year, will get extra good luck for that year. We'd brought along an Aussie 5c piece, Cyril brought along a small Swiss coin and Diana had a 2 Fen coin (0.3 Australian cents) that went out of circulation in China about 15 years ago. After a good clean they all went into the mixture. Diana also produced a much larger silver coin, which was over 50 years old. Apparently if you blow on the edge of it and hold it to your ear then a sound can be heard. Despite my attempts, I never heard a thing. It did look funny whilst I tried, though.

Group shot 1 Group shot 2

When the time came for eating we weren't disappointed. Despite our best efforts to destroy the dumplings they tasted really good. We couldn't take any credit for this, it was all down to the hard work of Diana and Henry. They were amazingly gracious hosts, putting up with a bunch of foreigners making a mess of a significant Chinese tradition. We couldn't thank them enough for allowing us to be involved in such an important piece of Chinese culture, as well as having a lot of fun!

Dinner at home

We returned home to Gail, who's ankle was still giving her trouble. Rather than go out for tea again we decided to stay in. After a quick sprint to the shops, where Tab stocked up on western goodies, we returned to the apartment armed with everything necessary for a night of fine lasagne and Australian wine. We splurged on a few extra imported items to make the meal complete. We even managed to find a Coopers beer! That night we had a veritable feast. It was a chance to eat, drink and talk like we were thousands of miles away… like we were back in Australia… like we were home.

Group shot with Deng Xiao Ping

Continuing the story of our Aussie friends' recent visit, Saturday saw us awake a bit bleary-eyed after a late night. For Tab it was an early afternoon ) . With energy levels hovering around our knee-caps we made our way out to a Dim Sum restaurant at a hotel for some fine local cuisine. Gail discovered this place only a week before so we were all keen to give it a go. The trip to the restaurant required a bus ride, which introduced our guests to the Shenzhen "knees up at the back there, and watch your head" bus service. The restaurant served up a very fine Cantonese Dim Sum lunch that we all loved. It also introduced Tab to the differences between Mandarin and Cantonese, as at one stage one of the staff used the Cantonese names for the food while pointing to the Chinese characters, which totally confused her.

With well and truly sated appetites we headed for Lian Hua Shan park, a place where we've been a few times. At the base of the park are areas of lawn where many come to fly kites or play badminton. There's a small hill to walk up that takes 20-30 minutes and at the top there's a good view of Shenzhen, not to mention a rather purposeful statue of Deng Xiao Ping. Did I mention that it was a hazy day? It was a combination of fog and pollution, however the portions of each were hard to judge.

We followed the road down the back of the mountain and came to the lake where you could take a paddle across the water in one of those foot-powered paddle boats. We all bought an ice cream (mine was green bean flavoured) and set off around the lake. As we moved off we turned around to see Gail collapsing to the ground, obviously in pain and grabbing her ankle. Where she was standing was a slightly concave area paved with concrete into which was set smooth round pebbles, on their edges. It seems that she trod on top of a particularly large one and rolled her ankle. This left Gail somewhat immobilised whilst the pain and shock subsided. The type of surface, where the concrete is poured out and smooth stones are set into the surface, is not uncommon here in Shenzhen, but they are usually flatter and set with smaller stones. After making sure she was OK the visitors set off for a little stroll around the lake, returning about 20 minutes later. Whilst not spraining her ankle, Gail certainly did give it a good twist, which is still not 100% 1 1/2 weeks later.

Given Gail's ankle we decided to take a taxi back to the apartment. The first couple of taxi drivers refused to take 5 passengers (there was apparently a police car nearby) so we relented and took 2 separate taxis. About half way back to the apartment one of the drivers decided that trying to race the other taxi back would be a good idea. It was like being in one of those arcade-style computer games, where the cars move left and right several lanes at a time, ducking and weaving in and out of traffic. It seems that the taxi driver of the girls' taxi took the hint and he put his foot down too. Good fun, but probably unnerving if you're not used to the taxis here.

Tab Gail Newman

After a bit of a rest at home we asked Tab if she had any western cravings she wanted satisfied whilst she was here in Shenzhen. We couldn't satisfy them all but at least we could offer more than what she had in Taiyuan. "Sushi!" came the emphatic response, so we headed out to a sushi restaurant for tea, using the local Metro for transport. Here we feasted on sushi, sashimi and ramen noodle soups until we could eat no more. Towards the end of the meal Gail was regretting the decision to come out for dinner, the pain in her ankle steadily increasing, no doubt due to our inability to find a suitable strapping bandage in our medical kit or from any of the local chemists. 

We made our way out onto the roadside, searching for a taxi to save Gail the walk to the Metro and the walk from the Metro to our apartment. After about 5 minutes of searching (they're harder to get at night) we managed to grab one and, after some sympathetic and heroic bargaining from Tab, agreed to take all 5 of us back to our apartment. We spent the rest of the evening on the couch, chatting about life, the universe and everything, until the dreams calling could be denied no longer and we turned in. After all, we needed our sleep. Tomorrow was to be Dumpling Day!

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