A Travellerspoint blog

Crossing into Hongkong

What an ordeal!

overcast 68 °F

I thought crossing into Hongkong would be a piece of cake given my prior experiences. I could not be more wrong...

Sunday morning, after having a leisurely breakfast at the hotel in Shenzhen, Zhexiong drove us to the ShenzhenWan Kou An, one of the six border crossings between Shenzhen and Hongkong. With the parking lot totally full, Zhexiong dropped us off first at the border and drove to park two blocks away. I was in a pretty good mood, even took some time to take a picture.

looking forward to a fun day at Hongkong

looking forward to a fun day at Hongkong

Once I got to the building where Chinese immigration was, I was completely shocked. I had never seen so many people cramped so tightly into a contained space, never ever, even in my years of living in China! The line waiting was so long that the tail was actually outside the building. The line was not only long, but also fat, at least 10 persons' width. It was complete chaos! I first rushed my kids and parents into the line, but not even a minute later, I realized it was a total mistake. I was so worried the kids would be stepped on that I felt like a mother tiger (not a hen if you know what I mean :( ) Just as I started to think that we should just cancel the trip, I heard the loudspeaker announcing that elders over 65 and kids under 3 as well as those with special permits can use the fast lane on the right. This was like an announcement from heaven, but it was a struggle to even get out from the fat line we were in. In the short few minutes that we waited, the line had built up so much that we were surrounded by people, SO MANY people!!

We finally got into the fast lane, and walked to a point where a guy was guarding the entrance. As we walked by the crowds on the left, I felt so many jealous eyes on us. I also realized the true volume of people that were waiting to cross into Hongkong the same time as we were. The crowd I saw were probably not even 1/5 of the people waiting. Evidently, the crowd control were done in sections. There was the largest section waiting with the tail hanging outside. Inside the building, there were metal bars that held people in three sections. The first section separates into about ten lines facing ten windows each with an immigration officer, another section of about 300 people together waiting for the first section to go through so that they could form the lines. The third section separated from the front of the crowd we were in and held about the same amount of the people waiting to get into section two. When sections moved forward, people literally rushed forward so that they could get to the front of the next section. I was trying to capture the scene, but the pictures no way did the justice.

2013-01-27_10_02_15.jpg2013-01-27_10_02_09.jpg

I felt so fortunate to have my parents and Ellie with me, as on the side of the fast lane, we could see a couple of windows handling less than 20 people at a time. By this time, Zhexiong had not arrived yet. I called him on his cell and told him where we were. At first, he told us to go ahead and cross on our own and he would cross the border by himself when he got there. After watching two parents taking a young child over and the crowds on the other side rushing forward generating a big commotion, I called Zhexiong again and told him to walk the fast lane to meet us before we go through the guarded entrance. If we separated at this point, it would take him hours to catch up with us. Who knows, we might have to separate for the whole day. After confirming our plan, we waited for him there.

During the time we waited, we saw a young woman with her not-old-enough mother begging the officer to allow them into the fast lane as she had a flight out of Hongkong airport in a couple of hours. She had the printout of the itinerary and was repeating her situation over and over again. The officer finally let her through after consulting a supervisor. We also saw several people who were told to wait at the regular side. I was a bit uneasy, trying to strategize to make sure we could all go through: I told my dad (the oldest) to take Ellie's (the youngest) hand and walk at the front. Finally Zhexiong arrived shaking his head and telling me how crazy this was. He said he had never seen so many people himself before, and we should have skipped the breakfast at the hotel and came here at 7 a.m. (not a good way to start a fun day in my opinion). Fortunately the officer took a look at my dad and Ellie and let our whole family through, to wait in the very short line in comparison to depart from mainland China. Here, I filled out departure records for Skyler, Ellie and I as we are not Chinese citizens.

Just as I thought it was all over, I was shocked the second time by the LONG queue we found ourselves in. It turned out that we just left mainland China, but still had to pass the Hongkong immigration to enter Hongkong! The officers working there apparently were from Hongkong, speaking Cantonese and wearing a different uniform from the ones we encountered earlier. Unfortunately this time there was only a fast lane for Hongkong residents, everybody else had to wait in the queue. This queue was more like what you would find in an airport. It went back and forth, back and forth, except it was MUCH longer. It was also sectioned, but the line was at most 4 persons' width, so appeared to be calmer. My poor kids both needed to go to the bathroom at this point, while we were in the middle of the queue. I first asked a young female officer in Mandarin Chinese. She told me I had to go out of the queue to find the bathroom outside. Five minutes later, I asked the same question in English to another young male officer we saw. This time, he told us to go with him after obtaining our passports. He took us to the office where there was a small restroom, waited with our passports in his hand, and took us back to the queue. I was so thankful for the favor he did us! Even though it could just be that he was a particularly kind person, I would not be surprised if what I just experienced was the discrimination against mandarin-speaking mainland Chinese by Hongkong natives.

After two hours, we were finally on the Hongkong side. Here you can find buses and subways that took you to different parts of Hongkong. I will write about our day at Hongkong in a separate posting. For now, I will skip forward to the end of the day.

At about 8:30 p.m., we were at the same border crossing as we were in the morning going the opposite direction. Ellie was asleep and Skyler was dragging his legs. My dad, Zhexiong and I took turns carrying Ellie while waiting in the queue at the Hongkong immigration. Our arms certainly regretted leaving the umbrella stroller in the truck of the car. Still A LOT of people, with A LOT of things, leaving Hongkong. After we passed Hongkong immigration, my dad was carrying Ellie. Trust me, this time it was not by my design, it just happened that way. My dad was immediately called to the fast lane by the officer there and our whole family went with him through the Chinese immigration. Zhexiong jokingly said it was "simply better in a socialist country". I had to admit, at that moment, I felt this was home in comparison to Hongkong; and I was glad to be home.

At about 10 p.m., we finally got in the car and was on our way back to Guangzhou. The ordeal of going to Hongkong for a day trip was finally over.

So why was my previous experiences of border crossing at Hongkong so deceiving? What made this experience so drastically and painfully different? As the loudspeaker told us and the massive crowds in the morning, we attempted to enter at the peak time! So we must be leaving at the peak time as well. This time, we were going in the direction of the traffic rather than opposite of the traffic, and on a Sunday. In the morning, massive crowds of mainland residents cross over to Hongkong, some for sightseeing, but most for shopping. We saw so many people pulling huge suitcases and carts, empty in the morning and packed with goods in the evening on the way back. As we exited the building on the Shenzhen side in the evening, we saw big suitcases opened right there on the ground and people dividing up their purchases according to lists. Purchases seem so mundane to me such as Oreo cookies and Ferrero Rocher chocolate.

You must be curious if things such as Oreo cookies and Ferrero Rocher chocolates are only available in Hongkong. NO! They are available everywhere in mainland China as well. What is different is the price tag. It is cheaper in Hongkong, as Hongkong has a different tax system as in mainland China. For pretty much everything imported from U.S., the price in mainland China is much higher, sometimes even twice as much as, what is in U.S.. This goes for food, toys, clothes, diapers... Hongkong still has a higher price than U.S. for many goods, but definitely lower than mainland China, especially for electronics, cosmetics and such. Due to the scandals of unsafe infant formulas in mainland China, parents with means will go to Hongkong to purchase infant formulas, so much so that Hongkong government has restricted the purchase of infant formula to one can to any one purchaser in any one transaction.

The ironic thing is that the influx of cash from mainland China does not make Hongkong residents happy. On the contrary, they seem to really dislike what they call "Da Lu Ke" ("mainland guests" in translation, but the term has a definite negative undertone to it). I have to dig deeper, maybe talk to some Hongkong natives to understand why they feel that way. For me, I would rather pay much higher price for Oreo cookies, Ferrero Rocher chocolate or even an iPad, just to avoid the stress of getting pushed and shoved for hours. But of course, maybe that is just me, someone who can easily afford and have access to Oreo cookies, Ferrero Rocher chocolate and iPads. This experience makes me sad. I wish the world was a more equal place...

Posted by suveri 05:28 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged hongkong Comments (0)

A day at Shenzhen

My favorite city so far.

sunny 70 °F

Shenzhen, 135 kilometers southeast of Guangzhou and just north of Hongkong, is the first and one of the most successful Special Economic Zones (SEZs) of China. It holds sub-provincial status, with administrative power slightly less than a province.

Shenzhen's modern cityscape is the result of the vibrant economy made possible by rapid foreign investment since the institution of the policy of "reform and opening" and establishment of the SEZ in the late 1979, before which it was only a small village. Both Chinese and foreign nationals have invested enormous amounts of money in the Shenzhen SEZ. More than US$30 billion in foreign investment has gone into both foreign-owned and joint ventures, at first mainly in manufacturing but more recently in the service industries as well. Shenzhen is now considered one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shenzhen)

China's continuing urbanization, one of the largest mass migrations in human history, means that all Chinese cities have large and growing contingents of immigrants. But Shenzhen, because of its extremely short history, is by its nature, the most extreme example of this internal immigration and at the same time, unlike all others. Its economic opportunities bring a continuing stream of young and well-educated people seeking high-paying jobs and an environment favorable to entrepreneurship. These young educated professionals are the engine behind Shenzhen's economy.
Unlike most cities, such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, citizens generally speak Mandarin rather than any local or regional dialect. Shenzhen is also unique in that, because everyone comes from somewhere else, there is no "native" population to hold reservations or suspicion towards non-locals, something typically experienced when a Chinese citizen travels outside their native district.

I don't know if such statistics exist, but to me Shenzhen seems to have more high-rises than anywhere else. The skyline is breathtaking, especially at night when all the lights come on. The architecture is unique and interesting. Shenzhen is also the cleanest city I have experienced in China (perhaps the average educational level has something to do with it). If I had to choose a place in China to live, Shenzhen would likely to be near the top of my list.

What motivated me to visit Shenzhen are two of my good friends from college, Jieping and Peng. They both settled down in Shenzhen after graduating from Wuhan University. We saw each other just last May when I brought a class of American students to China, but I felt the visit was rushed because I was wearing the hat of responsible chaperone. This time, I felt a lot more relaxed to simply visit with them.

Zhexiong drove us to Shenzhen from Guangzhou Friday night. After having a hot-pot dinner in Guangzhou and two hours on the highway, we arrived around midnight. The kids were both asleep by the time we checked in to the hotel. Saturday morning, Ellie woke up to this really "cool" bathroom. After finding some western style foods at the breakfast buffet, she was in a really good mood.

the "really cool" bathroom that has a separate enclosed space for the toilet

the "really cool" bathroom that has a separate enclosed space for the toilet


happy after eating cupcakes at breakfast in the hotel

happy after eating cupcakes at breakfast in the hotel

It took forever for us to negotiate the traffic even on a Saturday morning to get to Kingkey 100, the currently tallest building in Shenzhen. Here are some shots of the streets we drove past. I was quite impressed by the design of street lights: they have both wind wheels and solar panels. I wonder if the power generated can provide enough for the lights themselves. The streets are clean and well landscaped with beautiful evergreens and flowers. In a way, I was pleased that we had some time in the car to see the city.

Apartment complexes like these line the streets

Apartment complexes like these line the streets


"Smart" street lights

"Smart" street lights

Here is the famous giant portrait of Deng Xiaoping at the center of a busy intersection downtown. He was the third president, and began the economic reform of China that continues today.
2013-01-26_10_48_28.jpg

Finally, we have Kingkey 100 in our sight.
2013-01-26_10_49_11.jpg

The 96th floor of Kingkey 100 is the lobby of Hotel St. Regis. It is open to the public with a visitation fee of 100 yuan ($16) per person. The lobby is nicely furnished with a lot of shining modern artwork, staffed with well-dressed hotel receptionists. In fact, when I brought a group of American students here last year, they felt severely under-dressed in their shorts and T-shirts. The lobby offers a 360 degree view of the city. The tallest building in the picture, with two wires on top, used to be the tallest building of Shenzhen before Kingkey 100 was completed in 2011. I was told that a even taller building is currently being constructed. So Kingkey will be on the throne for less than five years. Chinese do seem to have an addiction for tall buildings.

sign inside the elevator

sign inside the elevator


2013-01-26_11_57_41.jpg2013-01-26_12_07_00.jpg
2013-01-26_12_16_00.jpg2013-01-26_12_10_08.jpg

After Kingkey 100, we visited the Shenzhen museum. Among all the museums I visited in China, this one is my favorite. It is well-organized and displayed the history of Shenzhen with vivid exhibits that sustained visitors' interest. There were two special animal exhibits that piqued the kids' interest this time.

At Shenzhen museum

At Shenzhen museum

We arrived mid-afternoon at the restaurant where we were having dinner with Jieping and Peng and their families. We would have met them earlier during the day, but Jieping had to work this Saturday. As a matter of fact, he had to work one Saturday every month for Huawei, a leading global information and communications technology (ICT) solutions provider with offices in various parts of the U.S. He is paid well, but certainly works hard. The restaurant we made a reservation with is inside a big shopping mall called Cocopark. It seems to be very common in China nowadays to have a central place with shopping, dining and entertainment all under the same roof. A kids' play area is a must, and the entrance fee tends to be pricy. This time, we found a play area that charges $10/kids for unlimited play. It is small and crowded, but Skyler and Ellie started running towards it the moment they caught it in their sight. They had a good time and were drenched in sweat after one hour of hard play.

Ellie on the trampoline

Ellie on the trampoline

Ellie and Skyler in the forest of balls

Ellie and Skyler in the forest of balls

The dinner last four hours, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.. The food was good, but the company was even better! What other words could I use to describe the time spent together with good friends? It was PURE HAPPINESS. We ate, drank, talked and laughed... It wasn't until the end of evening before we remembered to take a picture.

Friends together in Shenzhen

Friends together in Shenzhen

Posted by suveri 15:17 Archived in China Tagged shenzhen Comments (0)

Fruits of Guangzhou

Yummy!!

sunny 72 °F

I came from a family that loves fruit, and my kids seem to have inherited the habit from me. Guangzhou, a sub-tropical city with mild weather and abundant rainfall, offers a wide array of fruit beyond our typical experience. We are used to having a constant supply of fruit at home in Michigan, but the supply tends to be predictable with limited varieties, especially in winter. Here, I LOVE going fruit shopping. I bet I could choose a different fruit every single day and go almost a month without repeating!

This is the shop that we visit on a daily basis for our fruit needs. The owner, standing in the middle of shop, knows us by now and always offers us some discount for the amounts we buy.

IMG_0135.jpgIMG_0137.jpgIMG_0138.jpg

This is what I bought one day from the shop. It lasted us a little over a day. The total cost is 150 yuan, about $25.
IMG_0456.jpg

My Favorites so far...

Before I even got to Guangzhou, Zhexiong bought a huge bag of Shatin pummelos. Shatin is the English spelling for the location that grows them: Sha Tian in Mei County in Guangdong Province. They are of size of bowling balls with a very unique fragrance. People sometimes will put the peel in the fridge as a deodorant, or simply in the room as air freshener. Shatin pummelos are famous for being juicy and sweet, and they top my list of favorite fruits.

Shatin pummelo, my favorite

Shatin pummelo, my favorite

My second favorite is durian, which we almost never see in the US. Michael wrote a post about it during our trip in 2008. This is what wikipedia says about it:

...the durian is distinctive for its large size, stomach-churning odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk. ...
The edible flesh emits a distinctive odour that is strong and penetrating even when the husk is intact. Some people regard the durian as pleasantly fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and revolting. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine, raw sewage, and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit's banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.

The durian pictured here weighed about 15 lb, a big one I guess. It is so ripe that the bottom of the fruit has to be tied together, otherwise it would split apart on its own. Once I took the rubber band off, the fruits easily comes apart into sections. Each piece of the flesh has a pit inside. The smell is distinctive and strong. It definitely tastes way better than it smells.

IMG_0458.jpgIMG_0463.jpgIMG_0466.jpgIMG_0472.jpgIMG_0473.jpgIMG_0482.jpg

Skyler's favorites so far...

At home, Skyler loves clementines for their sweet taste and easiness to peel. It is not surprising that his first love after we got to Guangzhou is the Sha Tang tangerine. Sha Tang tangerines resembles clementines in easiness to peel; the peel seems to loosen from the body when the tangerines are ripe. These tangerines are for sure sweeter and juicer than clementines. I have had plenty blah clementines in Michigan, but have not had any bad Sha Tang tangerines yet. Skyler typically eats about 20 in one sitting. Here is his set up when reading his favorite Land of Oz book while enjoying his favorite snack one afternoon.

Skyler reading

Skyler reading


Can't you tell Skyler loves them?

Can't you tell Skyler loves them?

Skyler's new find love is a fruit called "dragon eyes" if translated directly (its English name is "longan"). It is so named because it resembles an eyeball when its fruit is shelled (the black seed shows through the translucent flesh like a pupil/iris). The seed is small, round and hard, and of an enamel-like, lacquered black. The fully ripened, freshly harvested shell is bark-like, thin, and firm, making the fruit easy to shell by squeezing the fruit out as if one is "cracking" a sunflower seed. Skyler was quite reluctant to try them at first, but immediately fell in love with them after trying one after I lectured him about value of trying new and unfamiliar things. He has not quite mastered the technique of cracking the shell, so it is a project for him to uncover the flesh at this point still.

IMG_0484.jpgIMG_0166.jpg

Ellie's favorites so far...

Ellie is a good eater in general, and she does not seem to be partial when it comes to fruits either. She happily ate whatever we put on the table and did not make any special requests until one day, she saw this.

IMG_0168.jpg

Sugar canes costs about $1 a piece, and the seller will use a special knife to shell it for you. We bought one and came home with six foot-long pieces in a bag. What people typically do is to bite a piece off, and chew it like a gum. In the fear of Ellie pulling her teeth off when biting the sugar cane, I cut the cane into small bite pieces for her.
IMG_0171.jpg

Other unusual fruits we had so far...

IMG_0167.jpg

"Golden Money Orange" that is supposed to bring good fortune and lower your "inner fire". It has a strong citrus flavor and it is eaten as a whole skin included.

IMG_0513.jpg

"Fire Dragon Fruit" that has this vibrant purple color. Once the skin is peeled off, the inside color is milky white with tiny black seeds. It has a very delicate flavor.

Posted by suveri 23:05 Archived in China Tagged fruits guangzhou Comments (0)

Time with the Cousin

What a treat for the first week in China!

sunny 70 °F

Zhexiong's daughter, Xinxin, is an 8-year old in second grade, but almost as tall as me. She lives with her mother (Zhexiong's first wife), and has weekend visits with Zhexiong. Since her birth, I have never spent more than a few hours with her. So it is a real treat for me that she came over for visits pretty much every day of this week. The cousins seemed to have really hit it off and had a wonderful time together!

Outside a small market just outside the front gate, there are an array of kids' riding toys. They each takes a 1 yuan coin to operate, and will rock and sing for about two minutes. Ellie quickly fell in love with them, and wanted to ride every single one of them. Xinxin became the "payer" with pockets full of coins from the coin stash by the front door (for bus rides and such). The two bonded during the many rides they had together.

Ellie "driving" when Xinxin looks on

Ellie "driving" when Xinxin looks on

Here is Ellie falling asleep when Xinxin read her a fairy tale.
IMG_0133.jpg

We went on short outings together almost everyday, just to enjoy the nice weather and get outdoors a bit.

Enjoying a snack together

Enjoying a snack together


Posing on the sidewalk

Posing on the sidewalk


Getting balloons

Getting balloons

One day, we went to watch the train together.

cousins waiting for the elevator to go down

cousins waiting for the elevator to go down


Posing for a group picture downstairs

Posing for a group picture downstairs


Waiting for the train

Waiting for the train


Coming home from the train watch shot #1

Coming home from the train watch shot #1


Coming home from the train watch shot #2

Coming home from the train watch shot #2

On Friday, we have to finally say goodbye to Xinxin. We have a weekend trip planned and Xinxin is going to visit the other side of her family in Zhuhai. The cousins were all eager to know when they will be able to get together again. We ended our visit by some group photos together.
My side of the family almost all together

My side of the family almost all together

Posted by suveri 07:29 Archived in China Tagged cousins Comments (0)

Fifth Day in China

exploring the fresh market

semi-overcast 72 °F

Today is what I would call a day of rest. For the first time since we got here, the entire family got up around 7:30 a.m. instead of some weird hour like 2 a.m.. The weather is as pleasant as can be, with high around 70 and low around 57. We slept last night with the sliding door to the porch open. It would otherwise be too hot for the kids in their pajamas and the covers we have. I really started to think that I have to unpack the suitcase that holds all of our summer clothes.

Zhexiong came home today during his lunch hour instead of staying in his office for a nap. We played a game called "jiu qing" together. This is a game I remember from my childhood, my family played it often. Strangely I forgot all about the rules, but my dad still knows them. He taught Skyler how to play, and we decided to have a round with Zhexiong being the referee while others watched on. Skyler is getting into all the Chinese strategy games that Zhexiong has around the house. It took quite some time and persuasion to get him out of the apartment to go to the market with me.

IMG_0130.jpg

Even though supermarkets similar to Meijer and Kroger are now abundant in China, most Chinese residents still go to what is called "cai chang" (i'll loosely translate that as "fresh market") for their grocery needs. Shopping for groceries happens daily in China, sometimes even twice a day: once for lunch and once for dinner. Unlike in U.S., people go home and cook a full meal for lunch as well as dinner. For example, Zhexiong's lunch hour is from 11:30-2:00 p.m.. A nap after lunch is the norm in China, even required in many schools. The groceries offered at the fresh markets tend to have minimum packaging. As all meats, fish and seafood are sold fresh (aka, alive) it is understandable that the environments at fresh markets are a bit off-putting.

We went into that "dirty place" which Skyler refused to go in a few days ago. This time, Skyler took an interest in the live animals section. We started from the fish tanks. There were various types of freshwater fish, shrimp, shellfish, turtles. We then moved on to the cooked meats section, and saw whole cooked chickens and ducks, various parts of pigs, roasted and ready to be consumed. In among these was a stand that provided meat grinding as well as sausage-making services. At last, Skyler requested to go to the fresh meat section. We saw half a pig being taken apart by the butcher. The butcher worked with great ease: first feet, then ribs, then the loin, and then cutting what is left into strips. He hangs the cut pieces on the metal hooks that organized the meats into different categories, and they get sold in a steady stream, sometimes almost immediately. This meat stand seemed to be the busiest one; I suspect customers like knowing that the meat they purchase was just freshly cut.

Half a pig just arrived

Half a pig just arrived

The other few fresh pork product stands were less "interesting" as Skyler put it. Chinese people eat mainly pork when it comes to meat. My speculation is that pigs are easily raised in a home setting. Families living in the countryside still routinely raise pigs at home, and slaughter them at the end of the year to consume. There is almost no waste in terms of turning pigs into dinner entrees. We eat pretty much every organ of the pig, including the blood. Blood is sold in big cubical chunks with the consistency of gelatin. It is actually a pretty easy process to make: fresh warm blood is collected into a container of salty water, and it naturally solidifies. There were also a couple of stands in the market that sell the non-mainstream meats, such as lamb, beef, rabbit and dog meat. There is much less traffic at those stands.

On the way out of the market, Skyler wanted to buy some grapes that were imported from U.S. (at least it was advertised as such). I was somewhat reluctant but compiled. This made him really happy.

Posted by suveri 06:50 Archived in China Tagged markets guangzhou fresh Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 15) « Page 1 [2] 3 »