Tuesday, June 5, 2012
A long, long overdue ode to Shenzhen.
For the past 16 months, I lived in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, PR China. It was many things, though never boring, and never slow. I have since returned home to the United States, now with the chance to reflect on my experience.
I find that most Americans are far more interested in Japan, visiting Japan, or learning about Japan than they are in China. It's no surprise, really. Japan is a developed country, a massive economy, and churns out plenty of good culture, from movies, to comic books, to video games, to porn. Sounds a lot like the US, doesn't it, and I think that is at the core of what westerners are looking for in Japan.
Since 1945, Japan has been under the wing of the US, which has no doubt deeply affected its society, from economy to consumer culture. People want an abroad experience that, while I'm not saying Japan is exactly like the US or the West, offers all the amenities and comforts and consumerism that is prevalent in the West. Like what a lot of vacationers are seeking: something different and removed, yet still very much the same as home. China in comparison is a developing country with virtually totalitarian regime. Why in the world would I want to leave the US to go there?
Why do I start this way, on Japan and not Shenzhen? Because in a sense, I hoped that Shenzhen would fuse these two travel desires into one for me: having the amenities of a consumer culture, and yet being off the beaten path and out of the American sphere of influence. Perhaps no corner of this earth is 'out of the American sphere of influence', at least not in the communication age we live in. Well, maybe North Korea, or a place like Syria, but that's another discussion for another day. In Shenzhen, I found a modern city, brand new, shining, and grand; a symbol of the progress of new China. And yet it was still unknown to most in the West, still developing its character, and still controlled by the Beijing government, who as you probably know, doesn't champion things like freedom of speech, and other freedoms American rhetoric holds so dear.
And that's why I went. Because it was different. And because I hoped it would be very much the same. And also because that's where I could live in a major city and teach adults, and not have to expand heaps of energy corralling little children as I tried to teach them English. Japan's economy and market for English teachers is not what it was, and it's difficult to stay-afloat working in a major city there. South Korea has more opportunity and a better exchange rate, but I've already been there. It's a small country and there's not a lot to see, and it too, is definitely a nation within the American sphere of influence if there ever was one.
So I came to Shenzhen. Hoping to experience something different, yet also living well. And, to an extent, I was able to do just that, as I lived at a western standard, while also venturing into the deeper realms of the Shenzhen under-belly to see what native life was like. But in the end, I was mostly just in an office, working a job with hours greater than a full-time work week in the US. I did my best to make the most of my time abroad, mostly by traveling to place in the general pacific vicinity as Shenzhen, and such travels were great. But I decided if I was going to just work in an office all the time, I may as well make more money (I don't mean to complain so much about the money in China, but the yuan is not that strong and that's the way the Chinese like it) and closer to my family. I wasn't getting out much, I was tired on weekends, and I was not improving my Chinese.
So I left, and I'm back. And with the wisdom I've gathered on my fateful trips into the East, I hope to at least be able to tell you some good stories, and some damn good places to eat should be in Shenzhen (or Hong Kong, for that matter). Because I truly believe that life is about the experience, it's about the journey, and most importantly, it's about the food. Try everything you can and see if you enjoy it. (Or am I still talking about food?)
Posted by Big D/D-Train at 10:49 PM