The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Crossing the border into the mainland: Shenzhen

Gong xi fa cai! Today is the second day of the lunar new year of the dragon, and all of Hong Kong is in a festive mood. It is a long-held tradition for the Chinese people to reunite with their families during this period, which means a lot of travelling for many back to their home. On Saturday - the day before Chinese new year's eve when most families get together for a reunion dinner - I left the boy with my husband at home and crossed the border for the first time (since moving to HK) into Shenzhen. It is a bit of a crazy time to travel into China, especially at Shenzhen which happens to be the most heavily used immigration control point for passengers travelling to and from mainland China, but I got to witness firsthand part of what has been called "the largest annual human migration in the world". The train to the border from central Hong Kong took about 1 hour, and during that time I saw the train get more and more packed with mainland Chinese people and luggage bags. The excitement and the buzz of the travellers were almost tangible, and it was quite lovely seeing the happy faces of those who were looking forward to seeing their loved ones again. Thankfully my part of the journey didn't get too annoying considering how many people there were; getting through immigration and obtaining my visa were relatively quick and painless since there weren't very many foreigners like me travelling into Shenzhen.

At the station before the final stop on the train journey. This scene would be quite normal for peak hour on a weekday in central Hong Kong, but this was on a Saturday in the outskirts of HK:

People and luggage bags heading for immigration at Lowu:

The main reason for the trip was to meet a blogosphere friend, Stephanie of The Traveling Tastebuds, who had just moved over to this side of the world. Her visa is still being processed and she couldn't make it into HK for the new year's celebrations, so I decided to go over there and give her some company. That girl is just as sweet and bubbly in real life as she sounds like on cyberspace. Her dad - who is accompanying Steph in her first few weeks in China - is a real nice gentleman who reminds me a lot of my dad (it turns out that they are similar in age and their hometowns are less than 15km apart!).

The lovely Stephanie and me, at KK Mall, a high-end shopping mall that is similar to the countless high-end malls in Hong Kong, but without the crowd:

Father and daughter were great hosts in the few hours I was with them, feeding me a delicious and filling yum cha lunch, and being ultra-patient with me while I did some shopping at the Luohu Commercial City (I bought loads of stuff but none of them were for me). I don't often come across good bargainers, but these two might be even better at bargaining than my mum and me! I think Stephanie will have loads of fun shopping and bargaining during her tenure in Shenzhen.

Three varieties of dim sum cakes: water chestnut cake, the more ubiquitous turnip/radish cake and taro cake. It was my first encounter with the water chestnut cake, and I liked its crisp slightly sweet flavour:

We ordered too much dim sum, but we finished most of them! Char siu bao (barbecued pork buns), xiu mai, fung zao (aka phoenix claws or chicken feet), lo mai gai (sticky rice with chicken in lotus leaf), pai gu (spare ribs), and har gao (shrimp dumpling), all served in not-so-traditional steaming baskets. We also had har cheong (prawn rice noodle roll), but not pictured here:

Chinese new year decorations at Luohu Commercial City, which is five-storeys full of designer fakes and low-quality stuff - but the shops do tolerate hard bargaining (I recommend never buying things here at the asking price - in fact I bought all of my items at less than half the asking price). Popular with many "one-day" visitors from HK:

I don't get many chances to meet internet friends in person, so I was quite pleased to finally meet Stephanie. I'm sure we will have more opportunities to meet up in future.

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