It took a bus, taxi, train, feet, train, subway, and more feet to get to my final destination in Shenzhen. The second of the two train rides was 24-hours long. The other students and I had beds, though, so it wasn’t that bad. The bad part was that there was no food served, and the only food that was available for purchase was pretty expensive and didn’t look very appetizing. The second I got off the train, I felt warm. There were palm trees. It was paradise.
I also started to hear a lot of Cantonese, which sounds like a really cool, fun language. The Shenzhen Subway has its recordings in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. That made all of us Northerners really happy to hear, just because it was something new. The Shenzhen accent was really weird to hear, though. Shenzhen is the newest city in China, and it’s made up of people from all over China (but apparently mostly from the South). I was told that because all of these people with different accents come together, they sort of blend together, and it’s pretty different. Many people in Shenzhen sounds like they have lisps; many cannot pronounce the “sh” and “zh” sounds. It was sort of hard to get used to, but after a few days it did sound natural. Shenzhenren (深圳人, or Shenzhen people in Chinese, is what I’ll call them, considering I don’t know their English demonym), like many other southerners in China, can’t really pronounce the “R” sound that is commonly found in Northerners’ speech, so they just avoid saying it. That being said, many Shenzhenren think and told me that Northerners use this sound in excess. I, for one, really like to use the “R” because I think it sounds really fun and unrestrained, but because I didn’t really hear it in Shenzhen, I found myself using it less and less. Now that I’m back in Tianjin, I’ve made sure to pick it up again!
Everyone had temporary host families in Shenzhen. It was clear that most of the host families were very rich. Mine had two children, which is very uncommon in China, and most people say only the rich can afford it. Their son is in the US right now studying, though, so I didn’t get to meet him. For the first night of my stay, my 16-year-old host sister’s best friend slept over. They were really typical 16-year-old girls who made everything a huge deal. They didn’t stop giggling for the whole night, and everything they did (cooking, turning on the TV, showing me the garbage) they had trouble with and turned into a show. It felt like living in a Taiwanese TV drama.
Our YFU orientation in Shenzhen was pretty boring for the most part. We just kind of sat around and talked about the first half of our years and how the next half should be spent. It was cool to see all the people I met in Beijing and meet more people. I’ve never had so many friends from all around the world!
Shenzhen is a really cool city. The climate is great, the people are really nice, the food was pretty good (I had some really good, spicy stuff!), and it felt like it had a small town feel even though it’s a pretty big city. Of course I didn’t get to see most of Shenzhen as I was only there for a few days and most of it was spent in meetings, but I did get to see a cool, modern area of shops and small eateries that was of course super crowded (Shenzhen is still China). Overall it felt really lively. Like I said before, Shenzhen is the newest city, so people also say that its people are the youngest. It definitely feels a lot younger.
On my last day in the South, Saturday, we went to Hong Kong! It took us way too long to get to Hong Kong because we are such a big group and was a very hectic day, but it was totally worth it. Hong Kong is really amazing. The subway system, although expensive, is really efficient. The first stop we made was pretty touristy. We went to an area that is like Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood area with all the stars’ names and handprints (sorry I’m totally drawing a blank on both the Hollywood and Hong Kong names). There was an amazing view of the harbor, which just looks so modern and gigantic. I also got to try some catfish on a stick! Very tasty.
After that we just walked around and looked for a place to eat. This was very hard because we were in a really wealthy, shopping-oriented part of the city. We eventually found something (That wasn’t dim sum! I’m still really disappointed that I couldn’t find dim sum in Hong kong. I will never forgive myself for that!) unmemorable to eat, and then we were off to just look around.
Hong Kong has so many foreigners it’s ridiculous. Everywhere you look there’s foreigners. The other exchange students and I were pretty shocked by this, and some of us even forgot what it looks like to b surrounded by so many foreigners. It felt very European, while still managing to kind of feel Chinese. Hong Kong, however, differs greatly from China in terms of simple social rules. Someone in Hong Kong held the door open for me. I was seriously so shocked I took a picture of that door. While a friend and I were crossing a street, suddenly we noticed it was QUIET (no honking!) and all of the other pedestrians were waiting at a red light. We had completely forgotten that people actually wait at red lights. We now all feel like when we go back to our countries, we’re going to be pretty socially inept, and this is only after five months! Hong Kong also felt very clean, which was a nice change from China.
I felt very confused about what language to use to communicate with vendors in China. I know that they speak Cantonese, not Mandarin, but it also used to be a British colony, so I’d heard that many people speak English. Conversations all ended up being very wacky. Here’s an example of me buying ice-cream:
Ice-cream man: Which one? This one?
Ice-cream man: 有，六块.
Ice-cream man: 可以.
Me: Okay, then she’ll have one, too.
Ice-cream man: 行，Ten Renminbi.
Me: Okay, okay. 谢谢！
Ice-cream man: Cantonese.
At the end of the day when it got darker, we went to Victoria Peak. There’s a tram that goes to the top, and then BAM. The whole skyline can be seen from sort of an above angle, and at night this was really spectacular. I’ve really never seen anything like it before. Definitely the coolest skyline I’ve ever seen! They also had a Burger King up there…
The next day we headed back for Tianjin. This time the train ride was 30 hours, though. Unfortunately I had some stomach problems, and the train had the world’s worst bathroom, so that wasn’t the best train ride of my life. But still, I am alive!
Tomorrow I’m going to Beijing with my host brother to visit my host grandmother for a week. After that we will go visit more relatives in Shanxi Province for the Chinese New Year! Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! 新年快乐！