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rambling anecdotes

Things I have learned in Shenzhen:

— it gets surprisingly cold here…because you’re a lot further from the equator than you think you are.

— you can be in the most fancy modern shopping mall and still only have the option of squat toilets.

— beef tendons are a food.

— road rules are guidelines if that; put two cars on the same road and they will play chicken to get right of way.

— children are seen more at night than in the daytime.

— fish lips are a food.

— hawkers will stop their car on a corner and park, open the boot and sell their stuff for as long as they can. Other drivers steer around them.

— drives are constantly cutting each other off and honking, but no one seems to get angry or bear a grudge about it. People are simultaneously aggressive and patient.

— the right way to be a pedestrian is to step out when your light is green and studiously ignore any drivers who are trying to run you over. Odds are they won’t.

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rambling anecdotes

Water Cube

Yesterday my two missions were to find an English language bookstore and to go to a spa. Fortunately google is permitted within the Great Firewall of China so I quickly found a complex called Book Mall two stops away on the Longhua line, next to the Children’s Palace. When I got there the mall was three floors of books essentially divided up like a library. There was a small selection of English language books and I got Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger for 80 yuan or $16NZ.

As I was leaving I found the proper English language section which had a pretty big range of children’s books, best sellers and magazines, then a small table of bargain books near the mall exit. Hooray, book needs were met.

Back to the hotel feeling like a Metro veteran, then holiday fatigue kicked in and I ran out of motivation to do anything. Couldn’t concentrate on TV, on reading, didn’t want to go anywhere so I made myself research spas online.

There are two big spas popular with expats: Water Cube (or SLF Spa) and Queen Spa. They both sounded modern and interesting but the Water Cube had better access via Metro so that was the one I chose. I am so, so pleased I looked them up online first or I would have run away in confusion and fright.

Water Cube is a 30-40 storey building near the Hong Kong border and none of the staff speak English – I had held out some hope but it didn’t last long. When you walk in (on red carpet, past the doorman) there are a man and woman standing at a podium at the foot of a huge staircase. They give you a plastic wristband with a number on it and then send you up the stairs.

(Everyone I interacted with was confused and disbelieving that I was there alone; evidently I should have been there with a companion of some sort.)

At the top of the stairs I was met by a woman (presumably if you’re male you are met by a man) who took me to a locker that matched my wristband. The wristband is your ID in the spa and unlocks your locker — so in theory your belongings are secure. I was told to put everything in the locker, handbag, jewelry, clothing — really, everything — and put on a towel. I was offered a shower and then sent to the sauna with a cold washcloth and a cup of warm water (everywhere we have been serves the water warm and sometimes lemony). Five minutes in there until I was good and sweaty and then out and into a cubicle with a different woman covered me in a wet towel and slapped the crap out of it and me. It sounds very wrong and I have no idea if she was slapping me with another towel or with her hands…but it felt good.

Then she proceeded to scrub every millimeter of me with a loofah glove…the only parts not touched would be where you might wear a very tiny g-string. It must have taken about half an hour and we attempted to have a conversation about our children (at least that’s what I think it was about…). When that was done she showed me a piece of paper that must have listed the services I had used, which I signed (in my locker was a miniature magna-doodle which had my signature on it, presumably so they could check it was really me and I couldn’t get out of paying by claiming forgery). You can select a tip from several options from 10 to 40 yuan. Each service has a fee attached and they push hard to get you to go for a more expensive option. Every service also has a compulsory tip…you can’t choose not to tip for a service. I imagine staff are paid from tips and the fee is kept by the management.

So after that I was offered another shower and given a pair of shorty pajamas (in XXXL) and disposable underwear. Yummy… And then sent down some stairs and up some other stairs to be met by a therapist. We haggled over services (listed in English on a menu) and I agreed to a basic full body massage. I was a bit worried about getting ripped off at this point..also about not having enough cash to pay at the end because it’s a bit hard to keep track of everything you are or aren’t charged for. The therapist found us an empty room which was dimly lit and had a tv and stereo, a sink and a massage table and not much else. Water Cube is quite new and mostly clean and this room was quiet and nicely decorated.

I got to remove my pajamas and lay down covered in a towel. Then I spent the next 60 minutes being kneaded and massaged and some of it was a little bit painful but overall it was really damn awesome and I would never hesitate to recommend that place and that massage therapist. When I was on my back I got a clay mask which set while she finished the rest of the massage, then she removed the mask and I got a facial and scalp massage. By the time she finished 90 minutes had gone by and I was so wobbly and relaxed I almost couldn’t stand up again.

So then I sign another slip of paper with tick the tip. The woman shows me her ID number on a badge (no names anywhere…) I think so I can recommend her? And she leads me to a massive lounge with dozens of gigantic recliners. She points out a counter laden with food and drink with staff prepping more behind it — I read online that this is complimentary but I was a bit wary plus not overly hungry so I grabbed a juice at random (which luckily wasn’t pumpkin juice…I keep seeing that) and chose a recliner. I was surrounded by men, I don’t know if I’d sat in the wrong area or if it was just a coincidence. Each recliner has its own TV and tray for food, and reclines right back into a single-sized bed. Female staff were chatting to men around me, giving foot rubs or leg rubs or just generally having a gossip. I imagine some of the men would be regulars and known to staff.

So I found an English channel (which was showing Australia, ha) and it wasn’t long before a staff member came and offered me a manicure and pedicure. I was still worried about the cost so I let myself get suckered into a manicure but to a pedicure (it’s like you’re SAVING money!) and proceeded to watch tv and be pampered. The man beside me was smoking which seems to be normal and acceptable, and it’s not a quiet space because everyone’s TV is competing with everyone else’s. But it is still relaxing and I was feeling very relaxed and mellow so I didn’t particular care about much.

Sign another piece of paper and then try to find the showers…with some charades from me pretending to wash myself. After I showered I was allowed to open my locker and get dressed, then pointed towards a table where someone can blow dry your hair (for a tip). I opted to dry my own hair while the staff looked on…maybe this isn’t typical, but I was feeling like I might be very poor by now!

After that I grabbed my belongings and was sent down the stairs to the entrance where there turned out to be, away from the entrance podium, a bank of cashiers. They had my details on the computer so I just needed to show my wristband and check that the services listed were correct (they might’ve been; it wasn’t in English). Fortunately they took a credit card to my immense relief because it was definitely more than I had in cash. For about 3.5 hours of pampering and entertainment and novelty, I paid $140NZ. That seemed like an ok deal to me.

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rambling anecdotes

Shenzhen could potentially be a great tourist destination if Hong Kong weren’t so close by.

It’s 6am and I think my body is now overcompensating for the time zone. We arrived on Monday morning at about 6:15 and I went to sleep at about 4pm, then 5, then 6, then managed to stay awake long enough to eat before crashing at 8. On Tuesday night I had a very normal sleep but last night I was awake until midnight and now it’s 6am and I’ve been awake for about 45 minutes. Wtf china?!

I realize now it’s not the language barrier that is the problem in another country, that can be overcome with charades, sign language, pointing. The issue is understanding the protocols, the “this is how it’s done here”. Once you have done something once, it’s easy to keep doing it and not have awkward moments of smiling sheepishly at each other. We have been experiencing culture clash almost since stepping off the plane in Hong Kong – attempting to use public transport when you actually have to traverse two countries with different rail systems and different currencies is quite tricky when neither one speaks the others language. I had assumed English would be spoken everywhere in Hong Kong’s airport…but I imagine it’s only spoken in places they expect English speakers to go and the public rail system isn’t one of them.

After much faffing about we got to our hotel in Futian, Shenzhen at about 10:30 and went straight out to explore the neighbourhood after showering and changing clothes. The are malls and cafes all around us and a MTR (metro) station directly below the hotel…handy! Starbucks was our first stop and the server came out and stood with us at the cabinet so we could point to what we wanted…red bean danish, yum. I went there again yesterday and the place was full of American engineers here for an automation convention.

On Tuesday we went further afield, catching a taxi to Guangdong on the other side of a mountain to see an old Russian aircraft carrier, the Minsk. It was a massive rusting hulk in the bay, with awesome Chinglish signs everywhere and a labyrinthine interior over several levels so we couldn’t find our way out. Eventually we escaped the Russians and taxied to Luohu to eat lunch at the Kingway (Jingwei) brewery’s beer garden. The beer garden was closed (maybe because it was a weekday?) so we chose a nearby restaurant whose picture included fish, snake and dog. I am so pleased I can, if nothing else, recognize the characters for different meats so I could spot the beef, chicken and pork items on the menu. Again, it had photos of the dishes and the host recommended some for us too…so we had beef with peppers (om nom nom) and a whole barbecued duck chopped into sliced with a cleaver, bones and all. It tasted awesome but we spent more time picking out chunks of spine than actually eating. And of course we had the Kingway beer, which was yum. It comes in 750ml bottles which seems to be the norm…so the next night our server was bemused when we ordered a bottle each, where normally you’d share one before ordering another.

After our not too adventurous lunch we braved the metro for the first time and headed to Dongmen to shop. There’s a huge pedestrian shopping precinct which is a blend of modern clothing shops with tiny stalls crammed down alleyways. In the modern shops, clothing is maybe slightly cheaper than in New Zealand, but all the exciting shopping is in the market stalls, where you can buy “licensed” clothing for whatever you can haggle. There are toys, clothes, suitcases, millions of electronics and accessories, and women walking around hawking manicures. I successfully bargained for a new handbag using a calculator to show prices…the seller’s English was limited to “this best price, good price!…THIS best price!” but I managed to demonstrate the right amount of reluctance and didn’t back down from my offer until she met me at 5 yuan above it (NZ$1) so I was quite pleased.

After blatantly acting like tourists all day (there’s no point trying to blend in and look local) we headed back and met Mike’s boss from the UK and went for dinner…Korean BBQ cooked at the table. Pretty sure there was no dog in there, either.

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rambling anecdotes

A few things…

Let me preface this by saying I finished my 30-day wardrobe challenge with a car boot full of clothes and managed to find homes for many items…the rest are still in plastic bags waiting to be dropped at the local Sallies shop. HOWEVER. Then I went to my sister’s place where she proceeded to hand me an entire wardrobe’s worth of HER clothes, which are now in three piles on my bedroom floor. One pile to keep, one not yet processed, one to be passed on. Project Downsize Wardrobe was sort of a bust.

And now on to more current things.

FIRST! After going to the A & P Show yesterday I am feeling gung-ho about riding the Otago Rail Trail this year or early next year: http://www.otagorailtrail.co.nz/ There are many logistics to work out…but I would be extremely fit and attractive from all that biking and I’d have a heck of a tan. Mike is keen too, so we’ll get the kids to drive the support vehicle.

SECOND! Oh. I thought there was a second thing, but I’ve forgotten it. I’ll remedy that with a photo of some kids in a bit.

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rambling anecdotes

Day 27-ish

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rambling anecdotes

Day Nearly Finished!

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Day 25

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Day 24: even more meh.

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rambling anecdotes

Day 23 – meh

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This was one of my favorite skirts before the Red Wine Incident of 2010.

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rambling anecdotes

Day 22

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Same skirt, shirt from about 5 years ago.

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