. I am treated to the most amazing view. The apartment sits on a parallel peninsula to Shenzhen, on Shenzhen Bay and so includes a view of the sea, greenery, industrial area and the high-rise cosmopolitan city centre. The apartment block also has a pool! I could imagine living here easily… But then I say that about many places! The helper sits down with me and shows me a menu that the director has drawn up for me with breakfast options. Most of them have bread involved, so I opt for sausage and bacon. Whilst she prepares breakfast, I study the apartment, it’s stunning. Marble everything, clean lines and very hi-tech finishes. Stunning, really stunning. I found out the other day that it will A.Cost too much for me to go to HK for the coming national holiday, and B. that instead I will be staying here for 5 days! I really don’t mind this at all. When personnel said that the helper spoke no English, they really meant it though. We have some funny conversations in our respective languages… my phrasebook will really come in handy today! Every now and again - we hit a wall, and I scurry off to get it. We get there, eventually, but it’s fun! Lots of miming actions and hand gestures! She manages to let me know, by means of a large clock created by her arms, that the shops do not open until 10a.m. - so serves me with countless cups of coffee. When I took my cup back to the kitchen, she was horrified! I hate people waiting on me though! I spent the time I had here writing out a list in Cantonese characters of what I wanted to buy, managing ‘Cosmetics’, ‘Dress’, ‘Shoe’ (they didn’t have a plural!) and ‘Jewellery’ We head out shortly before 10 to a local mall
. Hmmmm, personnel weren’t keen on me going to the ‘Commercial District’ of Luohu on my own, so circled lots of local shopping malls. But I have I-Ohng with me, so show her the Chinese characters for the place, and she points to ‘By train’ and ‘By bus’ in the phrasebook. I take this as we need to get both. But it’s a good first. The buses here are so cheap, 25p for a 30minute ride. Ehhh, your prices aren’t so ‘Magic’ now are they Manchester?! At the end of the line, I start to see signs for ‘Window on the World’ and ‘Splendid China’… I’m very aware that these are close to the border, and mildly freak out as I envision crossing the border without my passport or visa with me! I’m sure she’s been given instructions that I don’t want to go over the border though… I hope! I see the familiar MTR station sign, and know that we are to get on the train now. I-Onhg takes me to the ticket machine, 5 YAUN for a ticket - that’s 50p! The usual attention that comes with being a foreigner is barely existent here as we are so close to the border, there are many expats around. So, only a few passing stares to cope with today. We get to the Luohu stop and depart. Out of the station and we are hit by extreme heat… the sun is so blistering today that many people have their umbrellas up to keep in the shade, we join them quickly! I am led through the bustling streets - I wish I’d taken a photo, but it wasn’t really a good idea to be getting out expensive cameras in such a place
. I am led to the main shopping area… it was incredible. I’m not good with large measurements, but maybe a shop area the size of a Tesco superstore, 6 storeys high, comprised of small units 4 x 4 metres. Just literally thousands of shops! Incredible! And the prices, whoa. It was so cheap. I am looking for a few bits - mainly for Christmas beach holidays, so dresses. I figure as China is going out of their summer time now, it’s the ideal time to buy! The first stall I go to is full of brightly printed cotton dresses, ideal. I pick up a dress that seems perfect… between I-ohng and the shop girl, holding up the coat hanger and stretching it over my chest… they decide it’s not big enough for me. I think it was fine personally, but when the shop girl starts showing me other dresses that stretch to the size of an elephant I am MOST unimpressed… so leave! I mean, I realise there’s differences between Western and Asian figures, but come on! So onwards and into the labyrinth of shops, most selling the same stock - like Camden market really, just a 5th of the price! I am stopped from buying from a few places, I’m not sure why - it was either an argument over price or quality between the shop girls and I-ohng… anyway, I manage to find a stall with beautiful cotton summer dresses for 40YAUN each, that’s £4... So naturally, I buy 3! Later on I-ohng find a dress she likes, I mustre a ‘maih-laih-dik’ (beautiful) from the phrasebook and she goes to buy
. Inside the stall is a young girl and a very well presented middle-aged woman. The woman grabs my arm and looks really closely at my face. She says something but I-ohng replies, to what I can only guess was ‘She doesn’t speak Cantonese’… the young girl then pipes up in English asking where I’m from, I tell her the UK and she says that her mother thinks I am very pretty… ah haaa - it’s so strange to have this happen when I go out, shop staff tend to ignore you in the UK, not compliment you! The area that we’re in here seems to be split into levels of casual clothes, accessories, winter clothes, shoes and jewellery. Next we hit the jewellery level… I am nearly blinded. The fake-jewellery is incredible here. I think being a Brit and usually under such massive and understandable restraints by Trading Law, this is just shocking! I can’t believe that designer goods can be so mercilessly re-produced! I resist buying some of the Channel pearl chains I have been lusting after ever since that Channel No.5 advert with Keira Knightley aired. Mum has requested a fake bag… but the stalls are really terrifying and I don’t think I’d be able to make a good purchase with their pressure-tactics. So, maybe another time when this is so daunting! It is painfully hot, and we’re both very hungry at this point… well, I wasn’t hungry at all, but it’s not an option when you’re being looked after! I have my first encounter of a street beggar
. I know not to give money, as they often operate in groups and that will only cause more hassle. It’s horrible though, like every heartbreaking rhetorical question Oxfam asks you - in one go! I say ‘Ga’ (home) to I-ohng, and we exit the sweltering street for the heavenly aircon of the MTR station. At the other end we get on the bus for the apartment, I accidentally elbow an elderly gentleman, my new word ‘Dubuqi’ (sorry) seems to not only appologise, but the man actually smiles and shakes my hand! It’s funny, I wouldn’t think it appropriate to not speak the language, but the locals are so grateful when you do. We exit the bus at the local supermarket, and get supplies for lunch. From what I-ohng is buying, I’m assuming she’s stocking up for a few days. I later realise I’m horribly wrong! She asks me if I want noodles, but I manage to find the Cantonese for ‘allergic to… flour’ - that’s an important one! So point to a pot of rice. Thinking back on it, I was quite stupid here. Considering how cheap rice is in China - I should have figured that rice sold in a deli would be something special. When sitting down to dinner, I realised how special this rice was… it must have been marinating in wine (rice wine?) for at least 2 years… I put it in my mouth and had one of those horrible toddler moments of spitting it out straight away! Thank god I was eating alone! So, after a dinner of; Chicken, Spare ribs, marinated rice, rice congee, dragon fruit, melon and apple… I explode
. Well, not really, but close. Seems every helper I meet thinks I am suffering from malnutrition. I get a call from Elaine from work to tell me the car will pick me up in two hours. After a few teas, I’m flagging, so start to nap on the sofa. I awoken by the helper closing the curtains. She spends a few minutes shuffling through the phrasebook before tapping my arm and pointing to ‘bed’ (chohng). She takes me through to a bedroom and literally puts me to bed! It’s 4p.m.! I’m not complaining though, after a late night last night, early start and fairly epic day today. After an hour, I’m awoken by her standing in the doorway. She takes me through to the lounge and starts to sound a bit frantic… I guess that she’s talking about the car (si-ga-che) and she nods wildly. I say that it’s not meant to get here until 6 (luhk), but she points downstairs. Oh! The car’s HERE! So I make to get myself organised, leaving her with a bag of sweets as a thank you for today. Back in the car and I’m after many traffic jams by the border, I’m home for 6p.m. There’s some sort of festival for the workers going on tonight, so the place is pretty quiet. I’m thankful though, I get in a couple of frustrating Skype chats - it’s playing up so much! Early to bed for an early Skype with Helen… The constant Lightening storms throughout the night mean I barely sleep and miss it!
Arghhhh, awake at 5:30 on a Saturday. This is painful. However, I manage to make the 6:50 car downstairs and am off to Shenzhen, phrasebook in hand! On the drive there I witness, for the first time!, the reason why this wonderful place is called ‘The land of the rising sun’. Wow, what a sunrise. It’s every colour you could imagine a surrealist painter using, but natural, and so, so vibrant. I tried, in vain to capture it, but massive camera failure. Never mind. Shortly before 7:30, we arrived at the apartment. I had been told by the personnel staff that the view from here was amazing, so I’m keen to get up to the apartment. The helper meets me. I awkwardly introduce myself in Cantonese and ask what her name is. Okay, so this is definitely not how it’s spelt, but phonetically, to me, it is ‘I-Ohng’. She’s lovely. She takes me into the apartment through the blistering heat, and I remember my culture lessons this time, removing my shoes and stepping into some very comfy slippers