Friday, May 26, 2006

Across the border

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and in this day and age it will probably end with a bad case of jetlag.

I knew I had gotten over my jetlag last week when I felt like taking a nap after work. Now I’m headed home again, so I’m looking for ways to re-set my body’s clock. So far the best way I’ve found is to match myself to the proper time zone a day ahead of time. Usually that means exhausting myself before the flight so I’ll get plenty of shut-eye on the plane.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m flying out at 6:45AM local time and I need to keep myself awake until then or else I will be awake for all 18 or so hours that I’ll be in the air.

Seems like the perfect time to cover my time in China.

Shenzhen, the city with the main border crossing, didn’t seem that much different from the bustling city environment in Hong Kong, but the further out we went, the more things began to look different.

I didn’t take many pictures after I crossed the border from Hong Kong, because I felt rather out of place waving around a camera in most of the places I went. The reason why should become clear very shortly.

My destination in China was Huizhou, a city which is considered to be a rising financial star of Asia. A considerable amount of industry has moved here over the past several years as labor prices Hong Kong rose. Apparently having industrial facilities tends to drive local economies at impressive rates, because most factory jobs give people a chance to make considerably more money than they would farming.

The factory where I went to work was fairly similar to the other facilities I have seen in my job. It was surprisingly clean, very orderly, and aside from having equipment which was made before I was born, could have been any other factory I’ve visited.

It’s when you go outside that things start to look different. The streets aren’t as tidy as in Hong Kong, despite the workers in high visibility vests cleaning along the road and sidewalk. I noticed that the ornamental pieces of the factory’s metal gate had been broken off as though someone had pried them off in a hurry. I wouldn’t be surprised if these little bits were being sold off for their value as scrap metal.

The hotel was another experience altogether. Upon my arrival at the Kande International Hotel I was surrounded by bell hops trying to help me carry my bags despite my insistence that I didn’t need or want help. The desk staff spoke very clear, if somewhat akward English, and was incredibly respectful.

When I got to my room I felt a bit stunned. I could describe it, but the pictures do a much better job.

Before you get too jealous I should mention that I rarely stay at places this nice. Usually a Holiday, Hampton, or Comfort Inn would be customary for my business travel. What is interesting about this place, is that it’s actually cheaper per night than most of the low budget hotels back in the states.

Still feeling a bit surprised I started to set up my computer to check my email. When I began looking for the network cable I found this.

Now this is almost too swanky.

I proceed to open the drapes to check out the view.

It’s quite a nice little cityscape, isn’t it? (please pardon the dirty glass)

Looking straight down I see the lovely pool 21 stories below.

Not bad at all. Then I looked a little to one side of the pool and things started to get interesting.

Now perhaps it becomes clearer why I didn’t want to walk around with a camera in front of my face. I already stick out in a crowd here, just because I’m one of very few Caucasians running around the city. Walking into a neighborhood like this one with nice clothes and a big digital camera would probably draw plenty of attention down there.

Pickpockets, purse snatchers, and other thieves aren’t uncommon here. There are places where I was told specifically to watch out for people on motorcycles grabbing my gear and riding off. The people on the street may look reasonably benign, but when you’re a stranger in a strange land, it’s best not to make a target of yourself. Don't get me wrong and think that I'm accusing people of being theives and muggers because of their appearance. I just think that poverty seems to increase desperation, and it's best not to add temptation to the mix.

Let’s take another look at that view. Did you notice the waterway in the earlier pictures? That’s actually part of West Lake; a very dominant feature on the map of Huizhou. There was a significant amount of boat traffic on the water whenever I looked out. There were several little boats like this one, with its clean, fresh look and plenty of room for cargo or people

I saw some smaller boats like this one. I must say, whoever rigged up the motor on that boat deserves a bit of respect for ingenious use of limited resources

Then there were boats like these.

It may be tempting at first to make some kind of pun involving the word ‘junk’ (as in a style of Chinese watercraft,) but there’s something I would like to point out. If you look a little closer it appears as though people are actually living on these boats.

Both vessels have seen better days, and one looks as though it’s just one gentle breeze away from falling to bits, yet someone calls these things home. It was a sobering realization.

Something else I noticed while I was here, is that most of the buildings I encountered were relatively new (less than 40 or 50 years old.) True, many of them were decaying so rapidly that the looked ancient, but there was very little old architecture. It was mostly just old concrete and steel construction in a stiflingly boring box like configuration. As I understand, older styles were essentially abandoned (or even openly shunned) during the cultural revolution, so that there was no risk of people ‘looking back’ to older ways.

I will leave you to contemplate that. I know this trip has given me many things to consider, and many images which will not soon be forgotten.


At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Bo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:06 PM, Blogger Mr. Engineering Johnson said...

Thanks, Bo.

I was aiming for something thought provoking, but it took quite a while to decide what to say. Having the photos really helps because I don't think I could properly describe everything.


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