So an incredibly tardy twelve months after moving to Hong Kong, on the weekend I finally crossed the border into the motherland.
China. The People's Republic of.
The reason why I'm not posting candid photos of delightful Chinese children playing, wrinkled great grandmothers making offerings inside a temple, rolling green hills, or anything resembling a rather large wall, is - I kind of only went to Shenzhen.
I say "kind of only" because it's just across the border, it takes less than an hour to get there, and well, all I did was walk out of the station and straight into a shopping centre before returning again.
I really didn't see any of China.
In fact, this picture I took is of the train station.
How riveting, when can I see it???? I hear you ask.
But Hong Kongers regularly visit Shenzhen to shop. Some even travel all that way, pass through immigration, deal with the hassles, just for a massage that they could get on their own street corner.
Because massages are much cheaper in Shenzhen. In fact, everything is much cheaper.
The adventure began at the border visa office, when I was nearly denied an entry permit. My two girlfriends breezed through and, for some reason, the 'Chinese Working Holiday visa for Hong Kong' that I still had in my passport worried the police. I'm still not sure why - and you can be sure they don't tell you. Perhaps because working holiday visas usually represent binge drinking backpackers?? Especially Australian ones.
But after half an hour of standing around, and no explanations, they returned from some backstage abyss, faces like thunder, stamped my passport and waved me through.
Once my girlfriends and I crossed into Shenzhen, the hassling began. One of my friends has been to 'Shenners' (as we call it) at least 50 times and was clear with her directions.
Do not acknowledge them. Do not leave your bag open. Do not let them touch you. Do not engage with them. Do not be afraid to be firm. Do not take their first price, in fact, offer them a third and then agree on half. Do buy many things.
I've bargained my way through crowded stalls manned by salivating shopkeepers many a time: in Bali, Peru, Bolivia, Vietnam and Thailand. The touching, pushing, shoving, and following is no stranger to me.
But in Shenzhen, if you carry blonde hair, a wallet, and an empty suitcase to stuff your many purchases, then you are a walking, talking, chequebook that obviously hails from Hong Kong (China's rich cousin). And they will do or say anything to get you to sign.
The soundtrack goes something like, "Missy missy, lookey lookey, missy, what you look for missy? California what you look for? Lookey lookey California, velly cheap cheap... Lookey missy!"
Across nearly six hours of shopping, I visited a tailor and ordered six new items of clothing (which they post to you - brilliant), and topped it up with jewellrey, more clothes and shoes, a pedicure and eyebrow threading.
This is serious retail therapy. Rehab just cant compare.
Except for lunch, where I think perhaps jail would have offered a heartier meal. I went the safe route and ordered a ham and cheese sandwich with fries. The one slice of ham was almost rock hard, and the cheese must have been rubber in a former life. The ketchup that arrived with the fries was fizzy.
Then when I dashed to the bathroom I stood at the basin waiting to wash my hands for at least ten minutes while a queue of women washed their dishes.
And by 6:30pm that night, I was home in Hong Kong sitting down to dinner with B. As I gushed and flushed and babbled on about the whole experience he gently said, "calm down honey, you're all wound up."
I sure was - can't wait to go back! :)