#Shenzhen (1): a Modern Chinese City of Contrasting Experiences

Beautiful Spring at Shenzhen University - photo by Huanhuan

Beautiful Spring at Shenzhen University  -photo by Huan Zhang

I admit. I have been to Shenzhen before, three times. And I did not like it.

The first time I travelled to Shenzhen was in the summer of 1999, when I was passing through, from Chongqing to Hong Kong. I remember getting off the coach from the Airport, dragging my large suitcases with me, sweating, panting and out of breath. No ‘Bangbang’ men in sight (Chongqing was full of men with sticks who offered to carry your heavy luggage, ten floors up or down, for a tiny fee). Here in Shenzhen, as soon as I was disembarked from the coach, a man walked in front of me and dropped his wallet.

“Miss, you have lost your wallet,” he said and tried to hand over the wallet stuffed with money.

“It’s not mine,” I grunted a reply, and struggled on with my heavy load.

Hong Kong is just across the border

Hong Kong is just across the border

Seconds later, only a few steps further, another man dropped his wallet in front of me, and did exactly the same. This time, I just ignored him and pushed my suitcase harder, wishing to hurry out of the city as soon as humanly possible.

For those who do not have much understanding of China in the 1990s, that was a trick people pull. They get you to say that the wallet full of money is yours and then lull you to a corner and rob you. One way or another, you’re stuffed.

So my first impression of Shenzhen? You can say that it was not appealing.

My second visit was better, when I travelled from Hong Kong to Shenzhen with a friend. We visited one of SZ’s tourist sights, Beautiful China (锦绣中华), where different ethnic minorities from all over China danced and sang for the tourists dressed in their bright, multicoloured costumes in front of mock traditional villages.

The third visit was quick, exiting Mainland China via Shenzhen during the Chinese New Year 2013. No train ticket available from Guangzhou during the largest human migration “Chunyun”, so I had to travel via Shenzhen to cross the border. It was so crowded and manic that I fell on top of my suitcases as people shoved me aside on the escalators, and a woman shouting at me while I lay on the floor, hurt and bruised by the fall. No help in sight but how dangerous and frightening it was – it could easily be a much bigger pile up and I could have been crushed at the very bottom! I vowed there and then that I would never return, if I could help it!

Border crossing between China and Hong Kong

Border crossing between China and Hong Kong

Return I did, and I chose to.

On the 5th day of April 2015, I travelled to Shenzhen again, to see my “children” whom I met last year in Birmingham (A Study Tour of #Birmingham, #BCU and Beyond – 深圳大学学生伯明翰游记). They are postgraduate students at Shenzhen University. Of course, I had business to attend to as well, but that would be another story.

Coming out of the Arrivals in a very modern, stylish Shenzhen Airport, I was immediately greeted by four beautiful, smiling faces, those of Deyi, Jinwen, Qianhan and Yuanmin. Their cheerful shout of “laoshi”(Teacher) and “Zeng Mama” travelled from their heart to mine. I hugged each of them, like children I have not seen for too long! My heart was filled with love and gratitude.

Warm Welcome at Shenzhen Bao'an Airport

Warm Welcome at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport

On arriving at my hotel, Huanhuan, Huiran, Huiwen and Zhaohao came along. Proper reunion time began. After a quick shower, washing away a little dust gathered from my journey, I was happily led out of the hotel and on our way to a pre-booked Cantonese restaurant. The evening sun hung low on the sky, it’s fabulous rays reflected on the high rise shopping malls down the flyover. We paused to appreciate the views and pose for a group photo.

With my beautiful children in the evening sun

A Happy Family: with my beautiful children









Our special room was located in the restaurant and I left the ordering to my capable and gracious hosts. Plates and bowls of cold and hot sides, seafood and deserts, each utterly delicious and welcoming to my palate, arrived one after another. It was a cool change from the super hot and spicy food I had been eating till then.

During the meal, we caught up with with the news. Jinwen got married and is pregnant. Qianhan, Yuanmin and Zhaohao are busy with their dissertation. I talked most of all though, as there were many questions from these curious students, who wanted to know everything, from universities I went to in the UK to life stories of people I met. It was a highly enjoyable and engaging meal, with lots to eat and even more to talk about.

And a selection of dim sum :-)

And a selection of dim sum :-)

Just a few out of many dishes they ordered

Just a few out of many dishes they ordered








The next two days flew by like a whirl wind. Please come back next week to read more about my life-affirming experience of this modern Chinese City, just across the border from Hong Kong.

To be continued

Posted in China & East Asia, Food & Cuisine, Short Stories, Social Media & Photography, Travel Logs, True Life Story | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Happy #Easter and Qingming Festival 复活节和清明节

There are a number of coincidences between Eastern and Western festivals and holidays over the years, and 2015 sees the the arrival of Qingming and Easter at the same time. I’m in China right now, but I would like to send my readers best wishes for the holiday season, and I hope that no matter where you are, you are having a great time with your family and friends.


Egg hunt for anyone?

Egg hunt for anyone?

A beautiful poem about Qingming Festival

A beautiful poem about Qingming Festival

The origin of Tomb Sweeping festival

The origin and customs of Tomb Sweeping festival

John and Mum in front of my Dad's grave

John and Mum in front of my Dad’s grave

Family paying respects to my dear grandma

Family paying respects to my dear grandma

I shall not attempt to explain what Easter is, as I am sure that most of us know about it already, whether you are a believer or not.

The Chinese Qingming Festival, however, needs a little telling. It is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day or Ching Ming, a traditional Chinese festival which falls on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox. Other common translations of Qingming include Chinese Memorial Day and Ancestors’ Day. I have a chance to visit my Dad’s grave this year.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Posted in Arts & Culture, China & East Asia, Politics & History, Social Media & Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

#Chinese #Dance: A Charming Combination of Beauty, Colour, Culture, Grace and Incredible Skills

Traditional Fan Dance

Traditional Fan Dance

Last Saturday evening, just as I was finishing off a simple Sichuan Style dinner, with the usual rice, sweet potatoes and spicy chicken, I received a surprise phone call from Monita Hung, a friend and colleague whom I met during the Professional Interpreters’ protest in London nearly three years ago.

“I have a spare ticket for a Chinese Performing Arts event and I am in the centre of Birmingham right now. Would you like to come? ” She asked.

Right now? I checked the time and the performance was to start in about an hour and half, ten miles away from where I was. I had ten minutes to put on a nice evening frock to get ready and catch a train. I did not want Monita to waste her expensive ticket. After all I had nothing planned and it was Saturday night.

Before the show, I met a few of Monita’s friends. They came all the way from London and Telford. We happily introduced ourselves and took a few snaps, just to prove that we were at the show, as we were not allowed to take any photos during the performance.

Monita and her friends

Monita and her friends

For the next two hours, it showcased a number of Chinese dances, from retelling Chinese classical tales such as Journey to the West, Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marshlands to ethnic minority folk traditions of Mongolia, Miao and Yi villages.

It reminded me the amazing variety show John and I saw while visiting Zhangjiajie in the spring of 2008. I am a big fan of Chinese music and dance, acrobatics and gymnastic skills.

Colourful Miao Ethnic Folk Dance

Colourful Miao Ethnic Folk Dance

The traditional Chinese costumes were stunning colourful and eye-catching, with various combinations of pink, green, blue and bright orange, purple and yellow. The movements of the dancers were fluid and graceful, displaying great skills and elegance associated with all Chinese dances.

Flowing Grace of Spring

Flowing Grace of Spring

Watching them inevitably reminded me of the days when I used to dance, in my school years in China. It was a fun part and something I enjoyed doing while growing up in an otherwise quite harsh and simple environment.

It also brought back fond memories of my time in Scotland. In 1990, Glasgow was named the Cultural Capital of Europe. As a result, I was part of a dance troupe organised by Strathclyde Regional Council. A choreographer was invited from China and we performed in one of the theatres in Glasgow and received rave reviews.

Can anyone spot me?

Old album: can anyone spot me?

Following that mini adventure, I later taught a group of Scottish Chinese youngsters to do a number of Chinese traditional dances using the fan, handkerchief and so on. These children performed at the BBC Garden Party one year and I was really proud of them. With a friend of mine, we also toured a number of Scottish schools to give them a taste of Chinese culture. Dancing and music has to be one of the best ways to reach out across different cultures.

Back to last Saturday. I was very glad to have been there, to watch a show with my friend Monita. It surely was great to see her again, in a much more relaxed circumstances. Guess we can say that an evening in Birmingham’s glitzy centre was quite a contrast compared to holding banners and marching towards London’s Westminster Abbey and shouting outside the concrete building outside Ministry of Justice.

With Monita & Interpreter colleagues  in London in 2012

With Monita & Interpreter colleagues in London in 2012

So thank you again, Monita. I am already planning another evening out for you and me in the near future!

For those of you who love Chinese dancing, I’m sharing a beautiful peacock dance video featuring China’s most skilful dancer Yang Liping. Enjoy!

Posted in Arts & Culture, China & East Asia, Entertainment, Music & Poetry, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Watching a Solar #Eclipse in England’s #Birmingham

Solar eclipse from an airplane

Solar eclipse from an airplane

At 9.20 am on Friday, 20th of March 2015, armed with a boxful of biscuits, chocolates and sweets, I made my way from University House to Parkside, a couple of blocks away within Birmingham City University’s city centre campus. I was on my way to give a lecture to some of our MA students and Visiting Academics from China.

The sun was shining, above the lovely building of a pub called The Woodman. I saw groups of people gathering around, taking a seat on the benches or the steps, or standing, waiting.

What were they waiting for?

We are curious :)

We are curious, but we need protection :)

Waiting for the eclipse which was happening

Waiting for the eclipse which was happening

The solar eclipse, of course. I took a seat on one of the wooden benches, next to a couple of students, and waited too. My teaching was to start at 10, so I had a few moments to spare.

What was going to happen? Would the sun disappear?

My knowledge of this natural phenomenon was limited, but I did know that it was something special, just by being there, with anticipation.

I also knew that I was not supposed to look at the sun directly. A few prepared people held special devices in front of their eyes. I had my sun glasses on. They should protect me, shouldn’t they?

With my ever handy iPhone, I took a few shots, expecting the bright ball in the sky suddenly to be covered by descending darkness. It didn’t.

I peeked at my watch, pointing at 9.35. Time to make a move. As I walked along the Millennium Point heading towards our Parkside building, I saw more crowds, and several with big cameras with long lenses, pointing at the sun high above. I have never seen such crowds on the open spaces of campus before. This had better be worth it, I thought and reluctantly went inside the building, feeling that maybe I had missed something important.

crowds outside BCU's buildings

crowds outside BCU’s buildings


Later in the evening when I decided to share my few photos I took, I spotted something remarkable in each of the pictures. Looking beyond the bright sun, on the vast sky, above or below the shining sun, something small was shining too, like a sickle moon. If you look at the photos, you should be able to spot it.

Can you spot the sickle moon?

Can you spot the sickle moon?


On Facebook and other social media, there are bigger and better pictures than mine. Depending on where we were, we saw the eclipses at a different angle.

I read a story on WeChat. An EasyJet pilot was flying from Belfast to Iceland and he had calculated that he would be passing the total eclipse zone en-route. Shortly after taking off, he realised that he was flying too fast. So he decided to make up for it by flying in circles for a while before carrying on. Look at what the passengers saw below and top left.

An unforgettable flight

An unforgettable flight

Yes, I think that would have been a journey worthy of a delay. After all, next time if you want to see a solar eclipse in the UK, it will be year 2026, and that will be a very long wait indeed!

Have you seen it?

Have you seen it?

Posted in Social Media & Photography, True Life Story, UK, USA & Europe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment