Nǐhǎo from Shenzhen, China

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Shenzhen, a huge sprawling city of wealth, 2 hours north of Hong Kong, population a meagre 8 million. Out of that 8 million I know one very cool person, Liao Sun, a great friend of mine who I met around 4-5 years ago in Belfast. Sun was studying in Jordanstown and is also a Bboy so we inevitably ending up jamming together, and during his short time in Belfast we became good friends. Veronica and I met up with him 3 years ago in Hong Kong, and as we are in China a second time we have decided to hit up Shenzhen and catch up with Sun yet again.

We arrived into Shenzhen airport and grabbed a few trains and a cab to our accommodation. Sun advised us to stay in the Futian district, boasting better nightlife. We found a cheap room in a supposed hostel on one of the floors of an apartment block. We found the accommodation, a pokey 3 bedroom apartment pretending to be a hostel. We were greeted by a fat half naked Chinese dude sitting at his laptop at the breakfast bar with his gut as company. His complacent partner hoked out fresh linens for the beds while he searched for our booking, unknown to him that I had previously booked online. Finally we are sorted and we move our gear into the wardrobe which was our room. The triangular room was hilariously small with bunkbeds fulfilling the description of ‘Double Bed Room’, and enough floor space for 2 people to stand shoulder to shoulder and awkwardly manoeuvre around one another. We had to dress our beds ourselves, pillows and all. Not a big deal but hilarious that this place thinks of itself as a hostel. The beds are ridiculous. Wooded base with an inch think hard mattress. It would be more comfortable crashing on a park bench. The single shared bathroom…a total disgrace. I have low standards when it comes to accommodation but one box that needs ticked in our books is a cleanliness, especially the bathroom. Oh and they had no toilet roll. We immediately started googling accommodation nearby. Luckily we found an actual hotel in the block adjacent to our building. We went to check it out and haggled a decent price through the use of charades and online translators. The rooms were fine, nothing special but in comparison to the current accommodation, it was the Rittz, and not much more expensive than our current wardrobe.

We retrieved our luggage from the first place, apologised to the owner who, regardless of being half naked, seemed like a really nice guy, apologetic with an expression as though he was half expecting us to bail before we admitted it. Feeling bad for the guy we left and walked to our new accommodation around the corner.

We had organised to meet Sun at Coco Plaza shopping mall, after he finishes work at 6. Waiting outside a Starbucks I saw a Chinese guy running towards me and eventually jumped and nearly floored me. It was Sun who seemed pretty happy to see us. With him his friend Hiden (sp) joined us, and we went for some incredible Cantonese food of deep fried whole sardines, stir fried tofu, aubergine and beef dishes, washed down with a bottle of Chinese rice wine. We spent the night catching up and getting pretty wasted playing a dice and cup drinking game. The nightlife in Shenzhen is pretty pumping regardless if it is a school night or not. Everyone here is out for a good time, drinking until the early hours and grabbing a few hours sleep before work the next day.

The next day veronica and I decided to yet again do damn all but explore the Coco Plaza mall. I’m not a fan if shopping malls in general but this one was pretty great. Their food area was amazing. Not a food court like in Kuala Lumpur, but a collection of upmarket French and Italian delis, artisan chocolate shops, fresh bakeries and posh wine bars. We grabbed breakfast in a pretty classy European deli. This place was incredible. Everything freshly made and done to perfection. The price was expensive but the quality surpassed the cost. About a dozen chefs prepared and cooked everything fresh, from handmade pastries, stunning cakes, fresh breads, meat and fish pasta dishes, all cooked in plain view. Watching their process and skill in the kitchen was pretty entertaining, and the food was great.

We said we’d meet Sun again that night so we killed time at the cinema watching Transcendence (Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman). Decent show. Not great but not bad. We met Sun and travelled to a different district for some more amazing munch. We ordered a huge chicken hotpot style dish to share that is cooked and eaten in stages. Firstly they bring it to the boil and there is a selection of side dishes to accompany it, sliced raw potato, raw sliced beef, fresh greens and weird rubbery skin like strips of tofu I think. Firstly we ate away at the chicken stew, an entire chicken chopped up into bitesize pieces. Nothing is spared. Feet, head, innards, all included. They say the Chinese will eat anything with legs except the table. Chicken lungs are surprisingly tasty I have to admit. As we made our way through this hotpot, the flavour intensifies as the pot is constantly bubbling over a burner in the middle of the table. The waitress then refills the pot with hot water and adds the potatoes. Round two. As it slowly boils the potatoes in a great broth we drink some more and enjoy the atmosphere of the restaurant, a pretty run down joint but a lot of character due to the bustling ecosystem between man and food. Once the potato is tender we add the sliced beef and let it cook to our liking. Once all this is eaten, round 3. More water is added to deglaze the pan again making an even tastier sauce and we finish with more beef, the greens and the tofu. It’s a great way to eat, in stages with varying levels of flavours throughout. This dish lasts a good couple of hours, eating slowly while conversing and enjoying life. I loved the relaxed nature of this dish inside the hectic atmosphere of this restaurant.

Later we grabbed more drinks and laughed into early hours with some of his friends and finally made it home to our hotel around 3am. Sadly we only had 2 nights and 3 days in Shenzhen so we didn’t experience much in terms of sightseeing, however we kind of knew it’s not that type of city in comparison to the rest of China. It was just a great excuse to meet Sun again and have almighty craic together. Although it has been over 3 years it was like yesterday when we last saw each other. We had a great time just chilling, eating, drinking, laughing and reminiscing. It’s a great feeling knowing that even if you are not in contact for years and you get the chance to reconnect it is always worth it, and meeting with Sun again is a definite highlight of our trip in China. An absolute legend and total gentleman. It’s unknown when, or even if, we will meet again anytime soon, but regardless of time we know we will always catch up with him if we ever go back to China, no matter how long it’s been.

After our last night with Sun we spent the day eating again in Coco Plaza and then made our way via trains from Shenzhen, through border patrol and customs, into Hong Kong. Having visited Hong Kong 3 years ago, we were excited to be back.

Warning, drunken faces ahead.

One Comment
  1. Awesome dude! Really cool to see you catching up with some international friends, must be exciting and adds so much more to your adventure!
    The world is awesome!

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