Saturday, September 11, 2010

Shenzhen Shenanigans

Shenzhen was in the papers today – about how President Hu Jintao in beijing had hailed the southern export hub that lies cheek by jowl with Hong Kong as a miracle in the world’s history of modernisation and industrialisation. Apparently there were some other dubious distinctions too but we will not dwell upon that. The emphasis in the report too was on how all this incredible growth had provided the necessary blueprint for China’s economic reforms.
Considering I had returned from that very special economic zone just this last week and then to read about Shenzhen in the papers, I thought it was too much of a coincidence. And this has egged me on to blog –once again after a long break
So what did I really do in China? Well Shenzhen to be exact? Having gone there to attend an International Cancer Conference actually and not having read the afore mentioned report, to me Shenzhen seemed quite the poor man’s Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. A newbie South Asia city I thought nevertheless , a thirty years new/ old modern urban statement ; one of those special economic zones that just grew up to be a shinning conglomerate of business like Lego blocks dressed in chrome –glass –steel reaching out its metallic talons into the blue and white sky . Somebody stop me I can go on and on and on!!! I was so, so impressed by the monstrous edifices.
So it was not really China at all you see what I mean? Even though we did the “border crossing” from Hong Kong which took us three full hours; the lugging of all our luggage from conveyor belt in airport to shuttle to immigration shed to bus to hotel in Shenzhen, (Will I ever learn to travel light ? Not carry so many clothes and pairs of foot wear and my own shampoo and hair dryer and this and that ??? No! never in light years . ) it was just from one steel and glass show piece to another!
Any visions of the China I had nurtured from my long cherished and dog eared Pearl S Buck and Somerset Maugham collections or even ok a Crouching Tigers and Hidden Dragons viewing ,were just that – Hidden !!
But to give its due the place seemed the perfect place for a conference – hotels all snuggled together around the snazzy conference venue all walking distances to and fro and a Pizza Hut , Mc Donald’s and Starbucks just around the corner for good measure in case any home sick soul was starving !!
So our first meal in China was at the Pizza Hut – and do not laugh!!! We ( my colleagues Pat and Mei Ching and I ) were neither home sick nor starving but just in a hurry to get lunch over with and get to the Registration counter in time !! But we had not bargained for the young lady there speaking no English at all so it was a while before even our pizzas of choice made it to the table. So another Chinese myth busted; no they are not all learning to speak English in China. And despite Mei Ching’s attempts with her knowledge of Mandarin and Cantonese (Respect Mei Ching !!) we did struggle a bit there.
So while we wait for the pizza / pasta let me say a few words about the conference? The big UICC (International Union against Cancer) meet where the best and most devoted in cancer care get together for sharing best practices and learning from each other ; networking with peers and catching up with old , dear friends and gurus ; fellow advocates and leaders in the field. I attended my first UICC conference in 1994 in New Delhi where 4000 participants converged for a brilliant meeting (and this despite the Surat plague scare mind you) and I became a fan of UICC for life. Next year I was sent to Brisbane on a UICC Fellowship and thus began my apprenticeship in cancer care and counselling. For the next eight years the UICC gave me a platform to learn from and polish what I learnt and I will forever be indebted to the experience I gained. Two terms as the Asia Pacific Regional co ordinator and each conference I attended and participated in only grounded me more and more firmly in what by now had become my calling in life.
Pizzas and pasta and salad by now consumed we were ready to head out to the conference venue.
Clean, neat and tidy; wide roads and orderly traffic and so walking to the conference venue was never a problem except that it was so hot. Proximity to the huge water body and the rising temperatures made for SWELTERING conditions. Hurry as we might , we were defeated by the traffic lights for the green would turn red in all of a minute and half which meant that even before we were two thirds of the distance to the other side of the road, vehicles in some mean haste would begin to bear down upon us eager to take that right turn most rightly of course .
But we had nothing to fear for we soon found out that among Pat’s very many skills was this one too – bringing China to a halt!!! More than once Pat with her imperious look and a regal wave of her hand was able to hold at bay any bus, car or taxi that came in our way, leaving the zebra crossing safe and clear for us . Halting China in it’s tracks – I like the sound of that and who but Pat to do it with such panache and style !!
I must add that we never saw anyone on a bicycle in Shenzhen!!!
Once at the venue it took all our skills in time management and speed walking to ensure we were where we should be .Walking the length and breadth of the humungous conference venue trying to get to the sessions on time and sitting in those meetings `, session after session did wear us out and it became imperative that at some point in time during the day we seek some sustenance at that Mecca of rest and recuperation we had spotted en route . So it was not too long before we found our way albeit a bit sheepishly and guiltily to grab a cup of Seattle’s best and sank happily one late afternoon into the welcoming couches at the neighbourhood Starbucks .
When in Rome do as the Romans do and when in China please do not steal their china should have been stamped on my passport. Those who know me well know I can be worse than a bull in any china shop given my passion for collecting cups and mugs so when the poison of my choice was served in this most elegant and distinctive Starbucks mug I knew I had to have it. White, streamlined and with an unusual addition; a delicately detailed leaf in three dimension on the outside just right to twirl tautly the string of the tea bag around it. Sadly though, I was told this particular style was not on sale. Oh no please I almost wailed and gave a pleading look to the young man waiting on our table. You can imagine my surprise and glee when with a conspiratorial gleam in his eyes, he said that maybe someone would break this mug back in the kitchen that day or maybe even he had never served me my coffee in this mug but in one of those Grande paper cups so would anyone miss it if I just put it in my bag?
So yes, I did walk away with their china ; touched and impressed by the gallant and customer savvy attitude of the staff. He endeared himself even more to us by painstakingly obtaining the address of the Hard Rock Café for us and writing it out in Chinese so our taxi driver would know where to go – though it is another story that we found out it had shut down.
Our sessions and net working meetings did not really leave us with any time to look around or even sample the apparently “super” shopping Shenzhen was famous for but we did manage to ride the very efficient MRT to an Italian joint for a superb dinner the last night with some of our co conferencers. – so my first and last meal, in China were both Italian and what does that say?
And oh yes did I begin this post saying Shenzhen was in our papers the other day? Well, I was also in Shenzhen’s papers the other day .
And oh did I get to see the Great Wall ? See for yourself : )


Beena Narayanan said...

WOW, It is good to read this blog and see Shenzhen through your eyes.

Samir said...

Viji, a travel tip i read some years ago which has helped immensely.

First you pack to your heart's content - then you discard half of it at the end.

You will be mentally satisfied and yet wont be lugging too much around.

Try it - at some point you will just have to 'trust' the system to take the plunge...

Samir said...

One of my friends was posted in Shenzhen '97-'99 (Tushar, remember?). He mentioned one fine morening he woke up and looked outside his window - their concrte barren street had turned into an avenue.

The authorities had planted full grown trees on either side in one night - thats chinese Sim City for you!!

Samir said...

One of my friends was posted in Shenzhen '97-'99 (Tushar, remember?). He mentioned one fine morning he woke up and looked outside his window - their concrete barren street had turned into an avenue.

The authorities had planted full grown trees on either side in one night - that's Chinese Sim City for you!!

Charita said...

you didn't see the great wall!!!! Can see off the reflection on you BIG are in a room in front of a poster!

Samir said...

I wonder how it would have went at Starbucks if you wold have said...

"Yeh cup, yeh cup mujhe dey dey Xiao Zhang!"

But then, i dont think Sholay made it there - i know Raj Kapoor's Awara did because came across quite a few taxi drivers who would burst into "awara hoon" when they found out i was from India... :-)

Amogh said...

I like that picture of you standing in front the map of UICC member organizations in such a manner that when someone is looking for India, they see you instead!


Most enjoyable read. Nice ti get an idea of the conference, and what work you do too.

Great pictures, Pat stopping the traffic in its tracks is Fantastic!

And you, you pinched a cuppa!

YOSEE said...

Interesting report of your trip to Shenzen. Nice to know of your work.

Yes, China is no longer a crouching tiger, its a swanky, flamboyant dragon, blazing ahead in top gear !