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R.P. BenDedek

Returning to Shenzhen Ten Years On: Spring Festival 2014
By R.P. BenDedek
Mar 30, 2014 - 12:23:31 AM

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This article was first published at Kingscalendar on March 10th. under the title: "From Sunny Shenzhen to the Snow in Suzhou" and contains different and/or larger photographs.

It's February 18th 2014 and I'm freezing my butt off sitting in my apartment in Suzhou. With the Spring Festival break over, I started back to work yesterday. Today however, I have no classes. For those who don't know anything about me, I am an Australian living and working in China, currently teaching Conversational English to students at the Suzhou Polytechnic Institute of Agriculture. As soon as I finished work at the beginning of January, I headed off to Shenzhen, glad of my friend's invitation to stay with his family there. I did this trip with him when he was 14 years old in 2004. You will find some interesting photographs in that story that you can compare with the ones in this story.

Taken on the night of Chinese New Year. Hong Kong is off to the right. We are just 10 minutes walk to the border from this place.

Zhan Yan lived with me in Hong Hu back in 2003-2004 and I have been friends with his family ever since. Having twice now stayed the summer with me -- in Yancheng and in Suzhou, Zhan Yan invited me to stay with the family in Shenzhen. This was actually the third year in a row that he had invited me, but this time I accepted.

Now the thing about this invitation is that I didn't actually live 'with' his family. I was provided a self-contained apartment in which to live, and every day I went next door to eat my meals; sometimes after watching those same meals being prepared in my kitchen. Zhan Yan's mother operates what can only be described as an apartment hotel, although to be strictly correct, she independently leases one whole floor of a building, and then rents the rooms out. This is a fairly common practice in China.

Taken from the 31st floor rooftop

Having seen my Spring Break plans fall through the cracks two years in a row, I was really happy this year to finally get away. It's not that the trip was meant to be some exciting holiday. It was just a chance to get to some warmer weather and away from some of life's distractions, like people wanting me to spend my free time teaching English to their kids. Apart from one day at the beach, I spent ninety percent of the time in my apartment or in the hotel office next door. That might not sound too exciting to some people, but for me, it gave me much needed time to work and relax.

The Beach is behind the photographer. We are looking to the hills.

Honney with Camera and Zhan Yan.
There's the little angel! Not the red one in the photograph above but the cherub between the photographer's legs in the photo on the left. The photographer is 'Honney' (whom I kept calling Honey). He and Zhan Yan were classmates in primary school.

Look at the 2004 article and note the difference in the beach. Not only is it now clean, but there are now numerous food establishments and public facilities.

I arrived on January 13th and left on February 3rd. During this time I read and reviewed a number of books, worked on my own book, did some work on my website, kept Magic City Morning Star running, spent a lot of time playing "Yahtzee," slept when I wanted to, and generally just had a good time sitting around smoking cigarettes and chatting with a number of different young Chinese people.

Zhan Yan does not usually work in the business but since most of the staff were heading home for Chinese New Year, he was there to take up the slack. In this endeavor he was assisted by two former classmates, Honney (a male whom I kept calling 'honey') and Charry (a female who insisted that she liked eating charries).

On January 16th, two other of Zhan Yan's friends and former classmates arrived for a short stay. One of them had just arrived from Australia. He is currently at university in Sydney (I think) but prior to that he completed high school in Brisbane at Mitchelton State High. This high school is not far from where I grew up. On January 17th, Zhan Yan, Honney, Kira, his girlfriend Angel and I went to the beach for the afternoon. It was a pleasant 20 degrees. We mucked around on the beach, took photographs of each other, went for a walk, generally had fun and got to watch a lot of crazy brides and grooms posing for their wedding photographs.

Brides and Grooms everywhere.

Pretty as a picture.

Look at those shoes the bride is wearing. Only in China.
Later in the early evening before heading home, we went to supper. That was an interesting experience. I know for a fact that when I was a kid my father used to catch pigeons and feed them to us as 'small chickens,' but the pigeons the guys ordered for dinner looked like overgrown budgerigars. The taste was to die for -- sorry -- I meant to say 'to die from.' "No thanks!" I took one taste and turned my pigeon over to the boys.

When I originally made plans to travel to Shenzhen, I had also planned to duck up to Wuhan from whence I had planned to travel to Shiyan to visit a former student, and if necessary (plans were not certain) attend a Chinese wedding in Hong Hu. I never made it to either place because I had not stopped to think of what China is like at Spring Festival time.

For me, travel in China is always a pain in the butt. Just getting to Shenzhen had been enough of a pain. My credit card would not work at "Ctrip" when I tried to book the flight and that necessitated calling them and organizing the ticket over the phone. The flight was out of Shanghai Pudong and that meant a half an hour train trip from Suzhou to Shanghai station where I had to swap to the metro line and another hour to the airport. I arrived 25 minutes before check-in. Whilst the weather in Suzhou at that time was cold, it was warmer than usual, and rushing around as I was, by the time I had arrived at the departure gate at the airport, I was sweating like a pig.

I hadn't been able to book a 90 minute direct flight to Shenzhen and so by the time we flew somewhere else first, and then on to Shenzhen, the flight took about four hours. I spent most of that time talking with Mr. Charles Pringle, author of "Blinded By The Night," an Adult Novel set in Japan.

I arrived late in the evening, met Zhan Yan, went for a cigarette, had a coffee and then headed off to the metro for an hour's subway travel across Shenzhen. By the time we arrived at the hotel I had been on the road for about 12 hours.

When it came time to leave Shenzhen, it was just as much hassle. While I could find a train ticket to Wuhan so that I could visit those whom I planned to visit in Shiyan and Honghu, I couldn't get a ticket back to Suzhou to be there on time for the two people who said that they wanted to come stay with me -- but who eventually never did.

I finally settled for a flight from Shenzhen to Wuxi -- a city adjacent to Suzhou. Unfortunately I misread the timetable and instead of flying out at 9.40am. it was scheduled to arrive in Wuxi at that time. When I attempted to book the ticket, my credit card once again did not work at Ctrip and I had to talk to an operator over the phone. That's when I discovered that the flight was due to depart at 7.30am. The next difficulty was that I had to be up early in the morning. Not easy to do when in the habit of going to bed late. Also not easy to do when you have a habit of not being able to sleep the night before any travel -- or the night before first day of a new semester at school.

I got up at 4am. I gave myself time to shower, dress and eat and allowed myself a further 45 minutes in which to find a taxi should that prove difficult. Naturally that resulted in my finding a taxi immediately that I stepped onto the street. That was followed by a 150 Yuan 45 minute trip to the airport, where, because I had so much time up my sleeve, I could not find my flight number on any board. I had the same thing happen the previous summer flying to Australia. What do you do when none of the boards display your flight number? Oh the joys of flying! With that problem finally sorted out, I headed off to the departure gate to await my plane.

Beautiful beach and much cleaner than in 2004 when I visited.

The Beach with its beautiful angels is directly opposite this wealthy area.

I have learned never to rely on planes being on time in China, but as this was an early flight I wasn't too concerned. The thing I was worried about was whether or not I would be able to find the train station in Wuxi and buy a ticket back to Suzhou. I figured that if I couldn't, then I might end up paying a fair sum to stay the night in a hotel. As it turned out, while waiting for a bus at Wuxi airport, I noticed a sign indicating that there were direct busses from the airport to Suzhou.

I located the ticket seller and purchased my ticket and then spent two hours waiting for the next bus. A bus in two hours was certainly more attractive than trying to locate the train station and maybe or maybe not being able to buy a train ticket to Suzhou.

The bus arrived and left on time. Who knew that Wuxi airport is so close to the Suzhou border? I certainly didn't. Just before we took off I heard the driver telling a passenger that we would make two stops before arriving at the bus station. I wasn't sure, but I had a feeling that he said that he was stopping somewhere in the vicinity of where I actually lived. I decided to keep my eyes open.

This is a new, pricy, not very busy but definitely 'wealthy' area just opposite the beach

It only took 40 minutes to get to the top of my street. Who knew that the bus was going to stop at the end of my street? I didn't! When I recognized the area we were in and then saw the bus pulling into the curb, I calmly stood up, grabbed my bag, disembarked and dashed around the corner into my street as though I did this run every day. But honestly! Who knew?

What a lovely way to end a long day. And then of course it snowed!
From Sunny Shenzhen to Snow in Suzhou!

Stories and Photographs from China

R.P. BenDedek

BenDedek Tales

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R.P.BenDedek (pseudonym) is the Author of 'The King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' ( ), and is a guest columnist and stand-in Editor at Magic City Morning Star News. He is also the Editor of the 'Writers Journal' at An Australian, he has been teaching Conversational English in China since 2003.

Writers Journal Kingscalendar

"The King's Calendar" is a chronological study of the historical books of the Bible (Kings and Chronicles), Josephus, Seder Olam Rabbah, and the (Essene) Damascus Document of The Dead Sea Scrolls

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