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Shenzhen is to Hong Kong as _____ is to Macau

Our last day in Shenzhen was spent, unsurprisingly, wheeling.

We had a number of missions to complete, not least of which was the production of Arabic business cards for Scott’s sister, a Ms. Claudia Norton. She was to be accompanying us for the next chapter of the trip, starting in Dubai and ending in Turkey.  Finding someone to print the business cards on good ivory card stock was not hard, and for just a little less than USD 7.00, we had 200 cards printed on paper that was nicer than the paper we had used in the States.

As two men and one woman traveling in the Middle East, we had been advised by our board that, depending on the city, we could expect difficulty in booking single hotel rooms, because it is technically illegal for unmarried, unrelated, and differently sexed individuals to be in the same room alone together. Therefore, in an effort to save money and maintain team morale, we had begun looking into the option of representing Claudia and me as man and wife (Scott being Claudia’s brother, of course, was in the clear).  At first, it seemed that the best move might be to actually proceed with a full marriage while in the Gulf. Perhaps Jackson Fu could be my best man, and Scott could present the bride…  Then, at the terminus of Claudia’s time with AsiaWheeling, we would use a common law that allows a divorce to take place upon the sending of three text messages. Unfortunately after looking into the process further, it proved prohibitively expensive to execute a valid marriage in the Gulf, as much fun as it would be. Getting married, upon further consideration, might be a rather disrespectful thing to do. So amidst a clamor of jokes between Claudia, Scott, the Illustrious Mr Fu, and myself, we decided to forge a new plan.

(Due to intervention of our better judgment, this document has been removed from AsiaWheeling.com… If you’re particularly interested in viewing it, however, we just might entertain personal requests, which may be made using the contact button to your right.)

You see, dear reader, through the advantageous use of proxies, we were able to find a scan of a marriage license from the fine county of Kent, in Michigan, and, with a small amount of Photoshop work, create a decent looking license, which featured, among other fictitious characters, our own dear Stewart Motta. This, we figured, would aid us in the event that we were denied access to a hotel on the basis of our chromosomes, but we hoped we would never have to use it.

With all our tasks in Shenzhen completed, we relaxed into a day of meandering.  One quick stop in the electronics market proved useful in providing a long-range external WiFi antennae complete with a the BackTrack distribution of Linux, which specializes in network security analysis.

Eventually we settled down to a interesting meal of spicy shrimp bathed in oil, at a favorite restaurant of Scott’s when he resided in Hong Kong.

Complete with lightly fried flatbread, green beans, and an unknown green noodle delicacy, it reminded us of how very much we adore the food of this country.

Wheeling home to our mod-marvelous hotel, we reveled in the mega-city that Shenzhen had become.

The next morning we awoke, feeling well rested and excited to head to the next city. We milked all the time we could out of our luxurious room, and its speedy Internet connection, boiling water with our in-room water heater, and drinking cup after cup of sticky Nescafe. Plenty hopped up on caffeine, and having listened to perhaps one too many late 90s smash hits while working, we checked out, heading for the printer. Halfway there, we realized we were starving and called a waypoint at a crispy duck restaurant.

For about a dollar per person, we were able to fill our bellies with warm and succulent pieces of duck, sticky white rice, and a small pile of wilted greens. Delightful. Back on the cycles, we picked up Claudia’s cards, which looked amazing, and sported our recently approved translation of AsiaWheeling into Arabic, and also a few copies of the fake marriage certificate.

With cards and forged documents, in hand, we headed out of the city, wheeling hard toward a certain port, not far from Shenzhen’s center, by the name of Shekou. It was well marked by the municipal signs, and the sun shone bright. Though the roads on which we traveled were more like large eight-lane highways, they were flat, and traffic was both light and accommodating. The 25 km ride slipped by effortlessly. And soon we were out of Shenzhen proper, and into a kind of seaside industrial netherworld, which might have been chilling were it not so richly foliated and bathed in bright sunlight.

We were, of course, riding once again fully loaded. However, strangely enough, it was not the weight of the baggage that was most uncomfortable, it was the fact that our packs covered our backs, reducing evaporation, and trapping a fair amount of sweat between the luggage and our bodies. This sweat had a way of running down our backs and out from underneath our helmets, stinging the eyes, and running down the back of my legs, drenching my pants. It was, of course, no help that the sun was blasting and the air was thick with humidity.

All in all, it was a positive wheel, though. And we arrived at the Shekou port after only a few wrong turns, a number of very helpful Chinese pedestrians, and no small number of water stops.

The port was large, but the boat to Zhuhai was small. We managed by luck of the draw to arrive there just as the next boat was boarding, so we quickly purchased tickets and folded up the cycles. On board the boat, we finally relaxed, plopping down, sopping with sweat into our seats.

As the sweat began to evaporate, we took a look around the small craft. There were maybe 100 people on the boat, and most were unlike any we had yet seen in China. It was hard to put a finger on what made them different. They were certainly richer and more westernized, broadcasting this with their dress and mannerisms, but also they were segregated by dress and mannerisms in a way that was more pronounced than we had experienced in western China. There were the vacationing families, the businessmen, the dejected teenage rockers, the studious bureaucrat… all quite fascinating, and all slowly turning greenish due to the choppy seas and the tiny boat.

Our dear Mekong Bureau Chief, Stew Motta, had, while we were in Kunming, explained to us how the Chinese had a very impressively incognito way of vomiting. We had, during the 45 minutes of this ride in a small boat on choppy seas, a fine opportunity to study this method ourselves. It was discrete, silent, and precise, a far cry from the noisier and more dramatic American hurl.

While our fellow passengers struggled to contain themselves, we remained unaffected. Perhaps the last six months of travel had hardened us. We decided to purchase a drastically overpriced bag of peanuts from a kind of bar/concession stand at the front of the boat and returned to our seats.

Thanks be to Jah, Scott and I continued to suffer no adverse effects from the motion of the boat, and climbed off in Zhuhai, quite invigorated and excited to continue the journey. We unfolded the Speed TRs, and strapped our technology bags on the rear racks, walking the bikes down the terminal toward this new city.

If you’ll allow me, dear reader, I’d like to take a moment to discuss the city of Zhuhai. Zhuhai was for us a stop en route to Macau. Macau is an old Portuguese trading city, formerly a colony of Portugal, until the year 1999, when it was returned to the Chinese. Macau has since turned into the largest gambling center on the globe, eclipsing Las Vegas, Nevada some time during 2007.

Zhuhai is the Chinese city that nestles up against Macau, in much the same way that Shenzhen nestles up against Hong Kong. And as such, Zhuhai has become somewhat of a tourist city, sporting over a million international tourists a year and almost 4 million Chinese tourists at the same time. Other than its proximity to Macau, Zhuhai is famous for its story of urban renewal. Not long ago, it was a filthy Chinese industrial port town. But in recent years, the streets have been re-paved and it has been developed for waterfront hotels to facilitate tourism to and from Macau.

It would no doubt be an interesting place. We hoisted our cycles onto the escalator and rode up from sea level to the platform above. There, we paused for a moment as Scott discussed our trajectory and possible hotel choices with the women at the Zhuhai tourist desk. They recommended a certain hotel, which would offer us a room, including a sea view for just a little over USD 30.00. After traveling for some time in China, this seemed not only run of the mill, but slightly overpriced, so we headed out on our own, climbing on the Speed TRs to wheel toward the city center. As we rode, it became increasingly clear that this was was a city unlike any we had been to in China. It was startlingly clean, with manicured trees and hedges lining the roads. The large, separated bicycle lanes were clogged with cars and motorcycles, recently unloaded from the ferry. The air was moist and cool, and dark gray clouds had rolled in. We rode on toward the city center, through the fresh sea breeze, doing our best to avoid  the odd car that thought to beat the traffic by riding in the bike lane. We rode on, fully loaded, skirting Zhuhai’s coastline and eventually turning in toward the city.

Our plan was to scan the skyline, find the most Klingon-looking hotel, then ride to it and price its room. In the event that the room was too expensive, even after bargaining, we would head to the next most violent looking piece of hotel architecture and try there. There were certainly plenty of candidate hotels here in Zhuhai. In fact, the only businesses here, it seemed, were hotels, restaurants, bars, and brothels. We made our way into hotel after hotel. All of them were shockingly expensive by Chinese standards, they all also advertised an hourly rate. “It’s the weekend,” the front desk would explain in Chinese, “We can charge this price, because we know we’ll be full by this evening.”

The hourly rates were quite high. Perhaps a third of the nightly rate, suggesting that hourly rental was a lucrative business here. There were also, of course, the prostitutes themselves. One can never be quite sure, but many of the women walking around on the streets, appeared to be there in a professional capacity, and as we rode from hotel to hotel, they would call out to us, inviting us into a restaurant or bar.

The sun began to sink low, and still we had not found a hotel. In desperation, we parked the bikes near a shop and purchased a couple drinks. While we sat on the curb, discussing our next plans, the security guard associated with the nearest hotel came over to us and explained, in quite a humble and apologetic way, that we were making his hotel look shabby and that he wanted us to leave as quickly as possible. This we did, but not without a fair bit of foot dragging and drink finishing. We headed back up the hill toward a new part of town, where, low and behold, we found our algorithm pointing us toward none other than the same hotel that had been recommended at the station.

In we went, and USD 30.00 later we were shown up to room 888. Eight is, of course, a very lucky number and such a room should only be given to valued guest and VIPs. That’s AsiaWheeling, I guess.

With our stuff finally off our backs, we headed out in search of food. We found it not far from our hotel, at a northern Chinese restaurant. We ordered a considerably large quantity of food and relaxed into the meal.

Lingering quite some time after we had already stuffed ourselves, we whiled away quite a few hours, discussing our views on China, on governments in general, on policing, on American immigration policy, and the like. It was a fine last meal, and as we strolled back toward the giant Klingon block that was our hotel, I bid a silent farewell to our first chapter in mainland China. It had been a wild ride. Our next destinations would be much tamer, more expensive, and more westernized. But perhaps that was what we needed.


  1. laura | August 10th, 2010 | 11:56 am

    that crispy duck looks amazing! my mouth is watering and it’s only 10am 🙂

  2. Joshtown | August 10th, 2010 | 1:24 pm

    Only you would decide that it’s easier to fake a marriage than to pay for a second hotel room. An associate to the core.

  3. Woody | August 11th, 2010 | 12:53 am

    @ Joshtown
    Indeed. Indeed. In my defense, the gulf is quite an expensive place to get hotel rooms.

    Just stay tuned, and you’ll see how we deal with the issue.

    Thanks for reading!

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