Where am I is a good question to start with, but an even better one would be - which decade is she in? right now I am in the province of Shantou, which is somewhere around the mid 1980s. My guess is just as the pepsi-coke cola wars were starting, when pepsi had that one time advantage of being the new kid on the block and the world for 5 minutes was a sea of red and blue ying yangs, instead of just a whitewash of "the real thing/this is it/just for the thrill of it" red. But more about Shantou itself in part 2.
The short story of why I am here is that I have been offered a job with a Japanese export company as the manager of their Asian offices - being in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and china. But nevermind the job, let's talk about China so far.
As soon as i got through the Chinese immigration at Shenzhen (I got there by flying to Hong Kong and then catching a taxi for a 30 minute ride to the north of HK Island), it was like crossing an invisible line into a world that I believe somebody like Walt Disney back in the 1950s would have imagined the year 2006 along with the rest of the 21st century to be. In fact I think Hanna Barbera captured it correctly with The Jetsons. Okay so there are no flying cars, but there might as well be with the height of some of the overpasses here - at one of the highest points, you are at least 16 floors up. I know because my room at the Hilton was on the 16th floor and I opened my curtains to cars zipping past. It was a weird combination of I Dream Of Jeanie's take on Bagdad of its day (buildings with tear-shaped bubbles plonked onto the top of them) meets The Jetsons meets Cuba and Communism (well this is a China). I say Cuba because all the buildings were those faded pastels blues, pinks, and yellows that you see in any film that has Havana in it for more than 5 seconds, where everything looks like it either needs a good scrubbing or repainting.
For the first time in a long time, I was utterly speechless. All I could do was stare. I tried to take photos, but none could do justice to the the scene unfolding before me. The smog and mist from the rain also added to this bizarre futuristic feel because visbility was pretty poor which meant whilst driving in the taxi to my hotel, all of a sudden, out of the windscreen of the taxi, you would see enormous structures looming out of the dense air in front of you. It was absolutely facsinating.
If it is possible, while the architecture in some ways looks completely beyond the realms of what our imaginations are currently capable of, it also looks outdated giving the whole city an almost ghost town like feel to it, as though everything has been abandoned and quickly vacated in the middle of some alien uprising. There are no people about (tucked away in the buildings I assume) and there are no cars (most of the traffic is above you on the overpasses).
It is only when the night settles in and the neon comes into focus that you realise the logic behind the planning of it all. The blanket of darkness covers a multituide of sins, and it is only then Shenzhen become aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Still, nothing in Shenzhen could have been possibly more different to what I viewed on my 5-hour bus ride yesterday morning to the province of Shantou. I have been to Hiroshima, Japan, and seen the history of what happened to that city with the detonation of the nuclear bomb and can say that what I witnessed on this journey yesterday was so scarily and eerily reminscent.
What continued to shock and horrify me that in these city shells and fragments was evidence of lives being lived there. Amongst lush vegetation and mountanous landscapes were gaping holes in the landscape where the land look to be flattened and obliterated by God only knows what. , containing what looked to be fragments of once booming cities now in complete ruins, as though they were the last remaining evidence of human life every having existed on earth before some sort of universal wipeout. It also had the sense that either people had deserted these places by the droves as fast as humanly possible (many things appeared to have been halted miway through contruction) or whatever life had been there previously was destroyed by some outside force (Stephen King's "4 Past Midnight" keeps coming to mind).
The biggest surprise was, if you looked hard enough as the landscape whizzed by, you could in fact see small and subtle signs of lives existing within this - well what seemed to me - desolation. A makeshift clothes line with linen blowing in the wind here and there, or the occasional dog drinking water out of a bowl - certainly facts pointing to people going about their everyday lives in these areas.
Surrounding these "cities" was farmed land and sometimes people setting about their work, hoeing their fields with waterbuffalo (never once did I see any sign of more modern ways of farming - everything seemed to be done by true old style manual labour) and harvesting sugar cane - again all done by hand, not a cutter in sight. Only once did I see some sort of a tractor, and even then it was struck by the side of the highway (not anywhere near any agricultural hotspots), with whoever it was behind the wheel fast asleep.