Macau Matters | A Shenzhen Adventure

Richard Whitfield

A Hong Kong friend was my recent tour guide to visit some high, medium and low end furniture centers in deepest, darkest Shenzhen. I got up very early and caught the ferry from Taipa to enter Hong Kong via Sheung Wan. I then took the MTR to meet my friend and his son at Lo Wu where we crossed into China and took the Shenzhen Metro to the furniture centers. We spent several hours happily wandering around, talking to salespeople and taking photos of furniture. We finished the outing with a good Chinese dinner before I returned to Macau.

To me, Deng Xiaoping was the greatest of China’s modern leaders and his ideas of “One Country, Two Systems” and export led market economy development – “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” – have totally transformed China and our modern day world over the last 40 years. He died in early 1997 just failing to see his dream of Hong Kong actually returning to Chinese sovereignty. The change of Shenzhen from a small fishing village in 1980 to a modern, world city of 12.5 million people that today  has eclipsed Hong Kong in some ways is unbelievable and a major exemplar of Deng’s achievements.

I have vivid memories of first visiting Shenzhen in late 1991 when it was a mass of factories and people walking or riding bicycles to get around. There were no private cars, and only a few blue factory trucks and white factory vans and some dilapidated Soviet Bloc buses. There were also gangs of children begging on every street corner. Now it is all glass skyscrapers and streets full of whisper quiet electric vehicles and a largely excellent public transport system. Living there, for the most part, seems to be comparable to living in Hong Kong.

The Shenzhen Metro is good, and very inexpensive, but can be somewhat confusing to navigate. Like Hong Kong there are many adjoining and crossing train routes and while they are color coded they are identified by number. The stations also have numbered platforms, so when changing trains you need to get on the route N train at platform M. This is OK, but the English signage often neglects to clearly distinguish whether a number is referring to a train route or a platform! It would be much simpler and better if they just identified both trains and platforms by train route color. In my experience, the complexity of the industrial design involved in creating good signage is widely under-estimated, and poorly done in many parts of the world, including Macau.

It happened to be raining on the day, and our massively over-capacity, over budget, long delayed Taipa ferry terminal was awash in water from roof leaks! I really hope that all the government officials involved in this disaster of a project were fired and the contracting companies that built it were sued into bankruptcy, but I doubt it.

I also, cannot wait for the Greater Bay Area (China’s plan for integrating the greater Pearl River Delta) to become an effective, integrated region. I had to go through 4 travel checkpoints and use 3 identity documents (Macau ID, Hong Kong ID and Australian passport) to get to Shenzhen! I also used 3 different currencies and traveled through 2 international telephone regimes that involved exorbitant data roaming charges. I do not need one now, but my 200km round trip also involved 3 different work permit regimes. It is very reminiscent of the few trips I took to Europe before the Schengen Area was fully operational. I am totally baffled as to why Great Britain is leaving the EU – it seems to be an unbelievably backward step.

Roll on the Greater Bay Area, and I hope our government makes it as integrated as possible. Assuming, of course, that we have any involvement in formulating it.

Categories Opinion