China Trip - Day One

4 December 2013 in

I’m currently in China on a UK-China university trip, accompanied by people from 9 other UK universities. I have less access to the internet than usual, and no access to twitter, so instead find myself writing offline blog posts, which I’ll post when I’m able. Here’s the first. The photo is the name of Bath Spa University in China.

I arrived yesterday in China so am a total expert already. I’m in Shenzhen, which is only 20+ years old, but has 15 million people in it. It was one of the first enterprise zones opened up in the 1980s, and it really began to grow in the 90s and has boomed over the past decade. It is next to Hong Kong. Where we are staying is - I have no idea where we are really, but there are four theme parks in the area, and it is a kind of garden city suburb. And because we are in the tropics, not far south of the Tropic of Cancer in fact, the flora and fauna is very dense and tropical - flora, that is, no fauna as far as I can see, and it is v warm - 26 today, despite being winter. Tomorrow we are being taken to visit the Shenzhen Virtual University which is a huge science park-style collaboration between industry and academia. This afternoon we had a series of presentations from both British and Chinese academics all talking about digital media projects in education.

Facebook and twitter are blocked, which feels very odd indeed. I tend to use facebook when I travel - alone in hotel rooms in the evenings - and not much when I’m at home, so it feels peculiar to be without it, but more so twitter, which I’ve got so used to using to communicate with people with similar interests around the world. Not having access to these platforms makes me realise two things: first, that my idea of ‘around the world’ is a bit limited, and secondly, how much I enjoy it – how much saying the odd thing here or there online, and having people respond, has become part of my writing and working life.  I tried to open a Weibo account, which is the Chinese equivalent to twitter, which publishes in English now too, but you have to have a Chinese mobile number to join. 300,000,000 people speak English in China now, so I thought I might say hello to them. Ha ha.

It’s actually much less unfamiliar than I thought it would be, on first impressions. To tell you the truth, the Chinese people in Chinatown in San Francisco and Vancouver seem somehow more Chinese than the people here; perhaps that’s because the Chinese people who hang out in North American Chinatowns tend to be old. This part of Shenzhen is full of groovy fashionably dressed affluent young people with laptops. I went to a cafe yesterday that was exactly like a cafe in Toronto or San Francisco or London - good coffee, groovy teas, cakes, exposed brick wall on one side, wireless, magazines, funky chalkboard graphics; it’s amazing to see how that Portland/Seattle design aesthetic has become so dominant all the way across the planet.  But perhaps that feeling of familiarity might change once we get out of Shenzhen - next stop Wuhan, on Tuesday, by speedtrain. Wuhan is up the Yangtzee – toward Central China, colder, and more traditional too - an old city, though of course it has expanded exponentially.

Anyway, tonight they are playing loud Chinese music in the park next door to the hotel. Bring on the dancing pandas! Or maybe not.

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