Ugly town that new money built

Shenzhen Days

Shenzhen is the sort of town which won't be nice when it's finished. Goodness only knows how long it will take to finish. In the meantime, it is little more than a ungainly mess towering over the border with Hong Kong.

No one knows how many people live here. Maybe there are as many as 5 million people in Greater Shenzhen, a vast number without official permission and no one in the municipal government has the energy, let alone the political will, to clear them out.

Shenzhen is a two-border town - one with Hong Kong, the other with the rest of China - put there to keep out the hordes of job-seekers who would, and sometimes do, give all they own to find work in factories which pay three or four times more than they can earn in their home provinces.

This is the town built under the watchful eye of the ageing patriarch Deng Xiaoping, whose giant image is splashed across a massive hoarding in the town centre.

The Chinese leader has not allowed his image to be displayed in this way anywhere else in China. But in this, as in so many other respects, Shenzhen is different. This is the place he had in mind when he made his famous remark about "to get rich is glorious".

Aspects of richness abound but aspects of glory are thin on the ground. The new Chinese rich are easy to spot. They sit in the marble-clad hotels sipping brandy, accompanied by a statutory young female companion, usually from the northern provinces, favoured for producing taller females of fair skin.

As for glory, it is hard to describe the litter-filled streets as glorious. Nor are the semi-finished but fully occupied buildings anything to shout about. They will probably never be fully completed - but office blocks, for example, sometimes boast impressive lobbies even when there are slum- like conditions in the rest of the building.

Everything is for sale in Shenzhen. The world's oldest profession is much in evidence as I found within moments of crossing the border from Hong Kong and had difficulty making it clear that I was really looking for a taxi, rather than a transport of delight.

If the reports in the Chinese and Hong Kong press are correct, Shenzhen is also filled to the brim with illegal gambling dens, drug-pushers and unlicensed premises of many varieties. I couldn't help wondering whether, for example, the Happy Tooth dental store was staffed by fully qualified dental graduates or populated by slick marketing graduates who had erected a cheerful-looking neon sign displaying a smiling tooth, delighted with the treatment it was receiving at the hands of the dubious-looking, white- coated assistants who seemed to be doing a roaring business.

McDonald's is often the first port of call for curious visitors from other parts of China. They know they have truly arrived, once they have a Big Mac safely in their hands.

Out-of-towners are easy to spot. They are often in their Sunday best and wearing clothes with fake designer labels stitched to the outside of the sleeves. The more streetwise inhabitants of Shenzhen, who have learnt more about fashion by watching Hong Kong television, know that labels must be discreetly concealed.

Visitors from Hong Kong cross into Shenzhen on a bridge above the thin river which separates the two territories. As you reach the Chinese side you are confronted by a large digital clock counting down the days until the British colony returns to the motherland.

"It's like the clock on a time bomb," says a Chinese friend who passes it regularly. "They seem to be telling us that when it hits zero, we'll have to be like them."

Like Shenzhen? Perish the thought.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore