Sunday, February 26, 2006


Shenzhen has a weirdly high proportion of foreigners with dreadlocks and oversized sports jerseys, even a couple of black guys. There are not too many lao wai here, and hip hop wear is of course a strategy to get laid... which is all to say that, yes, this has been a much softer landing than last time, summer of 2000. Then I ended came off the train and through customs at Lo Hu without any renminbi and only a phone number for my contact, and to tell you how much I've learned this time was exactly the same. But only two prostitutes chased me around the Shangri-la Hotel this time in my scramble for cash and a phone connection - in 2000 I'd been shaking them off like flies, and I never did find any money and ended up in a 45-minute cab ride to the middle of a factory zone, with a scheming hitchiker for a companion and ended up in a karaoke hotel staffed at all times by 200 whores and shining like the lights of Vegas in the desolation of this industrial dessert. I was covering a factory opening, and the Taiwanese boss, i.e. my expense account, said he'd pay for the cab after I used my last few Hong Kong dollars to call him long distance via his Taiwan cell phone, which was then forwarded back to Shenzhen. It was the only way. The boss was of course in a different karaoke with undoubtedly even more and probably cheaper whores when I got to the hotel, but at least the cash was there. So I sat down in the restaurant and billed some food to my paid-for room and began talking to the two white guys sitting there, who filled me in immediately on the prices: US$100 bucks for a night if you picked one from the karaoke line-up, but you could get one for US$65 if you asked a certain bellboy. This seemed excessive, but maybe that's what you'd expect from a Controlled Market Economy.

I heard many other things about prostitutes that trip - for example, that they'd parade through the streets of downtown Shenzhen wearing numbers, so anyone in a hotel could order easily by phone - but they are no longer roaming the streets like zombies. Now they are quartered away safely in saunas, massage parlors, barber shops and the like. There is a block of narrow alleys where they sit in open store fronts on couches and show cleavage and look bored, but you can find that anywhere. It seems relatively tame. Relatively.

The great thing, which I found out about too late, is that there is 24-hour bus service direct from Hong Kong's girlie bar district of Wanchai to a row of saunas in Shenzhen not far from where I'm staying, chez Dirtstar. The city is actually a giant strip many miles long but only a few wide; it has clumped atop Hong Kong's northern border like gunk on top of a rounded skylight. The border is a filthy moat and many miles of razor wire. Population is now around 10 million, compared to 7 million two years ago and almost none in 1979 when it became the SEZ - special economic zone. "From 1992 to 2002, the number of people per square kilometer in the city had risen from 825 to 3,597 with an annual growth rate of 15.32 percent, the highest growth rate of cities in China."( It's the fastest growing city in the world. Immigrants, tons of them, and that means good Shinjiang noodles, and if there's a lot of beggars, hell, they just make it feel like a real city, not some hospital shopping malls like HK or Singapore. Shenzhen may be a place with no history and huge billboards that say; Consumerism will set you free," but anyplace with poverty also has soul. Yesterday I spent the afternoon taking photos of elementary school kids trouncing around on a half-destroyed old-style village surrounded by highrise apartments, a scene you can probably find everywhere in China. The new, demi-wild SEZ reminds me in a lot of ways of Taipei when I just got there, circa 1995. That's where the lao wai with dreadlocks come in, fuckin mackin it, coz anything goes as long as you know which chicks are with gangsters. The last two nights Dirtstar took me out to a club called U-Bar, where a 10-year expat from Providence, Rhode Island, Jesse was on the decks spinning all kinds of nasty, bumpin hip hop and reggeaton. Hip hop seems less a global scourge if its good, which is the problem with Taipei. If you put the Shenzhen and Taipei club scenes in a horse race tomorrow, Shenzen wins by maybe a length and a half. First, they play music other than 50 Cent and Shaggy, and second, people dance to it. I only saw a couple of geezers in the house wining their "second wives." Local kids no how to move; I even met a Taiwanese kid, Bat, who teaches hip hop dance in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and one other city. The market is friggin exploding, and if you ask how much the party is bumpin, the answer is: more.


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