Friday, September 21, 2012

Precisely Where I Am

Dear Friends,

When people from home think of where I am the thought is “China”. China is a big thought. Most people I know have never been here. They know it as the most populous country in the world. They think of it as a communist country where the people are controlled by a powerful central authority. From watching the Olympics, they know the gold-star studded red flag. The Chinese language is either an impenetrable set of thousands of written characters or something to mock verbally. They know the Great Wall, Chinese food, and maybe they have heard of Mao or Tiananmen Square.

Really, they don’t have much of an idea of where I am, or of China all together for that matter.

I am in a city named Shenzhen, in southern China, in the province of Guangdong. The climate is subtropical. Heat, humidity, and frequent rain showers or thunderstorms keep plant life lush and one’s skin moist and sticky. But this place is mostly concrete, glass and steel up into the sky or in the form of broad and bustling boulevards. Finance, factories, commercialism and education are the name of the game here. Impressively, this place was nearly all mangrove forest thirty years ago. Now it is considered one the fastest growing megalopolises in the world. Nothing is old here, including hardly any people. 88% of the population is between 15 and 59. In the province most people speak Cantonese, but because Shenzhen is a city of immigrants, the lingua franca is Mandarin, the dominant dialect of mainland China.

I am in a neighborhood called Shekou, in the Nanshan District of Shenzhen, on the western end of town. This district is known for its good schools, including Shenzhen University and where I work, YuCai High School. It’s a bit more suburban feeling that other parts of the metropolis. Streets are tree-lined, the air is good, and it’s near the waterfront, Shenzhen Bay and the port. An hour-long ferry ride once through customs gets you to central Hong Kong.

I am in an apartment on the eighth floor of a 22-story building that occupies one corner of an intersection. I have two balconies that hang above the intersection and Sihai park across the street, which is a welcome respite from the forest of towers that surround most views in this city. In the park I play pick-up soccer with young to middle-aged men on some evenings. There I recently met one of Shenzhen’s immigrant residents, an engineer who came here from the north for a new job. He taught me that San Francisco in Mandarin is called the “Old Golden Hill” (旧金山). It’s the old golden hill because the famous gold rush of the “forty-niners” only lasted so long. We’ll see how long the gold rush lasts here.

I am at 22.496540069580078° N and 113.91957092285156° E if you want to zero in on me with Google Earth. You will see that yes, I am in China, the “Far East”. But there is a lot more for you and I to learn about precisely where I am, and while we are at it, maybe a little bit about where both of us are from.


P.S. Compare this "Precisely Where I Am" entry to my "Precisely Where I Am" entry of 2009, when I was living in Eastern Uganda working on a joint poverty alleviation and rain forest conservation project with Village Enterprise Fund and Jane Goodall Institute. You can find the entry on the lefthand sidebar under Enjoy These Oldies but Goodies > 2009 > April > Precisely Where I Am.

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