I’ve had so many people reading my post, “Why China Will Always Be a Shithole”, over the last few weeks, that I thought it would be good to do a follow-up. I’ve been going to China for over 35 years, in fact the very first time I was able to cross the border from HK into Shenzen, in 1980, I had to get a special stamp in my passport which at that time was nearly impossible to obtain. I recall being in the Kowloon Cricket Club one evening, a place I grew to despise over time, but that’s another story, and I began chatting to an Australian chap called Dave. he was recounting his China adventures in all their glory, out loud and in a very boastful manner. In fact, he wasn’t even directing his brash and overly aggressive manner to me personally, his voice just seemed to engulf the whole bar area of that club. Dave had a fascination with the Vietnamese, especially their women. and indeed was married to one. He had complete disdain towards the Chinese, bragging that Vietnamese woman were far better under the covers than their Chinese counterparts, and Vietnamese woman gave the most subservient blow jobs of any nation on earth. He really was a piece of work, but my curiosity was peaked, not because of his sexual comparisons, but because at that point in my life I’d never even thought about going into China, and because Hong Kong was still the primary manufacturing base for all of Asia, their really was no need to venture across a border that reeked of Communism. “Dave” I asked, “how do I get a visa to go into Shenzen for the day?” I’d had a few drinks by then, well perhaps half a beer, I’m not the world greatest drinker as all my friends will attest to, and I was really interested in making a quick trip just to confirm that life in China was as crazy as Dave had made it out to be. “I’ll get you a visa mate” replied Dave, “my buddy’s a big shot at the China Visa services office in Kowloon. I think I can help you out.
And he did. That very next day, Dave made the introduction and I toddled along to the Visa office to hand in my passport and $20 in the hope that 3 days later I could return and I would have the permission required to ended Communist China. Back then getting a visa wasn’t that easy. You needed to wait for two to three days in the hope the Chinese authorities would approve your application. It wasn’t a given that you’d get the green light and rubber stamp automatically. It was hit and miss, but thankfully, three days later I returned and found this shiny large red stamp that took up a whole page in my British passport. I had received permission, and now all I needed to do was find a tour group to take me in!
For those of you who don’t know much about Shenzen, I will give you the two-minute summary according to Alan. Shenzen was a fishing village as you can see from the pictures above and below, there were only 12000 people living there until the early 1970’s when the government decided they might just start negotiations to bring an ‘Economic Free Zone” into part of that city. With that in mind, and into the early 80’s, many people, mostly HK businessmen, decided that it might be the opportunity they’d always been looking for, cheap labor and government assistance, so they embarked on moving manufacturing from their famous HK bases into Shenzen and then beyond. The growth of Shenzen as a city was unimaginable and within 20 years from the date that I crossed the border into China, its population increased from that paltry 12 to 15,000 to what is now a staggering 15 million. Obviously there have been growing pains, too many to mention in this blog, but quite honestly if you had witnessed this growth first hand, which I had the pleasure of doing, you wouldn’t believe how the Communist government have literally bulldozed their way through mountains, valleys and beyond to create one of Asia’s foremost economic zones. It’s nothing but a miracle that this happened and nothing but a disaster for those who lost their homes and farms to make way for more efficient manufacturing and production outlets, none of which the world really needed. Shenzen’s birth in the early 1980’s is solely responsible, in my opinion, for the way we all live today as consumers of a global marketplace.
This stamp got me across the border in March of 1979. I have asked many people who I know inside China to tell me what it says, but no one can. It’s faded now, but the fact that it was issued in the first place was in itself, a miracle. It was so hard to get one of these unless you were booked on an official tour. I wasn’t booked on anything but a curiosity trip, enhanced by the need to tell everyone I knew that I’d crossed the border into a Communist country, my first! I would later walk through Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin before the wall fell, and also go to Vietnam before democracy took hold, but that would be some years in the future. That stamp meant a lot, it still does, and it meant I was on my way to a culture shock that I have never recovered from.
I was introduced by a business associate, Bugie Dahber (pronounced Budgee) to one of his family members whose business was taking people with similar curiosities as mine, across the border for day trips. I signed on immediately. I only had 2 days left in HK before my return to the UK so I needed to act fast. With the small fee of $50 paid, and my visa stamp double checked by all concerned, I was primed and ready for what would turn out to be a day never to forget. I could hardly sleep that night, nothing new to me in HK by the way. I have never managed, in the 35 years plus I’ve been going, to get a really good night’s sleep there. I rose early, was collected by a mini van filled with 6 other people who were as curious as I to see what life was like in the real China, and headed north, about 45 minutes, to Lo Wu, the border crossing.
To be continued….