So near yet so feared: room and border
Cecilie Gamst Berg
I had to laugh a bit, ruefully, the other day when I visited, for about the billionth time, that staple of sophisticated Hong Kong living, the Lo Wu Shopping Centre.
I had noted previously a certain gentrification going on within its frantic walls: boutique-style outlets selling only hats, and so on. But on this occasion one of the shops was being boarded up with police tape, and a sign read "Closed: Fake and Unqualified Product Seller". A Lo Wu merchant being done for selling fake goods? Whatever next?
Fortunately, Shenzhen has many great establishments for those wild enough to venture outside the shopping centre and its "Missy, missy, looking, you buy DVD movie" joys.
You don't have to look far, though; just across the plaza is the Shenzhen Railway Hotel, my stopover of choice.
You could stay a week here and never have to go outside. On the side closest to the border is the cheap and cheerful part; six-berth rooms without bedside lights or fridges but with a certain old-world charm and cigarette-burnt carpets.
The other side is succumbing to modernity, with almost-soft beds, nice bathrooms and the kind of decor so cutting-edge five years ago, it now looks hopelessly dated: beige and orange stripy carpets, boxy brown furniture and padded beige headboards. Still, it's two-star prices for almost four-star quality, so I'm in.
There is a hair salon and a beauty salon, and breakfast is thrown in, although it's "Western", so not recommended. In the old part of the hotel is the best foot massage in town, and the best yam cha. The taro cake is made to perfection: crispy on the outside, a succulent explosion of softness on the inside. To accommodate Hongkongers, the menu is even written in normal - not simplified - characters! So it's "what's not to love?" all round.
Well, there is one thing: unfortunately, an "improvement" has lately been made to the hotel's lifts. Before, they were softly lit with what every lift should have: a chandelier. But modernisation dictates they are now the kind of fluorescent-lit, morgue-like conveyances we see in gritty police dramas. Those into which two guys get but, when the doors slide open again, one is slumped against an awful metal wall, dead; the other is nowhere to be seen.
Bring back the chandeliers, I say! And the fluffy plastic carpets that tell you what day it is. They'd be magnets for forensic evidence.