So near yet so feared: on death row, in Shenzhen | South China Morning Post
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So near yet so feared: on death row, in Shenzhen

Cecilie Gamst Berg

 

The worst aspect of Hong Kong life, apart from the fact that you can't get Mons (actually Snow, but the label is upside down) Beer, is the way friends leave and don't come back. Just as you've really got to know someone and are considering naming your first hamster after them, they're gone.

Fittingly, a black - or grey, or puce - rainstorm warning was in effect the day my good friend and veteran mainland travel mate extraordinaire, E, uttered the worst words I'd heard so far this decade: "My husband has been offered a great job in the US and we're leaving in May."

But, but … what job could be great enough to justify leaving Hong Kong? What about the prawn spring rolls at the Treasure Lake Seafood Restaurant? What about Chinese poker? And above all: what about China?

I didn't need to point this out, as everything I said was just another twist of the knife already planted in her heart. "And I had just got used to never cleaning my own toilet!" she wailed.

The months zipped by and soon it was May, and our last trip to that wonderland of bags, shoes, foot massages and great Sichuan food that is Shenzhen.

"This is how the people on death row must feel," I thought, as we rushed around the Lo Wu shopping centre picking up last-minute buys. Everything we did, every iPhone cover shaped like a rhinestone-clad rabbit we bought, every "missy, missy, you buy DVD movie" we heard were just reminders that this was the last time we would do this together. Ever. People on death row probably feel a fraction better than I did that awful day.

Only beer could make us happy. Fortunately, there's a pedestrian precinct five minutes' walk from Lo Wu station where we could sit out-side a restaurant looking at squat, chain-smoking, pyjama-clad patrons of massage parlours milling sedately around in their slippers, dwarfed by the micro-skirted prostitutes towering over them in platform stilettos.

It was a fitting farewell for E. We sat drinking Tsingtao, watching packs of snarling, cement-faced government officials swoop in and rid the street of alfresco diners and menacing sock vendors only to return an hour later, still in uniform but this time one by one, to squat and smoke and grin as a sock vendor laid out her evil wares again.

This is capitalism with communist characteristics: a government official must put food on the table - and people do need socks. White, nylon socks.

If you would like to see this - the best little street in all of Shenzhen - give me a call. There is a huge vacancy in my China world, and in my heart.

 

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