Wednesday, December 5 Exhausted, I leave the office in Quarry Bay at 7.30pm after a busy day and head for my new home - the Oriental Regent Hotel in Shengnanzhong Road in the southwest of the city. It takes 30 minutes to reach Kowloon Tong by MTR and 50 minutes to get to the Lowu checkpoint. After a surprisingly smooth crossing, about 10 minutes, I am standing on the other side of the border. My introduction to Shenzhen is a construction site, a fitting symbol for the city. It used to be a shabby, sprawling metropolis, but everything changed when Deng Xiaoping, architect of 'one country, two systems' picked the city as the mainland's first special economic zone in 1979 and made it a showpiece of his economic reforms. In the two decades since then, a non-stop construction frenzy has transformed the city into China's cosmopolitan and beating business heart. I hop in a taxi and head to the hotel. The trip takes about 15 minutes. After settling in, I go to a nearby Hunan restaurant. At my table is Huang Nien-jung, a Taiwan businessman. 'It reminds me of Tainan,' Mr Huang said, nodding nostalgically at the long lines of motorbikes and hair salons outside. 'There are a lot of Taiwan people living in Shenzhen. I have a factory in Dongguan and I have to go to Hong Kong often for business. Shenzhen is really ideal for me. It's cheaper than Hong Kong and more colourful than Dongguan. I even have a Shenzhen girlfriend now.' Thursday, December 6 I wake up at 7am, much earlier than usual, and decide to go to the border by bus. But after a confusing 30-minute search for the bus stop, I give up and take a taxi. Shenzhen taxis are probably some of the most expensive on the mainland - 12 yuan (HK$11) for the first 3km and 2.5 yuan for each extra kilometre. The 10-minute ride costs 17 yuan, about the same as in Hong Kong. Reaching the border at 8.25am, I'm surprised that the queues are so short and the crossing takes just 10 minutes. Real estate agent Lam Wang-keung walks over with me. 'I moved to Shenzhen a year ago, mainly to save money. The rent in Futian is just half what it would cost me in Fanling. 'My office is in Fanling, it only takes me half an hour to get there, so I think it is quite convenient to live in Shenzhen,' he said. 'My wife and daughter moved to Shenzhen with me. We can watch Hong Kong TV programmes here. If it wasn't for the border, you wouldn't even notice you were living in the mainland.' But he is against 24-hour opening of the border. 'It may give me a little extra convenience, but if the market in Hong Kong collapsed, how should I feed my family?' Anti-drug police are stationed just outside the checkpoints. A police dog sniffs every passenger. Cross-border drug trafficking has become a serious problem. The officer leading the team says more than half the dangerous drugs in Hong Kong are smuggled in from the mainland. From Lowu to Kowloon Tong costs $33, plus $11 to get from there to the office via the MTR. Travelling has now, officially, became one of my biggest budget items. Arriving at the office at 10am sharp, earlier than usual, I am subjected to a barrage of jibes from colleagues over my 'unusual punctuality'. Saturday, December 8 I have an investigative story to work on in the city, so I stay in Shenzhen. Just a five-minute walk from my hotel is the five-storey 'book city', where prices are half those in Hong Kong. I meet translator Pang Ling-kee, who visits each weekend to snap up bargains. 'I mainly buy dictionaries. The dictionaries here are much cheaper. And there are more Chinese-to-English dictionaries for me to choose from. The paper quality is still not as good as in Hong Kong, but the prices make up for it.' I buy a German grammar book for 21 yuan, which I figure would cost three times as much in Hong Kong. After work, I fancy a meal in a Sichuan restaurant, where three dishes cost me 60 yuan, a third of what I would have had to pay on the other side of the border, and into the bargain, the taste is much more authentic than most 'Sichuan' dishes in Hong Kong. One of the undoubted attractions of Shenzhen is the food. The city's residents come from literally every corner of the country, injecting healthy doses of their respective local cuisines into the city. Twenty years of economic boom have also drawn some of the best cooks in China. Another attraction, especially for party-goers, is the nightlife. Hundreds of Hong Kong youngsters flock to Shenzhen each weekend. At the Longshenba Disco in Shengnanzhong Road, a Hong Kong Octopus card allows free entry, while mainland customers have to pay $10. 'It's not discrimination. Hong Kong people usually spend much more, so the boss wants to attract them,' says a security guard outside. Sunday, December 9 I am on a late shift at work so I leave the hotel at midday. The queue at the border checkpoint is much longer than on weekdays. It is almost 2.30pm when I got to the office - half an hour late. After another busy day, I rush out of the office at 10.20pm. The last train for Shenzhen leaves from Hunghom at 11.07pm and I just make it. Dog tired, I fall into a deep sleep for the whole journey to the border. I go straight to bed after a quick bite to eat. It is already 1am and I have a 9am assignment in Wan Chai the next day. Monday, December 10 Up at 6.30am, I arrive at the border 45 minutes later. I have been warned to expect packed checkpoints as people rush back to Hong Kong for work. However, the traffic is surprisingly smooth and I cross the border in 10 minutes. I only miss the first 10 minutes of the seminar I am covering at the Convention and Exhibition Centre. At 7.40pm, my friend Leo calls to invite me to his party. I would love to go, but once again I am exhausted. Besides, I will almost certainly miss the last train if I say yes. Two hours later I am back in the cold and lonely hotel room, rapidly losing patience with the daily commute. I haven't seen my family for days and I start to reflect on whether I would be willing to trade my social life for the lower cost of living. Conclusion I rejoiced when my week-long life as a commuter ended. Living in Shenzhen would be fine if you worked in the New Territories and had family in Shenzhen and a hot meal waiting for you after work. Otherwise, the four hours of travelling you have to endure each day is gruelling and the loss of your social life in Hong Kong leaves you feeling stranded. On the upside, the living costs are certainly much cheaper. A 500-square-foot flat at Youyi Building, near the border, would cost 1,500 yuan a month to rent, according to Angel Hon, manager of Excellence International Realty in Shenzhen. A flat of the same size and quality in Hong Kong could easily fetch between $3,500 and $5,500, depending on its location. Food and entertainment also come cheap in Shenzhen. And for less you get more. But travelling expenses are likely to mount, especially if you work on Hong Kong Island.