January 2019 – Travelling to Nepal to see out the winter before heading south once again towards equatorial Asia. Please tune in to my random jottings as I venture across Southeast Asia.

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Welcome to Another Random Jotting from Backpacker Paul!

China – The Yulong Scenic Area, Yangshuo

Yangshuo, China, April 2019: About 6 miles West of Yangshuo town is the Yulong River flowing through an area designated ‘Yulong Scenic Area’. Its an easy cycle ride across flat terrain and after about an hour one arrives at the start of what’s probably going to be quite a unique trail. Just a few steps up onto the concreted path and from here on in its a gentle ride between fields of mustard seed, delicate herb gardens all with the back drop of those lush green forest clad conical limestone kast hills glistening in the warm spring sunshine – yes, the sun is still out!

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The Cycle trail starts here…

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A nice spot to eat lunch

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Rural life in China, laundry in the irrigation channel.

Well, I have to say I’m glad I waited for a sunny day. The scenery here in Yulong is pretty nice! Along with the piece and quiet of the rural landscapes, one could easily drift away into a mesmerising daze. After munching on a lunch of cold steamed buns, I have to crack on with the cycling. Along the Yulong River, as I’m not entirely how long the trails  extend. So, let go and find out…

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Yulong River, murky waters from recent rain.

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A gang of Chinese girls making the most of the nice weather

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A Water Wheel

An effective yet simple solution to rural irrigation is this water wheel on the Yulong River. A series of paddles and pipes ensuring a perpetual flow of useful water, an antique dating back to ancient times I should imagine, and still in use today.

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Village Across the River Yulong.

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Bamboo raft on the Yulong River.

Local transport is by means of rafts constructed from bamboo poles, another simple yet effective innovation from bygones days and still in use. Continuing the Ride beside the water and one will see plenty of these tied up to trees on the bank. I’ve read there are rafts made specially for tourists who flock here and pay a hefty price for a ride on the murky river! Right now the place is quiet, not even other tourists around – I have the place to myself!

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A sight for sore eyes, looking along the Yulong River

The ‘Yulong Scenic Area’ is enhanced as the afternoon sun’s position is more favourable when it comes to taking a good photo – the lush greenery shines and the river doesn’t look so murky. Plenty of natures creatures to spot to, although most of them are camera shy. Nonetheless, for those quick on the camera, there’s a few good opportunities for a good photo of a lizard and some dragonfly’s.

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Delicate cultivation on the Yulong Flat Lands.

Next, I’m keen not to let posts get to big and rambling, so next time we’ll be wrapping up Yulong Scenic Area with the best scenery yet!

China – Sunshine, A Lucky Break, Yangshuo

Yangshuo, China, April 2019: After having endured 2 days of intermittent drizzle, today one awakens to a patch of blue sky. Actually there are about 3 patches of blue, and growing – the day has arrived, my lucky break with the weather! No time to waste since this window of opportunity might never happen again during the time I have left in Yangshuo.  First thing, scrutinise the map and pick a scenic area, then grab a cycle and apply some pedal power!

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Finding a scenic area to visit

The whole area is of course scenic, but according to the map some places have a specific point of interest. Some are a considerable distance from Yangshuo while, thankfully, there are closer options. I shall make tracks for the Yulong-he scenic area, about 6 miles from town so the ride shouldn’t be an onerous effort by any means. On the way, dumpling soup for breakfast and 3 steamed bus from the stand next door, for lunch later – £1.25 for the dumplings and 60p for the 3 buns.

Negotiating the roads around here is pretty easy with plenty of room for cyclists. Even at big intersections one can creep ahead of the queue and make a quick getaway as soon as the lights go green. Traffic is light, the roads flat and because most vehicles are either electric or hybrid, pollution is practically non-existent making cycling around here in Yangshuo a pleasant experience – so far anyway.

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Very good roads, light traffic in Yangshuo

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Scenic area checkpoint – cars pay-up!

Good news, the sun is still shining as I reach the scenic area checkpoint, rather ornate for a toll booth. Thankfully cyclists are free to proceed without cost while drivers of vehicles are relieved of some cash. soon the wide roads become narrow lanes as the scene transforms into an of intriguing landscape of forest clad green conical hills glistening in the warm spring sunshine. With the town about 30 minutes behind, one encounters a small village, marked on the map as Jima. Nothing special, but there is one very old dwelling, an ancient house by the looks of the place. The old timer at the front door beckons me to take a look around, not now because I don’t want to miss the blue sky! On the way back perhaps, but right now I’d better press on towards the Yulong River.

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Jima, worth a quick refreshment and rest stop.

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Ancient House, Very Old Timer, Jima Village

A handful of Images from Jima village, Yangshuo…

Next time, The Majestic, Magical Mysterious scenery of Yulong…

 

China – China’s most Scenic, Yangshuo

Yangshuo, China, April 2019: Visitors flock to Yangshuo because the place is small enough to be close to nature –  within minutes by car or bus, a little longer by cycle. The location makes a good base for exploring what is said to be China’s most scenic landscapes. Unfortunately that’s not the case today as low cloud and light drizzle have put an end to any sightseeing ambitions, for now at least. I shall be here for a few days so fingers crossed for a lucky break – sunshine and blue sky, something of a luxury in China!

First thing to do when one arrives in China is go and buy a waterproof poncho and keep it on stand-by at all times, based on my experiences so far! Yangshuo is a holiday hot-spot, even in the rain as hundreds of natives arrive by river boats from upstream big city Guilin. The humid air is thick with diesel fumes and cigarette smoke as vessel after vessel docks at the narrow landing stage, offloading about 100 passengers at a time. The ride down Li River takes about 3 1/2 – 4 hours and costs in the region of £50. Sadly, those who have forked out for today’s ride won’t have seen a great deal of the famed scenery – just murky brown water, mist and of course rain.

So, without any scenery to see and with the drizzle turning into steady rain lets seek refuge in KFC and grab a coffee. Here’s a few images before it started to rain…again!

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Yangshuo is full of guest-houses and small hotels

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What – no scenery!

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Hundreds of these electric carts operating as taxi’s for the Guilin-Yangshuo river cruise passengers – pay extra!

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Historic West Street (original Yangshuo), wall to wall tourist tack!

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KFC,  Macdonald’s just around the corner

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Time to pack up and go home, after grabbing a bowl of local noodles.

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Lunch with Yangshuo locals

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Murky waters of the Li River

Looks as though the poor weather is set for the day. Time to abort any hopes of some decent sight-seeing and head back to the guest house.

 

China – Introducing Yangshuo

Yangshuo, China, April 2019: A degree of small town charm  with rural character surrounded by limestone kast hills, that’s the consensus one arrives at after reading a host of blogs and official tourist board spiel on the tourist town of Yangshuo. Towns that evolve into tourist hot-spots do so often for a very good reason and as I’m just about to arrive into the Yangshuo High Speed train station from Shenzhen, I’m hoping to discover a little piece of the real China. Shenzhen by contrast was a completely synthetic city devoid of any charm whatsoever, period, so I’m quite looking forward to exploring Yangshuo across the next 7 days.

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Nearest City, Guilin.

 

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Yangshuo Train Station in the rain!

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Buses waiting to connect with trains at Yangshuo Station, £2.35 (20 Yuen) single ticket to Yangshuo town.

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First glimpse of the local landscape, lets hope the weather improves!

Yangshuo High-Speed Railway station is located at the village of Xingpingshen (Google Map), quite some distance from the Yangshuo town. Thankfully there is a connecting shuttle bus to whisk visitors away and avoid the taxi mafia that are loitering next door! About £2.35 for the 40 minute ride southbound on small local roads lined either side with cherry blossoms. Unfortunately the weather is descending into steady rain now, its something i’m getting quite used to since arriving in China just 4 days ago. At this point, all I know is the bus drops off somewhere near the town, but as I’m following the mobile map carefully, its soon apparent the drop-off will be someway from town. The end of the ride is at a purpose built shuttle bus terminal about 4KM south of Yangshuo, hopefully there’s public transport north again since I’m really keen to avoid those taxi mafia people.

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Local bus number 801 connects the shuttle bus terminal with Yangshuo town center, about 15 minutes away, far to long for a hike, especially as my Air BnB is another 20 minute hike out of town again. Soon bus 8 fires up after the driver has a good old spitting session. Just 2 Yuen flat fare to town, cash for foreigners and mobile phone payments for everyone else. Yes, for those who have successfully installed WeChat and have a Chinese bank account, just about anything can be paid for via mobile phone after scanning a QR Code, easy, innovative.

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Bus 801, West Street is Town Centre

And so this is Yangshuo at 1130 on a Sunday morning in light drizzle! I need to hike another 20 minutes or so beside the river to small hamlet where hopefully I shall have someplace to sleep for the next 7 days. Later I’ll get some bearings and make a first assessment of the town but already I can detect a positive vibe around the place.

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Tourist boats arriving from Guilin.

 

China – Ghost Accommodation And The Bullet Train To Yangshuo

Shenzhen, China, April 2019:  This morning I shall be traveling to the town of Yangshuo near Guilin. My first ever ride on a bullet train, leaving Shenzhen North station at 0721 and hopefully arriving by about 10 o’clock into Yangshuo. The town is a tourist hotspot renowned for its breathtaking scenery. Well, lets keep an open mind about what the Chinese call breathtaking, but in any event it’s got to be better than hanging around  Shenzhen! Yes, I shall be mighty glad to leave this place, especially after yesterdays debacle – searching for accommodation that didn’t exists!

Ghost Accommodation – its never happened to me before. Yesterday I spent 2 hours looking for accommodation that I had booked on Booking.com some weeks ago only to find the property non-existent. At this stage its fair to say I wasn’t at all pleased with the situation (understatement). A phone call to the number booking.com hand published for the host confirmed any visitor to a new city their worst scenario – no booking! The plan was to stay near the Shenzhen North railway station so that I wouldn’t miss the early departure to Yangshuo. Back to the station, find some Wifi and formulate another plan. As luck would have it, there’s a Hostel here on the West Square of Shenzhen Station. They have space and even luckier for me, its a private room, and luckier still, at the same price I would have paid if the original accommodation was in existence! with all this good luck coming in my direction, I feel a whole lot better – I really can’t wait to leave this town. Next, I need to head over to the ticket hall and collect all my rail tickets I had pre-booked several weeks ago, this I’ve read, will save tons of time later tomorrow and beyond,

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These are actually single rooms and its more like a hotel, Shenzhen North Station. 

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Shenzhen North Station

Passengers can only enter the station with Identification and of course a train ticket. My passport and ticket are quickly glanced over and I’m soon joining the next queue – the security scan. Not quite as stringent as the airport security, no need to get undressed for the China trains – its just a quick frisk! Once inside the departure hall one can find a MacDonald’s for coffee and a host of food outlets serving  breakfast. Its a busy station, being the starting point for high-Speed bullet trains connecting China’s south with the rest of the country. Today’s train, G2902 from Shenzhen to Yangshuo at 0721 is on schedule according to the giant display board.

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Bullet Trains at Shenzhen North

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My Train, G2902 – Gate A12, easy!

The platform opens 10 minutes before the train departs and once there, marked on the floor is a direction towards ones carriage and seating, in English to! Its all a pretty easy process, although I will admit to having some concerns with language barriers before arriving into China. The second class carriage is pretty basic but the seats are wide, has a pull down table from the seat ahead, power for charging phones and great big windows. Unfortunately the weather is overcast, misty, nothing much to see on this 2 hours and 42 minute journey.

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Inside a China Bullet Train, 2nd class.

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They are fast!

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We have power

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Checking train details, 2 hours 42 minutes

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6  hours 40 Minutes by Bus

China – Wrapping up Gangxia, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019:

Gangxia –  A big part of life around here is food culture, and probably the only thing Shenzhen’s got going for it in my opinion! Yes, hanging around Ganxia, dipping in and out at feeding times has introduced me to all kinds of Chinese local foods across the the last few days. Plenty of noodle soups, steamed bread buns and vegetable roti type pancakes are the mainstay – I particularly got to liking those pancakes, probably a little bit to much!

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Bread Bun Steamers

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Roti type vegetable pancakes, about 25p each and good for breakfast

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Fragrant soup with dumplings – Wanton Soup, tasty, very tasty! £1.67

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Dumplings for lunch, anyone? About £1.20 per plate

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Freshly prepared on site!

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Steamed bread, mung bean paste filling, about 20p each.

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Home Delivery, the gig economy here is huge.

There are hundreds of outlets serving up local cuisine and with that comes a sizeable home delivery market. Several electric scooters with food box’s can be seen loitering in the alleyways and directly outside cafes with their riders glued to a smartphone – Deliveroo is big here, and so is the gig economy it seems!

After all this good food it would be nice to sip on a fresh coffee, something that’s missing in Gangxia. Coffee – there is a zero coffee culture, at least at a local level. The Chinese masses have yet to embrace the taste of freshly brewed coffee which we take for granted across the west. One will have to find a Western food chain such as KFC or MacDonald’s to grab a coffee. Thankfully on the edge of this urban village, situated beside the 8 lane boulevard is a KFC, with fresh coffee, and an English menu under the counter!

Here’s what one can get in a Chinese KFC, other than coffee of course (8.5 Y = £1).

 

 

As I’m about to move  to an accommodation in Shenzhen’s Northern suburbs, now would be a good time to wrap up the Gangxia urban village experience with a final round of images.

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According to WeChat translator, offering to fix anything and carry out any kind of DIY

 

 

Next, Bullet train to Yangshuo, Guilin.

China – The Lights, Shenzhen (Quick Post)

Shenzhen, China, April 2019: Here’s what Shenzhen looks like after dark. Not quite the spectacle that is Hong Kong since Shenzhen’s skyscrapers are not so concentrated into a specific area. Nonetheless a nice break from the rather stale vibe that exists 4 floors below at the Capsule Hotel where the staff are pretty arrogant and with inmates unable to crack a smile, infact an inability show any emotion whatsoever! To their credit though, they will show some consideration leave the canteen when they feel the urge to spit coming on and do it on the landing outside. Imagine the sound of someone trying to regurgitate a grain of rice stuck in their throat and ending up with a mouthful of mucus – a frequently disgusting occurrence here and I suspect its something one will have to get used to across China. So, lets hope I haven’t contracted an infection from these people and escape to the roof for half an hour.

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Reminds me of the Manhattan Night Scene from Amos and Andy TV

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Low clouds creating an interesting glow effect

China – Under Ground, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019:  Raining, not cats and dogs but just an annoying persistent drizzle as I sit in KFC contemplating the day ahead and its fair to say I’m struggling to find anything of interest in this city of synthetics. Museums and theme parks don’t appeal, even in the rain and especially as Shenzhen’s demand hefty entrance fees. So,  I’m faced with a choice – hangout in the shopping malls or hang out back at base and to be brutally honest the inhabitants at base don’t appear the friendliest bunch of humans I’ve encountered thus far in China.

Shenzhen is famously home to a world of electronics gadgets and its where 90% of the worlds fake electronic brands can be found to. As much as I don’t like shopping malls this might be an interesting place to loiter for a while. According to the Maps.me App I need to head West by a couple of MTR stations to an area appropriately named shopping park.

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I’ve changed my mind about taking the MTR subway since there appears to be an underground path instead. Quite how far it extends from here in Gangxia or where one will end up remains to be seen – so lets go and find out.

Well, I can tell you its a long path, a straight line probably following the highway above and a ton of shops interspersed with restaurants on either side. There’s also a ton of people down here to, queuing up at lunch counters, grabbing bubble tea – underground Shenzhen is turning out to be one of those hidden quirky little known facets of modern life as I traverse the mile or so towards shopping park. Quirky because every so often one comes across a display of dolls, masks and warriors!

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Warriors Underground Shenzhen, Replica or Real?

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This is real, obviously!

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‘In a Barbie World’ Underground in Shenzhen

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About 30 Barbie Dolls, Underground in Shenzhen

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Words Fail Me, Underground Shenzhen!

And then these scary masks…

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The Path is called Link City, not the straight line I though it was!

After about 2 hours underground one feels the need to re-surface into natural daylight once again. The end of the link City path ascends into, yes, even more shops. Having walked all the way from Gangxia, I have very little enthusiasm to tramp around the plethora of glass malls here in shopping park area. infact for a non-enthusiastic shopper like me, its all a bit overwhelming. So, the thing to do now is turn around and head back to base – underground, yes, its still raining! I have to say at this juncture, “Shenzhen isn’t really my kind of town”.

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Shops and Rain, Shenzhen

 

 

 

China – Beyond Gangxia, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019: Shenzhen beyond the Gangxia residential district is a vast metropolis and for those who thrive on shopping malls, skyscrapers, museums and theme parks, well, there won’t be any disappointment here! Personally, I’m keen to avoid such synthetics of this modern metropolis and given my relatively short time here those features can wait for another day. Today I’m planning on a hike North towards a plethora of green spaces as indicated on the map where hopefully I’ll discover less of the glass and steel, more of the natural features as provided by mother Earth.

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I’m heading North towards Lian Hua Shan, a sizeable green space which is consistently flagged as a place worth visiting, according to Apples Safari Internet search engine. The weather is hot and hazy, no blue sky sadly but still bright enough for some decent photo’s along the way such as the image here – a huge structure fronted by white washed stone images of people. The theme running here appears to be sports, music, arts generally so I’d guess some kind of sports and arts venue. Quite impressive, well designed architecture, aesthetically pleasing next to the 8 lane largely empty highway.

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Looks like a sports venue here.

Lian Hua Shan is a city park with a difference – there’s a pretty big hill right in the middle of the huge green expanse. Having stomped my way North for the last 50 minutes in the hot, humid air, its a great relief to find plenty of shady paths and a little shop selling drinks, reasonably priced to! The remnants of what used to be a jungle judging by the palm trees and various other plants around here. Perhaps the boating lake is a man-made feature but overall I’m quite pleased to have found a naturally green space in the big big city of Shenzhen. On second thoughts, some of these palms do look like they’ve transplanted. The thing to do now, along with everyone else here, is head uphill. A gentle incline along a well maintained pathway that even grandma and grandpa can hike – lets hope the views at the top are worth the effort!

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Palms, transplanted or original?

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Lianfeng, uphill to the views.

Keep an eye out for some colourful bugs along the way…

After about 20 minutes one arrives at what I would suggest is the highest natural elevated spot in metropolitan Shenzhen. Unfortunately, blue skies and sunshine are at a premium here, but nonetheless the hike up  is worth the effort the views across Shenzhen. Here’s what a city conceived just 40 years ago looks like…

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Central Park, Shenzhen

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Deng Xiaoping, Chinese leader mid 70’s to early 90’s.

Interestingly, China’s Deng Xiaoping stands watch across the city, immortalised in a giant statue. He’s Credited with policies aimed at turning around the country’s fortunes raising the standard of living for its millions of inhabitants beginning late in the 70’s. A crowd gathers in front of the statues, iron fist’d and breaking into song. No idea what its all about but at a guess I’d say its something to do with reaffirming communist values!

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A revered figure, Deng Xiaoping.

Well, that’s just one of Shenzhen’s city parks. Pretty glad I made the effort for this one and quite a treat to witness some modern day Chinese culture at the Deng statue, and all for free!

China – Exploring Gangxia Urban Village, Shenzhen

Shenzhen, China, April 2019: A self-contained urban village, a residential enclave of high density living within the Shenzhen metropolis, separated from the city by wide boulevards and motorways.  Urban planning, yes, i’d say there are definitely signs that the place has been designed with the populous taking priority over fuel driven motorised vehicles. Instead, there is a gentle flow of electric scooters, battery driven bicycles and various electric driven small carts – just as well because the roads here are barely wide enough for 2 standard cars to pass. Lets take a wander around Gangxia…

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Welcome to Gangxia Urban Village, Shenzhen

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Deep inside the Labyrinth

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The streets are narrow but devoid of traffic.

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High Density Medium Rise Urban Living.

This is what I’d call a ‘Raw Neighbourhood’ that’s clearly of first generation development.  A neighbourhood of ordinary working folk in a self-contained, fully functional community. Small shops, independent groceries stores and enough cooked food outlets to keep any foodie happy for years to come! Modest but clean little cafes populate just about  every street, with what I’d term honest food, fresh and cheap – no posh stuff around here! 

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A labyrinth of dark alleyways and lanes formed between the densely packed housing blocks creating a sinister feeling. Infact the whole place is beginning to feel rather sinister as locals are looking me up and down with an obvious degree of suspicion. I rather think they’r not used to strangers wandering around their neighbourhood, especially a Westerner wielding a camera! For now then I’ll make a quick exit, but I will be back before I leave in a couple of days time.

 

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A sinister looking alleyway, Gangxia