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The Shenzhen skyline: Cranes and "ice cream castles in the air." (Jock Lauterer photo)
The Shenzhen skyline: Cranes and “ice cream castles in the air.” (Jock Lauterer photo)

Jock Lauterer, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Carolina Community Media Project at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has returned to China for a third summer to teach Community Journalism at workshops from Beijing to Chongqing to Guangzhou.


To recharge the batteries, take a photo-hike

Following an exhausting and grueling three-hour lecture  to the staff of the Baoan District News (and an intense Q&A that at times  felt more like a cross-examination), I hit the streets of Shenzhen with pen and camera — a sure tonic guaranteed to recharge my psychic batteries.

As i leave my hotel, in the lobby, it’s not the NBA finals on TV, but women’s badminton. China vs. Japan. Badminton, y’all! This is serious stuff here.

The first thing that hits the traveler coming from the north to Guangdong Province here in the far south is not the temperature, which is toasty — but the humidity. It’s like Manaus on the Amazon in Brazil, tropic, thick, dense, a solid wall of 100 percent water. And even though the sea air has blown away the air pollution of poor old smoky Chongqing, the air here reminds one of swimming. The unaccustomed newcomer gasps for a breath.

But the sun shines, and the Carolina blue sky is punctuated with “ice cream castles in the air.” So take a deep gulp and on we go.

They call out to me, "Alllooooo!"
They call out to me, “Alllooooo!”

A brisk sea breeze cools my sweat-soaked “Life is Good” T-shirt, as passers-by gape and try out their English on the foreigner: “Alloooooooo!” Always with a grin.

Open-air, street front shops, cheek to jowl, teem with frenetic activity: furniture building, sewing operations, window-frame construction, scooter repair…under the spreading branches of vegetation that is jungle-like, lush, broad-leaved and sinuous — with aerial roots that drape down off overhead branches like Spanish moss.

No wonder the elderly are fit here.
No wonder the elderly are fit here.

The crane must the national bird of China: towering over skylines, ubiquitous, looming and a little predatory. Like some giant herd of spindly prehistoric varmints. Any skyline is bound to be dotted with construction cranes in China – where the national motto seems to be Tear Down the Old So We Can Built Something Else New. All hail the mighty GDP.

The 14 million citizens of Shenzhen immediately strike me as more prosperous and well off than the folks back in Chongqing, better dressed, coiffed and certainly less hare-brained behind the wheel.

Chicken paws? No thank you.
Chicken paws? No thank you.

They certainly know how to eat here; I recall a spectacular mid-day feast my hosts called a “tea” that featured drop-dead dim sum: a revolving “family-style” table setting of no less than a dozen offerings. The clear rice noodles, water spinach and roast goose were to die for. I loved everything, except what Prof. Chen called “chicken paws.”

In which Mr. Joke joins the wash-dry-fold club.
In which Mr. Joke joins the wash-dry-fold club.

And a word about laundry in China. No one appears to use dryers. Instead, you hand wash your clothes and simply hang everything out to dry (a practice I’ve had to adopt). Anywhere outside will do, on windows, balconies, fences, rooftop terraces. Thus, otherwise drab apartment building exteriors are converted into a merry splash of pennants and multicolored flags.

Passing a garage on the way home, I spot a parked car decorated festively for a wedding. Fake roses, a giant pink bow and two hugging Teddy bears are affixed to the car’s front hood.

I return to my hotel, refreshed and renewed, batteries recharged. Did I get the photo? Let’s see!

Happy wedding day -- Shenzhen style.
Happy wedding day — Shenzhen style.
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