7/14 – Wealth to Poverty

Day Twenty-Two – Friday, July 14

Second day in Shenzhen!  After a tasty breakfast of street baozi, we all boarded a coach bus to take us around the city.

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One of the major electronic sales streets

Our first stop for the day was Hua Qiana Bei, which is one of the largest electronic product distributing centers of the world.  We had a little bit of free time there to explore the shops and street.  Lexi, Maggie, and I went into a large store that had a bunch of small vendors trying to sell cheap/fake goods.  A small bracelet caught my eye at one of the stalls, and after some bargaining, I got it for less than half the original price (25kuai).  I like bargaining at these vendors because I get to practice applied Chinese and because I still just can’t get over how cheap goods are in China.  Aside from this store, we saw tons of small Apple Store type shops.  The road these shops were on was a wide avenue just for pedestrians and bikes, so walking around was very leisurely and pleasurable.

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Squalor a few minutes away…

For the majority of the day, we walked around Bai Shi Zhou, a local village from before Shenzhen became so built up.  Mary Ann, an American anthropologist who moved to Shenzhen, met our group to give us a tour of the village.  This was a very unconventional tour; she led us to about 6 spots around the village and told us to document what we saw with pictures, drawings, and notes.  Additionally, we were supposed to remain silent for the duration of the tour (about1.5hours).  After walking around, we were going to discuss what we as over lunch.

The villagers lived in cement buildings, many of which were literally crumbling.  There was trash, wires, and broken pieces of cement scattered all throughout the alleys.  Something that really struck me was the incredibly different ways of life that are only steps away. What I mean by this is that the large street we started on was completely urban, clean, and built up with shops, but after walking in just two alleys we saw the poor, destitute life of common villagers.  One of our stops was an alley that was a daytime meat market.

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Another stop was at a water well, which we later learned was a sign of wealth and prestige because the well is the central part of any village.  We also got to see the outside of a Christian church, which is very interesting because Christianity is only a small minority in China.  I really enjoy seeing different cultures and their ways of life.

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The well the village is built around

After completing our tour, I had a lot of mixed emotions about what I’d just seen.  Many of these people were clearly living in rundown houses – these buildings would be considered uninhabitable in the US.  But at the same time, I didn’t really feel “bad” or pity the people.  As an American, I could never imagine anyone living like that.  After walking through and peeking into their lives, I saw that everyone there was very content – kids were running around playing with legos, people were talking, doing their laundry, grocery shopping, basically just living their lives.  Hearing what the anthropologist said and kind-of implied made me really angry because it sounded like we should be doing something to “help” these people.  I completely agree that aiding in fresh water access and improvements to housing are needed here.  But I don’t think the villagers need “help” living their lives.  Just because they aren’t living a western, American life doesn’t mean they aren’t living a good or satisfied life.

This experience is definitely something that I will never forget.  But I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it.  Obviously, it is easy to pity these people because we could never picture life like that.  But at the same time, this is a completely different culture and way of living.  And while there are definitely building in need of repair, I don’t think that we should look down on their whole lifestyle.  I know I will be pondering my stance and grasp on issues like this for a long time.