Reporter's Notebook: Shenzhen has it all but highlights young, modern culture


SHENZHEN, China -- Shenzhen is a city that runs the spectrum of Chinese life.

From almost anywhere in the city, you can look up and see another multi-million dollar skyscraper being built. The view from my hotel, the Grand Hyatt Shenzhen, includes construction cranes perched against a monstrous building that looks like a standing canoe.

Like any city, there is the middle class and the poor. It's not hard to find people beating out laundry on the street right outside a home that is little more than a shack.

Friday night, after a full day following Mayor Mike Bell from meeting to meeting, 13 ABC Anchor Lee Conklin, cameraman Justin Billau, and I took a cab back to the hotel. A combination of things made that a spectacularly awful ride.

First, Chinese meals can go on and on ... and on some more. They just keep bringing the food, especially in a formal setting. Drinking is common, as is smoking indoors. So even five hours after lunch, the three of us were still full.

Second, people drive aggressively here. I hear it's bad in Rome, but our cabbie was on and off the clutch like a drum. Plus he turned into oncoming traffic. Since I am from New York City, it wasn't too bad for me, but I think Mr. Conklin was a little unnerved.

As Americans, the mayor's delegation sticks out here. There's no denying it. I ran into considerably more non-English speakers Saturday during a souvenir shopping trip. I tagged along with Kathy Carroll, president and CEO of the Toledo Symphony, and Amy Chang, associate principal cellist. Luckily, Ms. Chang is a native of Taiwan and speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese.

Ms. Carroll and I agree that Shenzhen is a young person's city. Many people seem to be in their 20s. That makes sense since the club scene here is pretty large. Also, high heels and short skirts seem to be the popular fashion choice among young women. Ms. Carroll also made that observation, not just me.

We all also have seen China's Great Fire Wall - the country's blocking of Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, and even Youtube. Most of us who are accustomed to using those sites everyday have found ways around it. I texted a status update to Facebook today and I think someone else called a friend in the United States to tweet out a message.

Mr. Bell and the rest of the delegation, including his parents, are at this moment attending the wedding of Jimmy Wu. (It's Saturday night and 12 hours ahead of Toledo time.) Jimmy Wu is the son of Shenzhen businessman Wu Kin Hung, who is interested in buying and developing the Marina District in East Toledo. Norman Bell, the mayor's father, told me Saturday that China has been amazing, but that really he came to answer the wedding invitation.

Sunday we leave for Beijing, which I am told will be more traditional than the considerably modern Shenzhen.