1 Zola and Retail Marketing
2 Playing the Waiting Game
3 Beware the Ides of March
4 The county not on a map
5 Chinese Chess in Beijing
6 Build it and They'll Come
7 Riding the Water Dragon
8 The Best of Both Worlds
9 Storming the Great Wall
10 Welcome to the Wangba
11 The Catcher in the Rice
12 The Marriage Business
13 The Crouching Dragon
14 Counting the Numbers
15 A Century of Migration
16 Shooting for the Stars
17 Rise of Yorkshire Puds
18 Harry Potter in Beijing
19 Standing Out in China
20 Self-pandactualisation
21 Strolling on the Moon
22 Tea with the Brothers
23 Animated Guangzhou
24 Trouble on the Farms
25 Christmas in Haerbin
26 Dave pops into Tesco
27 A Breath of Fresh Air
28 The Boys from Brazil
29 Rolls-Royce on a roll
30 The Great Exhibition
31 Spreading the Word
32 On Top of the World
33 Moonlight Madness
34 Beijing's Wild West
35 Avatar vs Confucius
36 Brand Ambassadors
37 Inspiring Adventure
38 China's Sweet Spot
39 Spinning the Wheel
40 Winter Wonderland
41 The End of the Sky
42 Ticket to Ride High
43 Turning the Corner
44 Trouble in Toytown
45 Watch with Mother
46 Red-crowned Alert
47 In a Barbie World
48 Domestic Arrivals
49 Tale of Two Taxis
50 Land of Extremes
51 Of 'Mice' and Men
52 Tour of the South
53 Brooding Clouds?
54 The Nabang Test
55 Guanxi Building
56 Apple Blossoms
57 New Romantics
58 The Rose Seller
59 Rural Shanghai
60 Forbidden Fruit
61 Exotic Flavours
62 Picking up Pace
63 New Year, 2008
64 Shedding Tiers
65 Olympic Prince
66 London Calling
67 A Soulful Song
68 Paradise Lost?
69 Brandopolises
70 Red, red wine
71 Finding Nemo
72 Rogue Dealer
73 Juicy Carrots
74 Bad Air Days
75 Golden Week
76 Master Class
77 Noodle Wars
78 Yes We Can!
79 Mr Blue Sky
80 Keep Riding
81 Wise Words
82 Hair Today
83 Easy Rider
84 Aftershock
85 Bread vans
86 Pick a card
87 The 60th
88 Ox Tales
2001 to 2007

The Rose Seller

A happy Valentine in Shenzhen

It was all arranged.  After four nights in Shanghai, I would travel back to Beijing on Friday evening – arriving in time for dinner.  And then, on Saturday, I would enjoy a Valentine’s day with my wife.  What could possibly go wrong, I naively thought.


  Life is full of uncertainties, but life in China seems to deliver more than one’s fair share of them.  At 2pm on Friday afternoon my plan was changed.  And it wasn’t a slight change either.  Instead of flying north to Beijing that evening, I would be flying south to Guangdong province’s “special economic zone” of Shenzhen, which is just across the bay from Hong Kong. And instead of meeting my family for a Friday evening dinner, I would be presenting some ideas to someone from one of China’s leading technology companies.


  The arrangement edged into what I can only describe as the surreal, when I realised that the meeting would start after midnight. 


  I was picked-up at the airport and, by 12.30am, the meeting was underway.  At 3.15am, handshakes all round signalled that it was, at last, time to check into my hotel.  I’ve been in China for so long that I’ve somehow been able to cultivate a tolerance level – at odds with my genetic make-up – that enables me to shrug off minor irritations. But the next thirty minutes would have even tested the patience of Job.


  It took three return visits to the check-in desk to get a room card that worked. And when I at last managed to get the door open, I wished I hadn’t bothered.  It was literally at eye-level with a rather busy overpass.  Shenzhen doesn’t sleep, so even at 4am, it was like being in a track-side hospitality box at Silverstone on Grand Prix day.


  I was too tired to even contemplate changing my room, so I put the television on, hoping the drone of CNN or BBC World would enable me to forget the decibel level outside of the window.  But the TV wasn’t working. 


  Things couldn’t get any worse I thought.  Until, that is, I flushed the toilet.  The handle came away in my hand and, with it, water sprayed everywhere.  I managed to stop the surge of water; and was left with nothing worse than a very noisy water tank (that refused to fill despite its cacophonous efforts to do so).


  Strangely, the noise from the bathroom seemed to neutralize the road noise, and with about eighty decibels coming from either direction, it was not unlike being in a sleeper carriage of a Chinese train.  Last year I did 10,000 miles on Chinese trains in a month and never had any problem getting to sleep, so I gave it a try.


  I woke up at 8am. The noise levels were exactly the same, but I had somehow managed to sleep soundly for four hours.  I went downstairs to politely ask for a change of room.  The new room was perfect – except, that is, for a used condom on the floor that the cleaner had somehow failed to notice.  But, at least, it was wonderfully quiet.


  By 9am I was in a taxi and heading for Hongshu Park – the “red tree” mangrove bird sanctuary.  The area hosted a magnificent array of birds – of particular note was the flock of about 60 Black-faced Spoonbills (one of the rarest birds on the planet); and tens of thousands of various ducks and waders, which were making the most of the low-tide. 


  I visited the public area first, which was also great for people watching.  And, being Valentine’s Day, there was plenty to look at.  Valentine’s Day is widely celebrated in China and one could see from the number of couples walking hand in hand that the marauding bands of rose-sellers – Shenzhen’s entrepreneurs are never slow to spot an opportunity – were well-placed for a busy day.


  But Miss Zheng, a migrant worker from Hunan province, who’d invested a sizable amount in 30 roses, was feeling less confident. 


  “I’ve only sold three all morning,” she lamented.  “It’s a disaster… I guess [the slow traffic is] because of the poor economy”.


  “Don’t worry, I’m sure business will be better this afternoon,” I reassured her.


  “How do you know?” she said, “You’re only trying to make me feel better”.


  “Afternoons are more romantic than mornings,” I joked.


  Miss Zheng didn’t think it was funny.


  I tried to placate her.  “Really; when it becomes obvious that quite a few girls have roses then the ones that haven’t will soon make sure that their boyfriends buy one for them.  It will swing really quickly.” 


  “Would you like to buy one?” she asked. 


  “If you haven’t sold at least two-thirds of them by the time the sun sets, then I’ll buy at least one,” I promised.


  I then spent the next five hours walking several miles around the paved paths of the bird reserve (despite the patrolling police and soldiers).  Somehow, the sight of my camera with a long lens and me mouthing “sshhh!”, with a raised finger in front of my mouth, deterred people in uniforms from getting close enough to ask me to leave.


  I returned to the promenade as the sun was going down.  As expected, there were now dozens upon dozens of young ladies clutching beautiful red roses. 


  There was no sign of Ms Zheng, who had most-probably managed to sell all of her roses and head off home for an early dinner.


  I checked with another seller – Mr Deng – who had just a few roses left. 


  “Business was good,” he said, “It was slow in the morning, but really picked up”.


  I was happy that my hunch had been right, but I was left hoping that business in Beijing hadn't been quite so brisk... 

  The key question, of course, is... would there be any roses left at the airport when I arrive home tomorrow?


  Fingers crossed.


Chinese retailer, stocked up for a bumper Valentine's day