We speak glibly of Shenzhen as a “global city” and of the importance of “globalization”, drawing attention to “economic forces” and “Chinese politics”. Indeed, these simple phrases help us manage the alienating and dissonant fallout of truly thinking about what it means that our everyday lives stretch out across networks we do not fully see and dependent upon processes we cannot predict, let alone control.
Yesterday, for example, I walked from the Shenzhen Bay Checkpoint to my house on Shekou Industry #8 Street. I passed several hundred cross-border pre-schoolers and elementary students on their way home, another Shenzhen Bay development project (north on Dongbin Road), and a clean collection plastic container to collect clothing donations for poor and/or destitute areas of the interior (neidi). Globalized footsteps indeed. Each of these events represented individual and/or collective attempts to navigate and use international and domestic borders. We can speculate on why parents might send their young children on hour-long treks from Shenzhen to Hong Kong. We can provide Marxist analysis for land reclamation and real estate development in Shenzhen Bay. We can note the rise of philanthropy as Shenzhen’s middle class solidifies its self-identity as caring for neidi communities. But at every twist of thought, the totality of what the city might or might not be, slips away and we resort to chasing the next idea that bumps awareness.
The earth feels solid. The concrete reflects south Chinese heat. The tacky red heart symbolizes an actual desire to improve the world. There is a here and now that seems reliable, until we start thinking. And then, once again, a massive, unwieldy mess of global cogitation distorts the all too ordinary edges of everyday life and we suddenly suspect that life really might be elsewhere.