I have heard from many people that China is a difficult country in which to travel. Apparently communication can be exceedingly frustrating, and the sheer size of the country is overwhelming. Though he doesn’t get to explore much of the country, Guy Delisle still draws a picture of China in which the language barrier can’t be broken and cultural hiccups mar the landscape in his graphic novel Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China.
I really enjoyed Delisle’s book about North Korea and was expecting a similar, deep insight into China, but he was stuck in Shenzhen for three months for work overseeing an animation project, and so his observations are fairly limited to this part of the country. Unfortunately, Shenzhen has very few bilingual Chinese, and even his translator isn’t much for English conversation, so Delisle spends the good portion of the book bored and simply noting the things that go around him like how everyone protects themselves from the sun, what the protocol is for exchanging business cards and how the idiosyncrasies at his hotel strike him.
Delisle makes an attempt to get out and spend at least a chunk of his time away from work and his hotel room. He joins a fitness club (also an entertaining look at the culture, especially when the power goes off), spends some evenings “out” (i.e. watching television) with colleagues and tries to go to the English-language bar (though it’s never open). One of the more humorous outings is a trip to Windows of the World, a theme park with miniatures of some of the most famous sites from around the world. When he finally gets the chance to visit Hong Kong, he offers the kind of poignant insight provided in Pyongyang and clearly enjoys the break from his Chinese hometown.
It is clear that Delisle is just biding his time in Shenzhen, trying to find something to share about his experiences. Though the book lacks the depth of Delisle’s account of North Korea, I didn’t mind that the story was more about him and his thoughts rather than focused as much on the destination. I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to find Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China, but it is a quick read, so it’s worth looking through if you’ve got your hands on it anyway.
There are affiliate links in this post, but all opinions are my own.