Summers in China are horrible. They’re hot and humid and anyone who sets foot outside is instantly soaked in sweat. When I lived in Shanghai, I escaped to Kashgar in the far west of China for the summer. The temperatures are even higher there, but the complete lack of moisture makes life much more pleasant. When living in Shenzhen, I stupidly decided to stay put. I figured I was paying rent already, why also pay for hotel rooms? Occasionally, I did actually leave my apartment—mostly when I got hungry. A few times, I even managed to summon enough motivation to head out on a little excursion. One of those took me to the Meilin reservoir, although I had no idea I was heading there when I set out.
Shenzhen has some of the world’s tallest buildings, a large number of heavily forested hills, numerous large reservoirs and mainland China’s best beaches. There were more than enough day trips to keep me busy, even if I had wanted to head out daily, as opposed to monthly. A few of the hills were located just to the north of my apartment and I had been staring at them from my balcony ever since I moved in. I figured you could get some nice views from the top and planned on someday going to see if I could find a trail up. It took a few months before I finally did so.
Basically, I kept waiting for a cooler day. That day never came and with the summer in southern China lasting about ten months, it probably wouldn’t come for some time. What did come was a day with an air quality index slightly above 50, meaning the pollution levels were almost down in the healthy range. This brought blue skies and some of the best views you’ll ever see in a Chinese city. This was the day.
I estimated it would take me about 30 minutes on foot to reach the hills, so I obviously hopped on a bus. No sense in getting any unnecessary exercise. I got off at a stop that seemed about as close as the bus would take me and started walking. This being China, I immediately ran into a huge construction site.
Shenzhen is currently building a number of new subway lines and they’re building all of the new stations at the same time. Throughout the city, large parts of major roads are completely blocked off. I ran into one of these stations trying to get north to the hills and ended up having to walk several kilometers out of my way because of it. I eventually found a small road that headed up the side of the hills for a bit and then leveled off and continued running along the hillside for a few more kilometers.
As I walked along the road, I saw no cars, but several golf carts came the other way and they all had a cop behind the wheel. They were obviously patrolling the area, but I didn’t see anything worth guarding at first. Eventually, I heard it before I saw it: dogs. I heard twenty or so dogs all barking at the same time. It turned out the Shenzhen police force trains their police dogs up there and apparently the training center requires a large force to guard it. Who knows what is actually going on there.
After an hour or so, the road ended at a walking trail far above a large lake which turned out to be the Meilin reservoir. It is one of the city’s smaller reservoirs, but it looked pretty big to me. A map next to the trail showed that I could follow it all the way around the lake, but doing so would take several hours. By this point I was sick of walking and I was moving along like a slug. I’m not talking about the speed (I am confident I would have been able to beat a slug in a footrace), but the trail of moisture I was leaving behind as I dragged myself along the path.
I was already on my second liter of water and was leaving more on the pavement behind me than I could pour down my throat. I was glad I had brought two liters with me. Most of the Chinese people I saw were getting their water from a concrete ditch by the side of the trail. The ditch collected the water that came down from the hills and, at a few points, diverted it through a culvert under the path and sent it rushing down the steep hillside into the lake below. I suppose the water was probably fine, but I’m still glad I didn’t have to find out.
Since I was sick of walking, I decided to just check out the first few viewpoints indicated on the map. They all offered some nice views of the city behind the reservoir (a small part of the city anyway—it’s way too large to ever see the whole skyline at once) and I was only too happy to stop walking, take some photos and enjoy the shade. The latter was not always easy, as the shady areas were full of Chinese people. I rarely saw any of them walking along the path; they were all lounging around on any bench, rock or log that offered shade under a pagoda or a large tree. That’s not a criticism—they were clearly enjoying the weather a lot more than I was.
That said, the trail itself was quite nice, surrounded by trees and flowers with occasional glimpses of the blue water far below. It would have been a very pleasant walk during one of the four weeks of winter or maybe even the two weeks of autumn or spring. It would have even been pleasant in summer in many other parts of the world, but not here, where people go to the sauna to cool off.
After a few viewpoints, I’d had enough. I was also out of water—both my bottles and my body had not a single drop of moisture in them. Instead of following the same road as before to get back to the city, I took the lake trail. It headed directly down into Shenzhen without looping along the hillside for a few hours and within 30 minutes, I found myself at a bus stop—one stop before the one where I had gotten off earlier, in fact. It turns out I could have saved myself a lot of walking, if I had known beforehand I wanted to go to the reservoir.
After leaving a puddle of water on the bus, I hurried into my apartment building. I couldn’t wait to flop down onto my couch beneath my air conditioner with my head below the spigot of my water cooler. I actually called the water delivery guy on the elevator to order a fresh 5 gallon jug. I was sure mine was about half full, but I knew it would be empty by the time the delivery guy showed up. You can probably tell, I was very happy to be home. I enjoyed seeing a new area of the city and getting out to take some photos, but moving around in that hot, thick air was torturous. It took a few weeks before I was willing to do it again.
You can find practical information on visiting Shenzhen here: http://www.danielmcbane.com/travel-guides/east-asia/china/shenzhen/