The “land of deep drains”, a Special Economic Zone, and what I’m calling home until near the end of 2016: that’s Shenzhen. And I’m almost certain you’ve never heard of it.
For my friends who don’t speak Mandarin (that’s most of you), it’s not pronounced “Shen-ZEN”, it’s more like “Shen-JEN”. It also happens to have over 10,000,000 people living in it. That’s over 4 times as many as my hometown of Chicago (about 2,500,000). It still baffles me how I had no clue that such a large city existed and I had no idea that it was there.
It doesn’t feel like there’s that many people, especially since I live in an expatriate area named “Shekou” (蛇口), or literally, “The serpent’s mouth”. It sounds much cooler than it really is, though there is a big boat and a place called “Sea World” nearby (no relation to Shamu or other aquatic parks). There’s a number of restaurants, events, and shops that make up Sea World, but the main feature is the grounded ship in the middle. Every night around 7:00pm and 8:00pm, there’s a water and light show in front of the boat.
However, as in any big city, there is much more to see. It just so happened that due to a work-sponsored scavenger hunt, I had the opportunity to run around part of Shenzhen all in one day and I happened to have brought my camera along. If you’re interested in seeing more artsy photos, check out our Flickr page.
Shenzhen as a modern city is only about 35 years old and as such has the benefits of a new city: excellent public transportation, modern architecture, and a diverse populous. One of the first stops on the scavenger hunt was at Shenzhen’s City Hall (pictured above). Compared to most cities I’ve been to, Shenzhen has a very modern and colorful City Hall. In the background are tons of new skyscrapers under construction. It’s just another sign that this is a growing city.
City Hall is located in the middle of the city, in a district named Futian (福田区). Much like a big city like New York or Chicago, Shenzhen is split into districts and sub-districts. For example, Shekou sits within another district, Nanshan (南山区). There are others, including an important one: Luo Hu (罗湖). It’s one of the border crossings from China into Hong Kong and also has a large “Commercial City” (罗湖商业城) where you can find just about anything you’re looking for.
As part of our scavenger hunt, we stopped at another sub-district in Luohu, named Dongmen (东门). It’s a huge area that is another old shopping street, leading to the nickname, Laojie (老街), or “Old Street”.
Dongmen is an interesting place because there’s a mix of old and new; as you make your way through the winding side streets, you’ll find things like a Starbucks and Pizza Hut next to some old dumpling shop. Of course, the architecture at Dongmen is definitely older than most of the rest of Shenzhen and that leads to a chaotic skyline.
Shenzhen as a city is still in its relative infancy. As such, it doesn’t strike me as a place that has enough indigenous culture unique to the area. Instead, it brings together the people that make up the city and makes its culture a unique blend of those of its inhabitants. At the same time, it has been an honor to be here at a time when Shenzhen is just learning to walk on its own and starting to figure out what it is as a modern city in China.