Contributions by our blogger Jen Murray, some photos by photographer Anton Kicker.
We don’t agree with CNN Travel that Hong Kong is the best city in the world. But Shenzhen? After all Shenzhen is just another mainland city that can never get its English signs right and whose traffic becomes a nightmare everyday from 4:30 to 8. But don’t come too soon to conclusions–Shenzhen’s unique vibrancy is one that you could only see with your own eyes. As soon as you step off the plane you’ll be able to breathe in the happy vibe that’s beaming off the grandiose airport ceiling. So let the city speak for itself—here are the reasons why Shenzhen is the city you regret you didn’t fall in love with earlier:
- The Greenery:
If you have been to any other cities in China before you came to Shenzhen, here’s the first thing you’ll notice: Every street corner and apartment complex is covered with a variety of verdant plants. Where there is unoccupied space, there is green. The kapok blossoms along the Beihuan highway in the spring chill, and the palm trees standing like royals in the Mangrove Park will surely put a smile on your face.
- The Parks:
For you corny lovebirds out there, you don’t have to spend any money to enjoy a perfectly romantic day out. Ride a bike along the broad walkway in the Mangrove Park; gaze down the lake from the top of the archaic stone bridge in Lychee Park, or laze away the afternoon on the lush lawn of Lianhua Park– your call. Any of Shenzhen’s 15 parks will guarantee you a jolt of oxytocin.
- The Local Music Scene:
In Coco Park, in Shekou, in hidden corners scattered around the city, bars and lounges are lit up every night with lively melodies played by local musicians and performers around the globe. There are open mics almost every day of the week, which attracts jammers who favor an eclectic mix of music. An insider’s tip from Sessy, a Canadian rooted singer songwriter: “Shekou has the most music venues, while B10 and Brown Sugar Jar are the best for original acts from far wide and locals.”
- Chinese Cultural Diversity:
Shenzhen has been attracting a curious, courageous crowd since its establishment as the Special Economic Zone 33 years ago. “To me a place is defined by its occupants, Shenzhen is an immigrant city, so it offers much more flavors than most other cities in China” says Ronald Aai. With people from all different parts of China mixing and marrying here, the risk of genetic deceases is significantly reduced. Other benefits of cultural diversity include a wide range of Chinese cuisines, standardized languages, fast growing infrastructure, and the open-mindedness of the population, all of which will be discussed later in the article.
- Foreign Influences:
In recent years Shenzhen saw an explosion of high school graduates pursuing further education abroad. The overseas returnees, “haigui”, therefore became a large and strong community in the city which plays crucial roles in the city’s development. In fact Shenzhen has established the strongest Haigui network in the country. These haiguis with better foreign languages skills and stronger understandings of the global economy come back to do businesses that feed the need of domestic and international markets. Shenzhen also attracts a significant amount foreigners who come here to establish their own interpretation of “home”: the Portofino Shenzhen is a beautiful seaside residential town imitating the style of the famous Italian Piazzetta.
- The Fashion:
Take a walk in any of the major malls here and you’ll feel like you’re inside a collage of fashion magazine cutouts. When it comes to presenting ourselves through fashion, we are bold and creative regardless of age and gender. “Shenzhen is a young city that’s taking the lead in all professions, with more than ten large scale shopping malls, it provides a facilitating environment for fashion. Plus Shenzhen attracts tons of talents, every individual has his/her own way to express fashion. You see multivariate fashion elements just by walking down the street. I can say that we’re making collective effort to make this city look more fashionable.” says Josephine Chan, a girl who, in her own words, “loves fashion to the bones”. Shenzhen’s own fashion brand Jixiangzhai which combines traditional elegance with modern style has made its appearance on London Fashion Week.
- Convenient Transportation:
“Ten years ago we were eagerly awaiting completion of the first metro line and would depend on the minibuses which at times were a bit lacking in professionalism. Now there are multiple metro lines in operation offering efficient transport to many parts of Shenzhen”, says Pantelis Kostoulas, who’s been in Shenzhen for 10 years. With Five metro lines that sufficiently covers the whole city and almost 1000 buses running from early in the morning till midnight, getting from place to place in Shenzhen is always a breeze. Taxis are relatively expensive here but they are ubiquitous–that is the city saying :”We’ve got your back”.
Shenzhen is blessed with its geographical advantage of being in a hilly area. Which means that you don’t have to drive all the way out to the country to take up those peaks. With multiple accessible hiking sites inside the city like Wutong Mountain and Nanshan Mountain, you can get a slice of nature and a liberating workout without the hassle of preparing for a long trip.
We live up to everything you’d expect from a coastal city. Yes, including the sprawling beaches. Bathe in the sun and take a dip at Dameisha and Xichong beaches, the two popular public beaches; or if you prefer a luxurious, quiet private beach experience, Sheraton Dameisha Resort Shenzhen has got you covered. If you happen to be one of those who resent both water and sand, you could still be sufficiently entertained by watching the container ships go by on the beaches.
- Decent Air Quality:
Among the major metropolises in the mainland, Shenzhen is probably the only one that has blue skies nine days out of ten. We have not compromised the air quality for the monstrous efficiency of development to the degree other Chinese cities have. So take a deep breath, because you can.
- The Secret Spots:
Ever stumbled upon the private theatre in Coastal City? Or that café in Chegongmiao with cats that comfortably enjoy the guests’ laps? What about the hidden store in Shekou where you can buy cheap cheese? As a local who’s lived here for 20 years, the city still surprises me everyday. To start your scavenger hunt, check out 10 secret spots you should go see right now by Jen Murray.
- We’re a Bunch of Bookworms:
If you see long lines in front of the Shenzhen library at 8:30 in the morning, don’t be surprised because we’re passionately devoted in the quest of knowledge. And the city knows us well—the 24-hour bookstore in Book City provides a home for midnight readers who sate themselves through printed lines, and the Shang Shu Bar has a collection of old bound books that smell like time-honored wisdom. Book City is the world’s biggest book store that serves the public as a go-to hangout place and public library, where children and adults alike indulge in knowledge through the pages. Book City also has a big Music store that has a large collection of CDs, DVDs and records in different genres, catering to all music junkies.
- A City that is Easy to Escape:
One perk of living in Shenzhen is that it’s easy to escape from it. I know it sounds absurd, but think of it as the perfect girlfriend who gives you maximum freedom to hang out with your buddies. Hong Kong is within reach of a few train stations, a trip to Guangzhou takes an hour on the luxurious express train, and the paradise-like Yangshuo is one night’s bus ride away. Better still we have international flights from 5 nearby airports to Thailand, Philippines and more, that means you can be on a tropical beach in a matter of seconds.
- Beauty and Spas:
If you’re thinking of a luxurious spa in a five-star hotel, you’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Shenzhen’s service industry caters to people at all economic backgrounds. An all day or even all night spa experiences awaits you at one of the many Chinese Day Spas, where you can start in the main room with a head massage and then head for a body massage, after come back and find a chair to eat fruit and drink Ice Tea while having a foot massage. Clean, affordable massage houses and nail salons scattered in sundry corners of the city. Chinese-style acupuncture and traditional treatment clinics are also found by the handful.
- You Can’t Walk Two Blocks without Passing Five Convenient Stores:
Shenzhen has more than 90% of convenient store coverage. You literally can’t walk two blocks without bumping into five 24-hour convenient stores. For the young people here, having oden(Japnaese style boiled dish) in a 7-11 after midnight is an irreplaceable part of urban life.
- Shopping Paradise:
There’s a good mix of shopping options here in the city. When I say good I mean exceptional. Style mavens marvel at the grand display windows and countless swanky boutiques in MixC mall, while folks who need to pinch pennies go for Dongmen and Huaqiangbei, where shopping is turned into a game because you can bargain with small shop owners. Luohu Commercial City is known for selling rip-off handbags and is popular among people in Hong Kong. For any small random object you need, the wholesale market is the place to go.
- You Can Find the Old and New China Here:
“Shenzhen is a combination of the old and the new meeting in one place. Although Shenzhen is a sprawling metropolis, there are hundreds of places in Shenzhen, be it a little more rural area or in a back alley, that are still part of old China. One does not have to venture far to find markets, noodle houses, tea houses, and second hand objects that are reminiscent of old China. Within five minutes, you could be walking down a street and be in old China, and the next minute, be faced with some of the tallest buildings you have ever seen, bustling with business men and women.”–Jen Murray.
- Shenzhen Speed:
Whether it’s a term that Shenzheners take pride in or a national cliche, Shenzhen has definitely lived up to the notorious “Shenzhen Speed” by being the kind of city whose change is visible on a daily basis. The famous Guomao building built in 1985 was known for being constructed at a speed of three stories per day, and now, twenty years later, new skyscrapers emerging against the skyline has become as normal as eating and sleeping. Check out [this song](http://www.napster.co.uk/artist/ming-and-ping/ album/mp2/track/shenzhen-speed) that vividly demonstrates “Shenzhen Speed”.
- Great for Makers:
It’s easy to prototype your own product especially electronic ones since you can find almost any components you want. Here’s a whole guide to where to go to get these components. Shenzhen has an incredibly friendly community for not only software startups, but also hardware. Actually, it’s leading the PRD Area to become the best place for hardware startups in the world. Haxlr8r is an incubator for hardware startups and so is PCH, which had helped connect Apple Company to Shenzhen factories.
- Electronics Supplier to the World:
There are so many electronic components enough to build robots here. Huaqiangbei is a concrete forest carpeted with more electronic gems than you can ever imagine. Move over Tokyo, this is the new capital of gadgets and electronic components. As Sergio Flores del Castillo observed when he tried to shop for a phone: “It’s a one stop shop for rip-off phones, authentic smartphones, repair workshops and any tiny phone component you can or cannot think of”. In the maze of the many electronic factories in Baoan and Longgang, you can find so many products that, as Sergio put it: “So many light bulbs enough to light up every city in Lithuania.”
- Great for Startups:
Alfred Chan, an IT entrepreneur from Hong Kong, has many thanks to give to Shenzhen, a land full of opportunities: “When I established my startup three years ago, I noticed that the IT system in mainland was not yet perfect”. Because of the proximity between the two places, Alfred was able to make immediate comparisons between the IT companies in Shenzhen and those in Hong Kong and based on his observations, he refined his product and service qualities to cater to the needs of clients in China. Stories like this is only one among a million of brilliant startups in many different areas in Shenzhen, whose openness, friendliness and constant changes make it a place that nurture dreams.
- Melting Pot of Chinese and Global Cuisine
Foreigners tend to underestimate the significance of food in Chinese culture. Basically, food is sacred, our wedding ceremonies are held in restaurants instead of churches. Given the big picture, now envision food culture in the most culturally diverse city: that means Shenzhen is a melting pot of Chinese cuisines from our own Cantonese cuisine featuring fresh local seafood to Sichuan and Dongbei cuisine, as well as cuisines from all over the world. Ever tried Tacos in Tequila Coyotes , or Chicken Masala in Little India? They sure have the power to soothe your homesick hearts.
- The Ship that Doesn’t Float:
Sea World in Shekou is landmarked by a majestic ship with a hotel and a bar inside. The whole area around it is peppered with bars and restaurants that serve the most authentic global cuisines. On some nights pedestrians taking walks after a delightful dinner will be surprised by a spectacular musical fountain show. Can you think of a better place for a date?
- Kingkey 100:
Do we take pride in having the 14th tallest building in the world? Absolutely! This spindle silhouetted marvel pierces the sky with such resolute determination that Shenzheners sees it as the representation of the progressiveness and courage that we ourselves embody. Don’t leave Shenzhen without catching a glimpse of the five-star hotel and the rooftop bar inside, where you can have a taste of our version of phenomenal.
- The Night View:
What is a metropolis without a gorgeous constellation of night lights? Let these photos speak for themselves:
- The Arts:
From street graffiti to upscale galleries, Shenzhen’s art scene is just as open and diverse as everything else about this place. The OCT Loft to Shenzhen is like Chelsea is to New York–It’s full of outrageous, innovative talents, while Guan Shanyue Art Gallery displays a sizable collection of traditional Chinese art works. Shenzhen is also home to a couple of great concert and theatre venues: the Shenzhen Concert Hall with its world-class acoustics often holds classical music concerts, the Grand Theatre which opened way back in the 1980s is home to domestic theatrical works and dance concerts, and the Poly Theatre is known for hosting world famous classical plays and modern musicals.
- We Love Sweating:
We provide a dozen of fantastic venues to choose from: “There are various places to play football in shenzhen all the way from Bao’an to Luohu; the facilities are maintained pretty well and they are all turf fields”, says football lover Jacob Yagura. Besides football, our citizens are actively involved in all kinds other sports. You can see flocks of joggers and cyclists along Shenzhen Coast and Mangrove Park at almost any hour of the day, among whom you might bump into the Shekou Hash House Harrier, who’s been meeting up every weekend since 1984 to run, socialize, and enjoy ice-cold beer after the hardcore cardio.
- A Plethora of Activities:
No surprise how a young city resembles a university at times. Whichever quirky hobby you’re into, you can find a circle of people who rolls with you: there are movie clubs, improv comedy workshop, AcroYoga, writers club, you name it. And if you can’t find a group you’re into? The college rule applies here: start one yourself! Likeminded people attract, and the city works as a catalyst.
- We Don’t Miss Out on the Party:
C-Bass, part-time artist and partyholic who’s been in Shenzhen for 8 years, favors the party scene in Shenzhen over other cities for specific reasons: “People in Shenzhen work hard and party even harder–in a Shenzhen kind of way. The establishments of everything and anything here is daring and full of personalities, including bars and clubs. Threrefore Shenzhen has a good mix of foreign bars, Chinese bars, bars that plays crossover styles of music, and bars that focus a single music genre. Thanks to the division of bars by music, likeminded artists are able to gather and create. You can say that the DJ world in Shenzhen is experiencing a music revolution right now… In 2011, David Curtain and his wife launched the first large scale beach party which led to a Rave movement in Shenzhen. Since then the party scene here in Shenzhen, boozed up by its tropical breeze, has grown wilder and stronger than ever.”
- Home to the Young and Bright:
“Most of the people I know are quite intelligent, outgoing, and hustle to get their company known, and I’m one of them,” says Sean Weisbrot, founder of the IdeaXchange. Weisbrot reflected on his success in Shenzhen as one of the very few social entrepreneurs: “The best and brightest come out here and try to make something of themselves: all of my friends are in their mid-to-late 20s. Locals speak English and most of the foreigners speak at least basic conversational Mandarin. It’s a much more intelligent, higher quality kind of crowd. People in Shenzhen allowed my dream to come true because they are forward thinking and open-minded.”
- It’s Easy to Found a Company Here:
In Shenzhen, you can now register for a company without having a physical office–you only need to provide an address. The office doesn’t necessarily have to be in an office building, a combined residential and commercial building will do the job. You can also register for multiple companies under one single address.
- Tourist Friendly:
“Shenzhen is a very friendly city for tourists, considering the Shenzhen metro is one of the easiest to navigate in the world. Metro and buses all have announcements in Mandarin, Cantonese, and English” says Jen Murray, who fell in love with the city almost immediately when she arrived here. It’s impossible to get lost in the city: the distinctive architectural styles of our major cityscapes in our three major districts are landmarks of each district. Residential options are plentiful ranging from five-star hotels to youth hostels. You can also consider couch surfing if need be, since there’s an active couch surfing community in the city.
All public spaces are well maintained thanks to the government and civilians’ combined efforts. Assorted trashcans can be found in all corners of the cities, non-smoking regulations are extremely strict and comprehensive, you can see people collecting their own trashes in plastic bags after a day out on the beach.
- OCT Loft:
This warehouse-turned artistic haven away from the chaos of the city is an inspirational place for artists and whimsical wanderers to roam and chew on any strands of thoughts. The vibrant mural pop art, the outlandish steel sculptures, and hip cafes and bars set the overall artsy atmosphere of the place. When you walk deeper into the maze, you’ll find concert venue B10, which regularly hosts concerts by domestic and international indie musicians, and OCAT, one of the nation’s major non-profit contemporary art museums, and movie screenings that show artistic foreign films and documentaries. A few visits here and this place will be your favorite hide-away in the entire city.
- Dongmen Street Food:
Dongmen calmly reserves its unique, venerable character throughout the years despite all the cityscapes shooting up all around it. When you see the distinctive curved roof on the traditional Chinese architecture, which had served as Dongmen’s landmark since before anybody could remember, you know you’ve set foot on a shopping utopia on its own. You can find anything and everything here, including food. As you wind your way through the seemingly impenetrable crowd, the myriad of food stalls will greet you with the kind of smell that say: “welcome home”. You can have a hearty feast of Chinese kabobs, fresh squeezed juice, assorted meat skewers and pancakes here for less than 30 rmb. Check out reasons why you should delve in this food paradise right now.
- The Worst That Would Happen to You is Being Pick-pocketed:
The city works on every single aspect possible to make its citizens feel safe and pampered: first of all, compared to taxis in other mainland cities, the drivers here barely refuse to take passengers; in addition, the street signs are so clear and straightforward it’s almost impossible to get lost; what’s more, there are more than 200,000 surveillance cameras covering 100% of Shenzhen’s public spaces, which significantly reduced crime rates in recent years; and last but not least, we have the strictest inspection for driving under influences in the whole country. Shenzhen is the 14th safest city in terms of crime rates among 94 cities in Asia. (Source: http://www.numbeo.com/)
- Far Away form the Central Government:
We’re the “wild west” of China where free market economy first unleashed in China. The benefit was seen overnight: the mobile phone industry especially experienced an almost explosive serendipity of wealth. Most companies started off with making cheap “shanzhai” or rip-off phones, which supply a great percentage of demand in the developing world. Now companies like Xiaomi are exploring their own innovations and are competing with internationally known brands like Apple inside the mainland market.
- Proximity to Hong Kong:
Shenzhen would not be Shenzhen if we didn’t have immediate influences from Hong Kong. In the early years Hong Kong facilitated Shenzhen’s economy with trade, finance and investment. Hong Kong’s democratic political structure also influenced Shenzhen a great deal. Now the two cities benefit mutually from economic and cultural collaboration, and the habitants in Shenzhen benefit from being only a metro ride away from an amazing shopping site, vacation venue, and city with a great richness of culture.
- You Will Never be Lost in Translation:
Because Shenzhen gathers people from all corners of the country, people have communicate with each other in standardized Madarin instead of their own dialect. Shenzhen is the only city in the PRD area where the majority of the population doesn’t speak Cantonese, so don’t panic about having to learn another language here.
- Ideal for Learning Mandarin:
Countless private tutorial centres and Shenzhen University offer courses that help you enhance your Mandarin skills. From the basic “nihao” and “zaijian” to the advanced Chinese Proficiency Test HSK, the Mandarin education here covers all your needs. Shenzhen University provides a full package for the HSK Exam from training to exam registration. Tutorial centres like Jiahua and Han Bridge caters to people looking for more privatized lessons. Shenzhen’s language environment is also optimal for improving your Mandarin, since everyone speaks standardized mandarin instead of their own dialect.
- Largest Golf Course in the World:
Mission Hill golf complex was built on a large wasteland between Shenzhen and Dongguan, it is now the largest golf complex in the world. The twelve course 18-hole course golf resort has hosted multiple world-significant golf tournaments since its establishment, including the 41st World Cup of Golf in 1995.
- Budding New NGOs:
From 2004 to 2008 Shenzhen experienced a very positive NGO registration reform, where grassroot organizations can register at the civilians affair department directly, without having to find an administrative body to oversee their activities beforehand. Shenzhen is also opening its doors to foreign charitable organizations, to allow them to set up offices in the city, and enabling foreigners to register for their charitable organizations directly in the office at Coastal City. Sebastien Bourgeois founded his NGO Irngo three years ago when he found that a lot of factories in Shenzhen and the PRD area are overproducing due to a pursuit of profit. His NGO focuses on collecting overproduced goods and redistributing them to orphanages, schools for disabled children, and financially challenged families. “People here are extremely helpful and understanding. A lot of people started off poor and became rich fast, so they are willing to help out those in need. There were volunteers flooding in from Shenzhen University as well as the community. Guangdong is the special area for charities since it is the only place where organizations can register directly through Civil Affairs. Shenzhen is also the only city in the PRC to hold the Charity Affair annually.”
- Electric Taxis by BYD:
Ever wondered why Shenzhen rocks its blue sky while other cities are shrouded with heavy haze? Well, we make every effort to lower our carbon emission. The electric taxis here in Shenzhen is one factor that made a major contribution. Manufactured by BYD, these blue all-electric crossover cars have been serving the citizens ever since 2010. The new technology significantly reduced the cost of gasoline, and now more taxi companies are therefore encouraged to convert to using electric cars.
- Petrified Forest:
The only off-site massive preserved fossil forest in the world is a must-visit in Shenzhen. Engross yourself in the heaps of ancient traces left by earth’s dominating dwellers in the Palaeolithic Era. The Paleontological Museum feeds the needs for archeology lovers. Check out more details about the petrified forest.
- Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant:
China’s second largest nuclear power plant has been put to commercial use since 1994, supplying power needs for Hong Kong and the PRD. In 2011 Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant won four out of six awards in the nuclear power plant safety competition held by EDF Energy. (Information from wikipedia )
- Wide Open Spaces:
If you have experienced public transportation in any other major city in China, you’ll feel like you can finally breathe when you arrive in Shenzhen. In any time of the day besides rush hours, the metro and buses are far from suffocating. Even during the rush hours you don’t have to expect being marinated by other people’s sweat inside a sardine can. The roads are wide and parks are integrated in urban spaces. Spacious plazas are everywhere for citizens to sit down, relax and sip in the beauty of the city.
- Locally Crafted Beer Explosion:
Joseph Fikenbinder, owner of the craft brewery Bionic Brew, is optimistic about the future of locally crafted beer business in the city: ” We make small batch beers and some non alcoholic beverages with mostly imported grains, hops, and yeast. We use as many locally sourced products as possible. So far we’ve used some local malts, honey, teas, and fruits in the beers. I expect the craft beer scene to grow very quickly over the next few years. There are already many imported craft beers from America and Europe and I know a few people in the city that plan to open breweries soon. I’m looking forward to more local beer and am doing my best to help cultivate the industry. “
- Yantian Waterfront Broadwalk:
Yantian Waterfront boardwalk spans 19.5 kilometers from Dameisha to Chung Ying Street (Boundary Street), a coastal recreational area on the east of Shenzhen, it flaunts its tropical vibe with its tile paved road and palm trees, bonsais and beautiful fountains all along it.
- The City is for Falling in Love:
Young and passionate hearts attract the likeminded in a city glowing with neon lights and possibilities. If you picture Shenzhen as the metropolis full of vacant-faced passerby performing monotonous routines in ungodly hastes, you can’t be more wrong. Shenzhen is a city where people are generous with their time, value the unexpected encounters and deeply appreciate the beauty of conversations. They might give you a long list of cold statistics about what makes the city “the best”, but what they’re really attached to is the view from the 41st floor rooftop, the street musicians singing soul touching tunes inside the pedestrian tunnel, the flower blossom sculpture that glows up an otherwise emotionless financial area, and the mesmerising musical fountain that’s best served with the loved ones holding their hands.
What are your reasons for loving this city? Please comment below and let us know.