Shenzhen – First Impressions

When the taxi cab drove me through the border from Hong Kong to Shenzhen I immediately knew the traffic situation is very different than I am used to so this is something I have to get used to. Fast. I was also amazed: the cab driver was able to slalom through pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcyclists, buses and other cars that seemed to come from all directions at the same time. At certain points I almost closed my eyes to avoid seeing someone get hit. But our American contact at UPDIS Michael assured me that everything is fine. Miraculously no one got hit. After two weeks, I still think it is extraordinary how this traffic can function the way it is. And I have not seen any accidents.  Here as a pedestrian , you’d better pay attention when you cross the street because, I guess just like in Portland, bikers don’t really obey the rules. Perhaps the red light is only for cars. When walking on the streets there are also other obstacles. Watch where you step because the walkways and roads are uneven: parts of concrete blocks could be missing or may not be fixed properly to the other pieces of the road.

The city seems to be trying to control this chaos though, mainly for safety reasons. If there is a busier road some sections are fenced off so people cannot walk though. There are many under and overpasses which generally go through a small underground shopping mall or lots of stairs above the road.

At the same time, at many locations it is easy to find walking paths that lead through a beautiful green area. Even cycle tracks have been constructed. I don’t know how many bike share facilities there are in Shenzhen but I happened to bump into one when I took the metro into an outlying area (which my guide called “suburb”). 

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This is truly a migrant city. Many people here come from somewhere else (so far I only met one person who was born here). People I talked to seem to like living here: the first thing they mention is the air quality which, according to them is a lot better than in other large cities of the country. This shows that people are well aware of the environmental issues such as pollution.  I think the city does a pretty good job with keeping it green. There are many parks which are usually well kept and serve both as a green space and lively public space: in the evenings when it is a little cooler people dance or do tai chi together. 

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Neighborhoods have different feels to them in Shenzhen (kind of like in Portland). I realized this early on when I went to see the other two interns who work in the CBD. It is very different than where the UPDIS is located that I would describe is a lively, authentic (as much as I can judge this after two weeks) neighborhood.  I also ventured into an area named LOFT which used to be industrial but recently got converted into a western style artsy, creative, hip neighborhood with among others coffee houses, an arts and crafts Saturday market, murals and fancy book stores. If I didn’t know where I was I would have guessed the location as Paris, Portland or Amsterdam. The even kept (or redone) some remnants from the last: some artifacts from the industrial times.

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As I mentioned before, I also visited an area that is about a 50-minute ride on the subway. The district is called Longgang, and I later learned that it is the largest district here in Shenzhen. Of course, I did not feel like I was in a suburb (in American standards). The buildings were still tall with the average height perhaps being somewhat lower (6-10 stories rather than 20 or more). Commercial strips along the roads, residential buildings of different qualities and busy roads characterize this area. I was told that, similarly to other cities, apartments/flats are less expensive but food is more costly there compared to the center.

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One thought on “Shenzhen – First Impressions

  1. dsdauphin says:

    Great post Sylvia. Sounds like you’re getting a feel for some of Shenzhen’s various districts. It would be nice to know a bit more about what’s in each of your pictures. It would be interesting to see another post on how this Loft neighborhood was constructed. It sounds like the arts districts in Beijing (Art Zone 798) and Shanghai (M50). Hope you’re all having a great time there!

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