Category Archives: 2012

Gangxia Urban Village


Urban villages sparked my interest way before I arrived in Shenzhen. They seem to attract the attention of people of different spectrum due to their interesting character and uniqueness. Numerous journal articles, research and analysis have been written about them (but unfortunately, here at UPDIS I haven’t met anyone who has done research in this area.) Since I arrived here I have visited a few urban villages. One of those located close to where I stay in Shenzhen is called Gangxia. I went back to visit this site a couple of times and took some pictures so I can document my experience.


(If you don’t know what urban villages are please read Pam Phan’s blog entry here where she nicely describes how they got evolved.) Shenzhen is said to have more than 200 urban villages. Many of them, including Gangxia, are located on areas with prime real estate value. They provide cheap housing for farmers and other migrants. They are crowded and messy. While some would call them slums but they are different to them. They have narrow alleys, lack of light, sanitation and health issues. But many urban villages have commercial streets that are vibrant, especially in the evenings, and offer (informal) economic activities such as cheap food and low cost personal services (hairdresser, massage).


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It’s Always an Adventure

Being a foreigner (or as they call us here: Lǎo Wài) is a strange thing here in South China. You won’t have any issues if you stay in your hotel room, but as soon as you venture out the adventure starts!

ImageHow do I know which store sells what? How do I know if I got a shampoo or a conditioner, a laundry detergent or a fabric softner? And most importantly how do I know what and how to order at the restaurant? (It greatly helps if you do not have any dietary restrictions and you are the “I eat everything” type.) A lot of signs don’t use pinyin so I feel like a child who can’t read. When they ask something at the store or restaurant you just hope it’s not something important. If they didn’t realize you don’t speak the language the simple phrase “Wǒ bù dǒng”* (I don’t understand) will help.

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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. Continue reading

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