After three weeks into my time in China, I have finally gotten around to writing my first blog post, so I will have to make up for lost time and cram a lot into this one!
What better place to start than the Difu Hotel? It’s what we’d consider an excellent example of a mixed-use “live-work” space in the United States, and my experience quite literally reflects that. Living on the 7th floor, working on the 4th floor, often eating on the 2nd floor, and frequenting the convenience store on the 1st floor (One of these days, I imagine I will venture into the karaoke bar on the 3rd floor too). My department is a new department for the Urban Planning and Design Institute of Shenzhen (UPDIS), which has the majority of its offices in an office building across the street. One very benevolent policy here at UPDIS is the provision of housing and meals for employees, covered 100% by the company. All employees – not just interns – are covered for weekday meals, and new employees receive a month of free housing at the Difu Hotel while they look for housing elsewhere in Shenzhen. These are certainly rare phenomena in the United States, especially the latter.
One of the most interesting customs in Shenzhen is the ritual washing of the dishes prior to a meal with hot tea, which is then discarded into a larger communal bowl for the whole table. The hot water is supposed to cleanse the dishes, despite the fact that they are typically pre-packaged in plastic wrap. I have heard varying things about this practice. Some say it is specific to Guangdong province where Shenzhen is located, while I have heard others say it is a common practice throughout China. (Anyone with definitive knowledge of this ritual, feel free to chime in!).
One of the best experiences I have had so far during my time in China was a day trip to Macau. Macau is a former Portuguese colony that is now a Special Administrative Region of China – along with Hong Kong – giving it autonomy from mainland China in a variety of political, economic, social and cultural matters. Macau remained a Portuguese colony until 1999, and throughout its history has maintained a distinct blend of Eastern and Western cultures, evident in its cuisine, architecture and language.
Below are some pictures of key sights in Macau that show this fusion of cultures, as well as places I found especially fascinating from an urban planning standpoint. The first three photos from left to right, top to bottom, are the Ruins of St. Paul’s (a former cathedral and school), yours truly at Senado Square, and a bustling pedestrian zone in the city center (all of these were taken in the Historic Centre of Macau, which is a UNESCO heritage site). The next photo in line is the St. Lawrence’s Church, and the last photo is a view that I found fascinating for how well it illustrates three generations of very different housing, from historic architecture at my vantage point, to medium-scale apartment buildings, to a modern high-rise in the distance. All in all, a great day trip!
My next post will feature more on Shenzhen and its brief modern history, and the culture that has grown and expanded here at such a rapid rate.