We’re delighted to introduce our new resident blogger in Shenzhen, Zoe Brent. Zoe completed an undergraduate degree in Global Politics at the University of Winchester, followed by a Master’s in TESOL at the University of Southampton (UK). Since February 2018 she’s been teaching for Xingwei Primary School in Bao’an, Shenzhen, as part of the Teach China Graduate Program. Zoe’s enjoyed exploring the sights and restaurants of Shenzhen, and over the coming weeks she’ll be sharing her take on public school teaching, and what the city of Shenzhen has to offer teachers.
If you only had forty-eight hours to explore a city with a population of seven million people, how would you spend it? I can say with confidence that although I have lived in Shenzhen for almost three months, I still haven’t seen half that the city has to offer! Despite this, there are a number of spots and sights that I think should be on everyone’s lists if you find yourself on the coast of Southern China…
Shenzhen Bay Park
This sprawling district park is the perfect place if you want to catch a glimpse of Hong Kong. On clear days, you can see the candy-coloured towers of Wan Chai just across the bay and all the way to Nanshan (Shenzhen’s central hub) when walking the six kilometre route right on the shore from Shekou. I love that in some spots you can walk right out onto the shores; but most of all I love that the whole coast is lined with cycling paths allowing you to see the best sights of both Shenzhen and Hong Kong just like the locals. The entrance to the park is filled with bike share stations (Ofo bikes are the way to travel in Shenzhen if you don’t fancy the crowded metro) so it’s easy to pick up a bike and get going.
Shekou also sits right on the coast of Shenzhen Bay, meaning there are plenty of wonderful seaside sights and walks to be found here. However, SeaWorld is also home to a number of culture and arts centres. China’s only V&A Gallery is a must-see at Design Society; it often holds exclusive collections which can only be seen in China. Right in the middle of the plaza is a large cruise-ship which has been converted into a hotel which is worth checking out. If you ever get bored of the rich variety of Chinese cuisine (which in my opinion is impossible!) SeaWorld also has some of the best selection of Western restaurants thanks to the large expat community that resides here. My personal favourite? There is a traditional Irish pub that is about the only place I have found that offers a proper English breakfast.
Known to the locals as Deng Xiaoping Park, Lianhuashan Park is easily one of the most beautiful and most important green spaces in Shenzhen. Atop the central hills stands a monument dedicated to Chinese Leader Deng Xiaoping, who is fondly known as the ‘father of Shenzhen’ thanks to progressive policies which made the city what it is today. Due to its significance in the city, the park is well cared for and has the most wonderful displays of local flowers and trees. If you walk to the top to visit the monument, you can also catch great views of Children’s Palace square in the city centre. It is probably one of the best ways to see the city, if not the best.
OCT stands for ‘Overseas Chinese Town’, a name which harks back to the area’s past as a haven for newly returning Chinese who had come to Shenzhen seeking new opportunities when the city began to open up to investment from outside China. It was once a factory district, devoted to producing low cost electronics and textiles which is an industry which has long since died out in Shenzhen in favour of robotics factories or technology centres. Instead, the warehouses which once made and house goods have been ‘reclaimed by the people’ as an international arts centre. It’s amazing what you can find here – turn down one street and its full of coffee shops, turn down another and spot a live band and then down another into a Chinese opera performance! It’s easily one of my favourite places to wander on the weekends.
Although the city centre is considered the best place to explore, it is worth travelling a little bit further out. I live in Bao’an District, the fastest developing area in Shenzhen, which has its own unique spaces and charms. f518 is the local art space, displaying collaborations between local universities and schools with twinned international campuses. Right now? It’s the Scottish and Chinese cultural exchange so there were plenty of kilts and bagpipes on display. Sadly, this place is also testimony to how fast China is growing. Just a few years ago, this place was one of the major expat hangouts in Shenzhen but now only a few coffee shops, bars and galleries are still going. Who knows whether it will still be here in a few years time. I certainly hope it is.
Do you like shopping? Bao’an is now home to the largest shopping mall in the entirety of Shenzhen. I have already spent two full days in here (mostly getting lost due to its sheer size!) and I am convinced I haven’t seen it all. You can find all kinds of stores from Chinese, South Korean, Japanese, American, British and everything in between. The best thing? This place has plenty of options for stores, but it has just as many for food. You can find the finest Cantonese cooking but you can also grab a great bowl of ramen or a pizza just as easily. These are just a few of the places I have been lucky enough to visit during my time out here in Shenzhen. I would definitely recommend them if you happen to find yourself in China’s Silicon Valley for a weekend as you get to enjoy a mix of shopping, art and green spaces for which Shenzhen is famous. But if you want my honest advice? Stay longer. You can’t fit everything that this wonderful city has to offer in just forty-eight hours.