Recently, work brought me to Shenzhen to take over a position within an international company. This article is not about my new role, but more about my first impressions of Shenzhen as I get used to my new life here. I’ve already lived for over two years in Beijing, made friends, got a girlfriend and a puppy. So what makes someone that seemed to have settled down move to a city across China? Many reasons involving mainly personal growth and challenges. If you want to know more, just ask.
Shenzhen the growing business city. Shenzhen the Silicone Valley of China. With Honk Kong being just an hour away, Shenzhen grew to become a portal for new tech that can be shared with the world. It was born from the art of counterfeiting new tech back in the 1990 to produce new and competing tech that can match the world’s biggest giants like Apple and Google. That is not a secret, it’s a fact. In the midst of such a city, I find myself… empty.
That is the truth of this city. High rise buildings all over, big companies and an army of people, expats and Chinese working alike, dedicating to work and little more. Everyone works as if their life depends on it and the city reflects that. This is a new city that doesn’t come with a history similar to Beijing or Shanghai. Even I end up working easily 10 hours a day (at least) and over the weekends as well.
When talking with people here, the opinion about Shenzhen is similar. “There is no culture here.” Hearing those words gave me cold sweats despite the crushing and humid heat. Yes, the weather is hot and VERY humid. For the likes of me, a walking heater that loves the cold, it’s a challenge in itself. But this doesn’t take away from my determination to find SOMETHING to connect with in this city. I already got the chance to work with some really amazing people, so my daily life is not that bad, but I need some culture, some… jazz maybe? Anything.
As I walked along the streets of Shenzhen, through the myriad of buildings, I asked myself “why so many buildings”. Like a concerto of skyscrapers fighting for the Shenzhen sky, my neck hurt from looking upwards. And as I brought my eyes down to the ground I was walking on, shopping centers and big brands hit me. Givenchy, Coach, Burberry… All the big brands inside new shopping centers. I went and visited those places and with prices twice the standard we find in Canada or the US (I wish I was exaggerating here), these shops are but simple showcases for the very small amount of people that can afford it, Chinese and Expats alike.
At this point, you can probably feel my tone is quite pessimistic. This is but the reality of my first impressions of Shenzhen. This is what the city first throws at you as you first arrive and learn to discover it. Thankfully, it’s not all glum as there are some secrets, known and unknown. One of which is OCT Loft, an industrial sector that was transformed in an art studios and a more trendy spot. I got the chance to visit it and was pleasantly surprised to find some very nice places. From beautiful coffee shops to Jazz bars, my heart felt more at ease. And as I was talking with some people in such bars, I also discovered that in October, there will be a Jazz festival happening in the sector.
I finished my week by going to brunch with strangers. An expat thing. We like to bring random people together in networking events in the hopes to make friends. And this time, it was a morning Sunday brunch organized by an English teacher that managed to bring people from very different backgrounds. Sitting at my table was an Armenian working in the Blockchain industry, a Swiss working in new tech outsourcing and a Malaysian working for Huawei. With this lucky bunch, after the ritual “what do you do here and how long have you been in China?” we were prone to move to things more interesting, such as the local food, the life in Shenzhen and when the next hiking or beach trip is happening.
This was something that connected dearly with me because once again, I was reminded that a city’s culture is not dependant on the buildings, the politics or the business, but it depends on the people living it. And so, as a closing to my Shenzhen first impressions, I am left with the simple opinion that my life here will not be one of culture and history such as Beijing has to offer, but one of relations and the people I will get to know.