From Fishing Village to Boom Town – Shenzhen

Posted on 17. Oct, 2014 by in architecture, architecture and landscaping, Culture, Drinking, food, Leisure, sightseeing, travel, Uncategorized

Back in the ’70s, there was a cluster of farming and fishing villages in southern China known as Baoan County (宝安区 – bǎo’ān qū). At that time, Deng Xiaoping was launching his new policy of Reform and Opening Up (改革开放 – gǎi gé kāi fàng), as he stated, “To be rich is glorious.” Thanks to its strategic location near Hong Kong, Baoan County was designated as China’s first Special Economic Zone (经济特区 – jīng jì tè qū). The plan was to experiment with economic reforms in a controlled way that would not affect the established system elsewhere in China. At that time, there were about 300,000 people living there, most of them farmers and fishermen. Fast forward to the present day, and you now have the mega-city of Shenzhen (深圳 – shēn zhèn) with a population of between 10-15 million, depending on the source.

Shenzhen from above.

Shenzhen from above.

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A short intro to Shenzhen from travelTVee.

Thanks to billions upon billions of investment dollars (both foreign and domestic), Shenzhen is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the entire world, and it shows no signs of slowing down. You won’t find many fishermen there these days, but you will find people from all over China and the world who have moved there to take advantage of the booming economy. On one end of the spectrum, you have millions upon millions of migrant workers who find jobs in construction or manufacturing. On the other end, you have plenty of people with a high level of education who work in some of China’s biggest tech companies. Everyone wants to get a piece of the pie in Shenzhen, which is now ranked #4 out of 659 Chinese cities in terms of its economic output, behind only Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

Shenzhen skyscrapers.

Always building here in SZ.

Much of the Shenzhen economy is based on manufacturing, which means you can find plenty of cheap goods there. Tons of massive markets are to be found all over the city, and exploring some of them is an interesting way to kill some time or hide from the frequent rain.

Shenzne electronic market.

Massive electronic markets are abundant here.

Due to its short history, there aren’t many famous tourist attractions in Shenzhen as compared with other Chinese cities. As such, a bunch of theme and amusement parks have been built up there to bring in the tourism RMB. As China is great at copying, it should come as no surprise that two of the most popular parks are the Window of the World (世界之窗 – shì jiè zhī chuāng) and Splendid China. At the former, you can check out a mini-Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, Grand Canyon, and more. The latter features two sides – one is the China Folk Culture Village with replicas of ethnic minority villages from around the country, and the other is the Miniature Park, which features mini models of famous sights such as the Great Wall and Terracotta Warriors.

Mini Forbidden City.

The mini Forbidden City inside Splendid China.

Every evening, you can also enjoy the spectacular “Dancing With the Dragon and Phoenix” performance. Check out a highlight video below:

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When it comes to food and beverage, there’s no shortage of great places to enjoy a meal or a drink in Shenzhen. As people from all over China call this bustling city home, you can find just about any kind of Chinese food imaginable. It being Guangdong province, there’s plenty of delicious Cantonese food around. Some places may surprise you, though, like a legit Xinjiang restaurant under a tent in a random parking lot of an apartment complex. If you’re looking for Western food, just head to the Shekou (蛇口 – shé kǒu) area. Home to many expats, you can find French, Korean, Italian, American, and everything in between. You’ll even find a former cruise ship, the Minghua, which is now parked here and serves as a luxury hotel with a bar and restaurant.

Shekou in Shenzhen.

Stroll around Shekou for lots of good restaurants and bars.

Shenzhen Minghua

The Minghua, a former cruise ship turned hotel.

Although it can’t rival the nightlife of Beijing or Shanghai, there are also plenty of places to wet your whistle in the evening. Whether you’re looking for a fancy cocktail or a locally made craft beer, you can find it in Shenzhen. Of course, you could always pull up a stool and pound lukewarm Kingways and chain smoke with local dudes as well. Shenzhen may not be a top tourist destination in China, but there’s plenty to see and do there to warrant a trip. Plus, with its continued development and economic growth, it’s an appealing destination for those wanting to work or start a business in the country. Check back to the blog in the coming weeks for a short video tour of Shenzhen and an introduction to Guangdong province as a whole.

A Big Buddha and More on Lantau Island

Posted on 15. Oct, 2014 by in architecture, architecture and landscaping, Buddhism, Culture, history, Leisure, religion, sightseeing, travel

Cruise over to Lantau Island for an awesome Hong Kong day trip. Take the cable car for stunning views, climb to the top of the Big Buddha, wander through the wisdom path, and pay a visit to the Po Lin Monastery.

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大屿山 – dà yǔ shān
Lantau Island

你需要排队一个小时左右
nǐ xū yào pái duì yī gè xiǎo shí zuǒ yòu
You need to line up for an hour or so.

缆车 – lǎn chē
cable car

日本菜 – rì běn cài
Japanese food

天坛大佛 – tiān tán dà fú
Big Buddha

心经简林 – xīn jīng jiǎn lín
Wisdom Path

宝莲禅寺 – bǎo lián chán sì
Po Lin Monastery
“Precious Lotus Zen Temple”

10 Things I Love About China

Posted on 10. Oct, 2014 by in Chinglish, Culture, environment, food, Leisure, music, sightseeing, travel, Uncategorized

As promised, here’s the follow up to my “10 Things I Hate About China” post with some things that I love about this country.

1. Its Natural Beauty

Beautiful mountains of Yangshuo.

“Is this real life?” in Yangshuo, Guangxi.

When most people think of China, the first thing that comes to mind are mega-cities with congested roads, massive crowds of people, factories churning out cheap goods, and a thick gray sky full of smog floating overhead. If the only images of China you get are from Western media, it makes sense that this is your perception. After living and traveling here for a few years, though, that’s not what springs up in my mind when I think of the Middle Kingdom. Rather, I see the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, the bewildering karst mountains of Guangxi, the sheer beauty of Jiuzhaigou national park in Sichuan, and the rolling rice fields of southern Yunnan. Even around Beijing and Shanghai, you don’t have to go far to be near a towering mountain or a majestic river. Get out of the concrete jungle and explore some of China’s natural beauty, because it’s all over the place.

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Zharu Valley Eco-Tourism Hike in Sichuan.

2. Public Transportation

Sleepers on a Chinese train.

Ridin’ that train in China.

Coming from the Detroit area, I didn’t grow up with much exposure to public transportation. After all, it is the Motor City – everyone drives and options are limited and unreliable when it comes to public transport. In fact, this can be said for the entire United States. Planning a big trip via bus or train can be tricky if not impossible in the US, where outside of a few major cities public transportation is laughable at best. That’s not the case here in the Middle Kingdom, where you can travel to all corners of this massive country by bus or train. It’s astonishing what China has done in the past decade in terms of train travel – it now has the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, with nearly 7,000 miles of track. There are plans to double this by 2020, and lofty talks of building lines to connect China with London, Singapore, and even the United States. The high-speed trains are great and all, but I also love taking the older, slower trains when traveling. Hard-sleeper bunks are affordable and actually quite comfortable, and a long train journey in China is a great way to see the country and mingle with locals. I’ve had tons of fun on train trips in my years in China, including a ridiculous, drunken, shirtless photo shoot with some guys on the way to Changbai Mountain. The massive train and bus network in China allows you to travel more for less, and it assures you can go just about anywhere you want without a car.

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A BBC piece on China’s high-speed rail.

3. Street Food

Street food in China.

Nom nom.

My love for Chinese street food is no secret, as it’s a topic that regularly comes up in conversation. People often ask me what food I miss from America, but to be honest there isn’t much I can put on that list. While not exactly as good as at home, it’s not hard to find a sandwich, burger, pizza, or even BBQ here. It is, however, impossible to find a delicious jian bing (煎饼 – jiān bing) or rou jia mo (肉夹馍 – ròu jiā mó) outside of a bar back in the US. When I’m back home visiting friends or family, I find myself daydreaming about Chinese street food and drooling a little bit. Some people may shutter at the thought of eating mystery meat on a stick in some random dark alley of a third-tier Chinese city, but that’s probably one of my favorite things in the world to do. No matter where I travel in this country, I can always find a place to sit down on a tiny stool, crack a lukewarm Tsingtao beer, and dig into a delicious feast of assorted snacks.

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Check out some of China’s best street food.

4. Local Parks

Local Chinese park.

Catching a performance in Chengdu’s People’s Park.

In the last post, I mentioned how the degradation of traditional culture is something I hate about China. While it’s true that I could do without the thousands of KFCs and mega-malls that have sprung up here, I still know where to go if I want to get my fill of Chinese culture – a local park. Regardless of where you are in China, you can always find locals gathered in the park doing exactly the kind of stuff you may have expected to see here: tai chi (太极 – tài jí) practice in the early morning, rowdy group games of majohng (麻将 – má jiàng), line-dancing, dudes jammin’ out on an er hu (二胡 – Èr hú), old men engaged in a heated game of Chinese chess, and so much more. Whenever I feel like I’ve had a bad China day and I find myself frustrated with something here, I just head to a local park and go for a stroll. Watching people singing, dancing, and playing various games reminds me what I love about China and leaves me feeling refreshed and calmed down. I loved the local parks so much in Beijing that I even put them in my Top 10 Places in the city countdown.

5. Dining Out

In a Chinese restaurant.

A big meal with friends.

After living in China for a few years, going out to a restaurant back in the States simply isn’t exciting. After all, it’s hard to beat the dining out experience that the Middle Kingdom has to offer. Restaurants here are crowded, hot, and noisy, and every meal out with friends is an occasion. There’s no need to worry about politely getting your waiter’s attention – just yell! Don’t worry so much about your table manners, either – slurp your noodles, pound your beer, yell across the table, and just enjoy yourself. Ordering in a Chinese restaurant is so much better than in a Western one, as you order tons of dishes, place them on the lazy Susan, and share with everyone. Ordering a side salad and an entree each is just so boring compared to the Chinese way of dining out. Don’t go hungry and learn how to order in Chinese with this post.

6. Traveling

Fujian tulou.

Awesome groupie with the “tulou” villages of Fuijian in the background.

China is a huge, fascinating country with so much to see, and I love getting out and seeing it bit by bit. I love traveling here so much, in fact, that it’s possible I’ll visit every part of China before I visit every state back home. From the mega-cities, to seaside hotspots, to holy mountains, to stunning national parks, to historical sites, to tiny remote villages, China literally has it all. Getting out of your comfort zone here and heading to lesser known destinations is a rewarding experience as well, since you’re forced to use your Chinese, eat local food, and really dive into the heart of the country. I always loved traveling outside of Beijing, because it reminded me that I actually lived in China. Working as an English teacher in a place like Beijing, it was easy to get sucked into the expat bubble, but there’s no such thing in most places you go here.

7. Music – Ancient and Modern

Chinese Naxi orchestra.

A traditional Naxi orchestra in Lijiang, Yunnan.

There’s just something about ancient Chinese music that I love. While I don’t know a whole lot about it, I do know that it sounds good. I got so interested in traditional Chinese instruments that I wrote an entire series for the blog about them (you can check out the first post here), and I had an amazing time researching the posts and watching tons of YouTube videos. From the pi pa (琵琶 – pí pá) to the ge hu (革胡 – gé hú), to the xiao (箫 –  xiāo), traditional Chinese instruments produce an amazing sound. But it’s not just the traditional stuff I dig here – there’s plenty of great modern music as well. No, I’m not talking about “The Little Apple,” although I’ll admit that song is catchy. Before I came to China, I wouldn’t have believed that there was a band of Chinese guys who call themselves LSD (龙神道 – lóng shén dào), have dreadlocks, and play a mix of reggae, ska, and punk. They do exist, though, and I’ve seen them in concert at least ten times. There’s also an awesome band called Hanggai (杭盖 – háng gài) who blend traditional Mongolian music with rock and punk. Despite what you may think, there’s a substantial music scene in the bigger cities of China, and exploring it has been one of my favorite parts of living here.

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8. Ethnic Minority Cultures

Chinese ethnic minorities.

Meet the ethnic minority groups of Yunnan province.

Did you know that there are actually 55 ethnic minority (少数民族 – shǎo shù mín zú) groups in China? While Han Chinese people make up about 92% of the population of mainland China, there are ethnic minority groups all over the country. We covered them in a post a few months back, so check it out to learn the name’s of all 56 ethnic groups in China. Each group has its own unique architecture, clothing, food, holidays, music, and more, making China quite a culturally diverse country – something I didn’t expect before coming here. Perhaps the best place to learn about the ethnic minorities of China is my new home – Yunnan province (云南省 – yún nán shěng) – as it home to 26 of the 55 groups. I’m thoroughly looking forward to exploring this amazing part of China and diving into the local cultures here in the coming years.

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Long, but good… a documentary on the ethnic minorities of China.

9. Random Silliness

Chinglish sign.

A great Chinglish sign above the urinal in the men’s room.

Oftentimes when people back home ask me how China is, I simply answer, “It’s a silly place.” If you don’t believe me, then just walk around aimlessly for an entire day in a Chinese city and take notes of the random, goofy things you see. From funny Chinglish signs, to dancing donkey toys in the street, to babies running around with split pants on, there’s never a dull moment here. Any time I feel bored, I know that all I have to do is take a walk around the neighborhood and I’ll see something interesting, strange, or downright hilarious. China may drive me crazy sometimes, but more often than not it just makes me laugh.

10. Learning the Language

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Learn the 20 most common Chinese characters with me!

Sure, Chinese is hard as hell to learn. With four tones and 10,000+ characters, it’s a daunting task to take on. Although my Chinese is not nearly as good as it could and should be (that’s what happens when you teach English full-time!), I love learning the language and doing my best to use it on a daily basis. Languages really do open doors, and when you can speak Chinese – even just a little – people are much more receptive to you and start to let their guard down a bit. Of course, I’ll always still be a 老外, but being able to speak a little Chinese goes a long way in making friends here and has been the catalyst for lots of incredible experiences. Of course, if you want to learn Chinese as well, you’ve come to the right place!

 

If you’re curious, the good definitely outweighs the bad here – if it didn’t, I wouldn’t have stuck around for so long. I’m on my fifth year in China and already thinking about adding a sixth. It’s such an amazing, diverse country with a fascinating history and culture that you could spend a lifetime here and not even scratch the surface. If you’re on the fence about visiting China or potentially moving here, just do it – it might be the best decision you’ll ever make.