Shenzhen: Swiftly Surging Skyward


Two years after a change in visa rules forced my departure, I return for a 24 hour look at China’s fourth city and my favourite so far. At the risk of sounding pompous, if it is possible to have a love affair with a city other than Paris and my own capital Cardiff, Shenzhen is a definite candidate for Asian mistress (no secret to those who may have tuned in previously).

This time I am based in the northern district of Minzhi near the behemoth north station, though you wouldn’t think so. Behind the familiar Chinese bustle of its main street, Minzhi’s milieu has more in common with Beverly Hills or Malibu! Its grandeur truly a sight for sore eyes fuelling my melancholy that Shenzhen was prized from my grasp by bureaucracy but dizzy with delight to be back, seeing and breathing an intoxicating new vista.

An electric buggy picks me up – a first in all my years of travelling – to whisk me to my accommodation. It’s barely big enough for me, let alone my bags. The speed bumps rock my soul but the breeze is a good aphrodisiac for tired traveler’s bones. As night is falling, I chose to leave everything, save eating, until morning.

While dining, I’m joined by an upbeat local who is learning English and he asks me common questions which have become water off the proverbial duck’s back and I can’t help but admire his eagerness to embrace the chance to speak in a tongue vastly different than his own. We trade social formalities and bid farewell as he departs for his classroom in the sky above where we ate.

My first port of call after an early morning dalliance with a dodgy shower was to catch up with ‘dinky’ – the metro station cleaner whom assaulted my heartstrings with her adorable cuteness. Too late. In two years’ people change, people move. The most I could ascertain is she developed a back problem, had to retire from cleaning duties and cooks somewhere nearby. In a city the size of Shenzhen this could mean any one of a million eateries, without knowing which one it was a mission I had to abort, saddened not to see my little friend again.

sz-urban nature at the loft-2015 sz-loft yha-interior-2015

Next up.. The Loft arts complex where my love affair began a few winters earlier. Now it was summer and though thunder and showers were forecast, the blue sky and homely green trees greeted my exit from the metro with a searing heat! A few moments on foot and I was aching for a shower and Iced Latte at Starbucks but the real surprise, the first of many, was just what a transformation had taken place in my absence.

Nothing stands still and much like Cardiff, Shenzhen’s stellar metamorphous had birthed an array of new skyscrapers, on what was only a few years ago a small park with part of an aeroplane in it. Much as I like modernity, the park was a nice companion piece to the cultural vibe served up by The Loft and its abolition to history seemed pitiful. Does urbanity really require more apartments?

sz-champoo art rest-2015 sz-lay-z bar-2015

Back in the mainframe of things, The Photographers’ Gallery had also been vanquished in favour of more coffee and bars. The Loft was growing like its host city but at what cost? Its founding principle of alluring like minded culture vultures was slowly being eroded for coffee and I like coffee too within the context of its surroundings. With no time to take everything in, the ever sparkling metro lead me on to lunch at Houhai’s Coastal City.

A staple during my time in Shenzhen, Saizeriya’s current menu was a bit of a let down after a year in Hunan, I even balked at the Carbonara instead opting for Salmon pasta in cream. The drinks bar remained reliable, much better than Taipei’s flat cordials these were tasty juices (or tastier cordials) of peach, orange and grape.

sz-new builds at houhai-2015

Outside, two of the skyscrapers being built during said tenure now stood complete, gleaming in the sun beneath the planes taking off from the ultra modern stingray shaped terminal at Shenzhen Airport (also sadly omitted from my itinerary this time round). More of a shock was the amount of construction occurring making the landscape I knew barely recognisable.

And so to my former home in Shekou, The Peninsular stood proud escorted by its box-like window frames into the blue ether surrounding it. If Volvo or IKEA did architecture this would no doubt be the result. To my immediate right (beside the metro entrance) empty space! By now I’d expected this area to have been transformed into chic structures for the affluent (the same way as the Loft has) but here was surprise in reverse – the scene remained much as I remembered it.

sz-new build at sea world-2015 sz-hilton-2015

Only an absence of trees, removed from the roadside, painted an increasingly desolate picture; an arid wasteland with makeshift workers cabins glued to its dusty floor. It felt a little like standing in an urban western, a light gust sweeping dust through the air for it to settle elsewhere. The shape of things to come evident in the framework of new builds swiftly surging skyward along the waterfront. There was more to come around the creative sphere known as NH Cool.

The quirky Origo Cafe which I blogged about previously had been extinguished. In its place, the snazzy Baking Workers (shouldn’t that be Working Bakers?) bistro which despite its contemporary interior seemed as forlorn as the cafe it had replaced. The really big news was saved for Sea World. The Minghua ship had finally been declared open for business alongside many stylish eateries designed to capture the salaries of sophisticates. The next stage of this development is the arts zone being readied around the mermaid statue and reasonably new Hilton (pictures soon).

After surveying this beautiful hotel including a piano in a pool! I took once again to the metro destined for Coco Park. Central Futian district will be home to the state of the art Shenzhen Station and the world’s second tallest building – Ping An Finance Centre – when its completed. The former will act as the axis point of several metro lines and the high speed rail corridor between Hong Kong and Beijing; though with immigration to consider, one wonders how this will affect operations.

sz-north stn thinker-2015

Speaking of trains, more fleecing was to be had at Shenzhen North when buying an onward ticket to nearby Guangzhou but as Dragon Boat festival was upon us, not that I’ve seen one dragon boat in three years of being in China, I decided to succumb to the ever present lies being offered grateful to have had another look at my Asian girlfriend; the one with leafy lungs and concrete cranium.


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