‘Blessed are they who see beautiful things
in humble places
where other people see nothing.’
– Camille Pissarro
What is it that first attracts us to a city, or rather a specific area of it? For me, it’s usually the part that I first become familiar with. In London it’s Earl’s Court, in Barcelona it’s Horta (pr. orta), in Paris it’s probably Montmartre and in Shenzhen it is most definitely the endearing yet ridiculously named OCT (Overseas Chinese Town).
pictures: 6th December 2015
So why OCT? At the moment it contains just the right balance between rustic apartment blocks, trees in abundance and at the same time a degree of chic. Near the main park (known as the Square) is a 7-11 where I survived on cheap noodles and hot dog sausage in my first month in Shenzhen back in 2012. Nowadays this is joined by sophisticated baking chain Bread Talk and next door to that is an equally resplendent McDonald’s but don’t let that put you off. Foodies can rest assured the Square comes with its own selection of eateries.
For those that only see Shenzhen as a soulless manufactured city of glossy mirror tile high-rises, here are some recent shots that I hope highlight otherwise. Even on an overcast day or in drizzly rain it offers ‘something’ and on a summer’s day at that special time just before the sun sets, it’s even more glorious.
pictures: 30th June 2016
Granted, it won’t be for everyone and though there are theme parks present – Happy Valley and I wouldn’t call it the OCT per se, Window of the World, I’ve never set foot in either; the trees, the light and the general vibe are all I need. I’d love to live there and if it isn’t too morbid I’d like to be laid to rest there too, well why not, it’s that good! For those of us that can see the magic, here are some more candid shots of the OCT in all its verdant glory.
pictures: shot between September 2012 & May 2013
I would also recommend exploring the OCT area in general as you never know what you’re going to find. Even now after many years’ and several visits there are new layers and views that reveal themselves over time. Starbucks by the park on a rainy day, check; street of tangerine trees at Chinese New Year, check; getting blissfully lost amid the leafy avenues, check …for now at least (more on that later).
pictures: 25th August 2016
On my most recent visit, summer 2016, I took the route as normal from Shantou Road and the eastern end of Qiaocheng East St toward the Square. However this time I climbed the steps into yet another park (no English name) established in 1985. This borders on Jinan University’s Tourism campus which in turns adjoins OCT Square. This area really does have it all! Art, Bakeries, Coffee, Education, Nature and Transport. The following morning I took the journey in reverse from the square toward the Loft.
pictures: 26th August 2016
My only major concern about this somewhat secret enclave is that nothing stays the same in Shenzhen for very long and as I may have mentioned in other blogs, two parks have already met their demise. Plans are afoot to turn nearby Baishizhou into a gentrified area so one wonders how long the modest communities of local Chinese can hold out before the re-development diggers come calling; think Shekou!
pictures: 25th August 2016
*Note there are two Starbucks; one on Enping Street (left) which signals the beginning of the Loft and another on Xinglong Street (right) adjacent to another smaller park with the Happy line Monorail snaking through on its way to the Square and beyond to Happy Valley and back down to Windows.
pictures: 25-26th August 2016
How to get there: Metro (green line to either Qiaocheng East or OCT. Orange line to Qiaocheng North. In either case there is a short walk involved probably 10 minutes from QC East. If you alight at OCT station exit B (you need to navigate to some extent – consult the map in the metro station) and from QC North it can be a bit niggly to negotiate if you don’t know your way around but the results as you can see are well worth it, for kindred spirits that love the simple things nature grants us.
Where to Stay: I’d opt for the City Inn on Shantou Road. Near a slew of local and regional (Thai) eateries and a local supermarket as well as the Loft arts complex. The hotel is top end of budget – at the time of writing around 400rmb per night, however it is in the thick of it and a good base to explore this area. If you can afford it the Novotel (Bauhinia) lies a little further east on Qiaocheng East Road *not to be confused with Qiaocheng East Street! In the same area but different, while Window of the World (shopping mall and metro station) boasts a Westin. The Intercontinental’s Maritime galleon is highly visible directly opposite OCT metro station on the southern side of Shennan Boulevard.
http://www.cityinnoctloft.com (there are several City Inn’s in this area)
Getting Around: Bus M486 weaves its way through the greenery while the monorail does similar from above.