Originally from Birmingham, England, Ava has been living in Shenzhen on South China's tropical South East coast since 2013.
Shenzhen Has a Lot to Offer
Although largely unheard of outside parts of Asia, Shenzhen, located in Guangdong province on the South China coast, is one of the country's four biggest cities.
As the locals will proudly tell you, a mere 30 years ago Shenzhen (pronounced Shen-Jun, in case you were wondering) was still a humble fishing village. Today however, there is no trace of this city's agricultural roots as, with a strong infrastructure and forward-thinking governance, it steadfastly holds its own against the neighbouring regional capital Guangzhou, the mighty Beijing, and the stylish, bustling port city of Shanghai.
These days Shenzheners earn their living through trade and commerce, information technology, and retail, with many people holding two jobs in order to live comfortably in a high-priced environment.
People who work hard like to play hard and Shenzhen has a plethora of resources which its citizens enjoy in their downtime.
What's Shenzhen Like?
Located on Southeast China's tropical coastline, the city is a well-planned, clean, dust and usually smog-lite, aesthetic pleasure with broad avenues lined with palm trees and an abundance of greenery.
In short, it's beautiful.
The many beaches have extensive walkways such as the popular area of Hongshulin where you can rent a bike and cycle for hours, ambling along at your own pace. On one side are mangroves filled with birds and just across the bay is the vibrant city of Hong Kong, almost close enough for you to reach out and touch.
Goals and Desires
Shenzhen's ambition and self-belief permeate the air and filter down to its 15 million people.
As part of its plans to become a truly international city, many public signs are bi-lingual and a significant amount of young people have a good grasp of oral and written English.
In order to aid the city's ongoing development, foreign experts from various industries are welcomed with attractive packages and encouraged to attend regular forums in order to discern and implement ways to make their stay in China easier.
1. Window of the World
This first place to visit in Shenzhen is a collection of some of the world's most famous icons spread out over several acres. These are representations of these well-known world landmarks, not exact replicas, so the scale is somewhat smaller, typically 1:1, 1:5, or 1:15.
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When I asked about the reasoning behind this free attraction I was told that many Chinese people don't travel outside of China, so this is a way of bringing the world to them!
Here you can take selfies next to the following monuments:
- The Eiffel Tower
- The Pyramids and the Sphinx
- The Angkor Wat of Cambodia
- The Tower of London
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa
- The Roman Colosseum
Travel further into the site past the (non-replica) KFC and other eateries and you'll encounter romantic garden settings, quaint gift shops offering art classes, a skating rink, a beer garden, and an outdoor jazz club with live musicians.
The venue regularly hosts many shows and festivals including stunning firework displays held on both Western and Chinese New Year.
Avoid the crowds by visiting during a normal workday, if you can.
2. Dameisha and Xiaomeisha Beaches
Being a coastal city has many advantages.
1. Beaches: There's an abundance of beaches to help you escape the overwhelming heat of a tropical summer. Less than an hour by car, but also accessible by bus, Dameisha and its little sister beach Xiaomeisha, (known as oriental Hawaii) are popular spots for families, young people and those looking for a break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
2. Scenery: With a backdrop of lush green hills and seas which span several shades of blue, you may want to spend all day.
3. Food: There are plenty of reasonably priced restaurants offering a variety of food, including barbecue on the beach. There are also upmarket hotels with live jazz lunches for those wanting a little more luxury.
4. Relaxation: Sit for a while and let your feet sink into the soft, golden sand while you gaze at the endless China sea.
5. Music and Games: Summon up some energy and join in with a beach volleyball game or sing along as a talented musician strums away on his guitar.
6. Gentle Exercise: When you've had enough of the sand but don't want to totally leave the area, rise above it all by strolling along the hillside walkway that runs for miles offering beautiful views and cool breezes.
3. Dafen Art Village
Dafen is the real-life embodiment of what someone, somewhere had in mind when they envisaged a thriving artist's village.
Situated in East Shenzhen, Longgang District, Dafen is easily accessible by bus or underground train.
Set up in the early 1990s, there's a profusion of small streets and alleyways which are literally bursting with artistic expression.
You can commission work by showing your chosen artist your favourite photograph which he or she will reproduce in oils. Wander slowly through the small meandering lanes absorbing the atmosphere and marveling at the skill exhibited through painting, drawing, reproducing, and creating.
Even if you're not an art lover, I guarantee you'll see something which you just have to take home.
4. Lianhua Mountain
With a larger than life-size statue of reformist leader Den Xiaoping at its peak, the abundant and beautiful Lianhua mountain is a popular venue for romantic walks, kite-flying, gentle hikes, family fun, and much more.
Situated in the heart of the city, it spans a little over 150 acres.
Many claim that the views offered at the summit, which open right across the metropolis, are best seen at sunrise or sunset. But to be honest, it's the perfect vantage point from which to view the city at any time.
Activities on the mountain range from daytime and nighttime kite flying, (nighttime kites are fitted with super-cool neon lights), to organised communal events which are just as much fun to watch as they are to join in.
- Getting your aerobics groove on in the midst of an enthusiastic keep-fit group.
- Listening to revolutionary opera songs beside the Lotus Lake on a Sunday morning.
- Playing badminton in the open air
- Smiling at the serene grace of senior citizens doing ballroom dancing in perfect time.
- Snapping photos of an artist working with fast evaporating waters and a huge tapered broom to inscribe ancient poetry on the paving stones
- If your offspring are looking for a significant other, Lianhua mountain has become a popular place for parents to meet and swap details of their adult, single children in the hope of sparking lifelong unions.
These four venues are merely a taster of what this fascinating, culturally rich, modern (in a Western sense, yet still very Chinese), vibrant, and eclectic city has to offer.
The saying goes that when you come here you are no longer a visitor, you are a local. So from one Shenzhener to a potential other (that's you), welcome.