28 Feb Shenzhen, an under-the-radar city which surprised us all
When saying we were going to China we came across several stereotypical jokes including bad manners, pet-eating or poor quality. And don’t get me started on people being workaholic or physically all the same. Please, update.
So, we’re gonna tell you a bit of our experience and then you can jump to conclusions for yourself, of course.
Being part of the IT world, of course, we had to kick start our journey at Shenzhen, a 30-year-old megacity with no equal in terms of vibrancy, youth, dynamism, and innovation. This city was specially designed to become China’s hub for manufacturing, technology, and financial industries, oriented towards long-term sustainability and openness to the world.
So three thoughts that come to mind when you get to Shenzhen: modern, bright & green. I believe this really does honor the city you’re arriving at, as once you start your way to your hotel you come to realize that instead of being a concrete jungle, this city indeed has various plants in every corner, even some palm trees Miami beach style.
Trying to shake off jet lag and starting to adapt, we ended up experiencing the amazing music scene Shenzhen has to offer. Yes, karaoke is a big deal but also are awesome live musicians playing Chinese and international music! Jammers are genuinely invited to join, so cool. What also surprised us was finding karaoke booths for those who feel like singing in their free lunchtime!
The openness and respect with which people welcome you (The first image displayed in this post shows a letter written to us by a kid who took the same plane than us from Beijing to Shenzhen!) reflect the identity of a city made of immigrants with a wide variety of flavors, accents and bold fashion trends. It’s inevitable to feel an atmosphere of innovation, entrepreneurship, and inspiration. Now about the air, well its quality is decent, most of the time.
The use of bikes in the city is shocking even to those to have been to bike-loving places such as Amsterdam or Copenhagen. They can pick up their bikes and drop them off at basically any other station they wish, and they are quite close to each other. That refers again to their main values: innovation and sustainability.
Transportation was convenient; and it’s definitely possible to get along not knowing Chinese, which for us was a tricky limitation.
But nothing limited our shopping capacity. Shenzhen is a place where you can buy basically anything. From drones (we LOVE drones) to fashion, tea to bitcoin mining hardware; we rapidly learned the exchange from US dollars to RMB. We were particularly keen on electronics, and Huaqiangbei commercial area proved to be a great place for that.
And when you experience such a shopping spree, you understand something that you can only conceive when it happens to you: You want to buy something, wish to pay it with a credit card and your cards don’t get accepted, so when you try paying with Chinese currency (RMB) and it’s likely that the answer will be NO again. The most broadly accepted payment method is WeChat, through your QR code.
So as Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Gmail, Skype, Twitter and so on are forbidden in China; they developed an all-in-one app that also includes payment service: WeChat.
From cigarettes on the street to clothes, subway to street food, anything in China can be paid by WeChat, even beggars show you their QR code. So far, this feature was only available for Chinese bank cardholders, but some weeks ago international credit cards can be associated.
People living in China no longer use cash; the places where international cards are accepted are the most touristic areas, today Chinese people buy everything online, mainly using Alibaba and paying via Alipay.
WeChat is amazingly ubiquitous. When going to our scheduled matchmaking sessions, after a formal culturally-adapted card exchange, businessmen would ask for our QR code to be able to get in touch with us, to later send us messages, emails, schedule and carry out video conferences and so on.
However, we would definitely recommend you to have a VPN app installed when going to China; for regular Google Maps and social networks users it can be challenging to go without some of these services and change them for Baidu and WeChat.
The China we experienced in Shenzhen is a forward-thinking and modern place, especially in everything related to e-commerce, electronic payment and artificial intelligent; but Shenzhen was definitely a brilliant spot to start at.