It’s been a number of years since I’ve made the trek across the border to Shenzhen and in that short time, everything has changed. As recently as 1979, Shenzhen was an insignificant, small fishing village home to only a hundred thousand people. Today, Shenzhen is a burgeoning flagship city in China. With a population of almost 9 million, Shenzhen has become a true metropolis, ranked as one of China’s top ten livable cities. In many circles, Shenzhen is referred to as “China’s Silicon Valley,” where the most serious Chinese tech companies set up shop to manufacture and innovate.
While some areas of Shenzhen look bigger and bolder than Hong Kong, cultural nuances creep up every once in awhile to remind you: this IS China. The reminders for me took the form of insane traffic and drivers, “Chinglish” signs, old men spitting up phlegm all around me and of course, my mortal enemy, The Squat Toilet (TM).
I went to Shenzhen on a day trip with some of my coworkers and we all decided we wanted to see locations that were indicative of Shenzhen, but not the commercial side of the city and we also wanted to see locations that were slightly off the beaten bath.
CITIC Minsk Aircraft Carrier World (明思克航母世界)
Haijing Rd, Yantian, Shenzhen, China, 518081
Tel: +86 755 2535 5333
This led us to a tour of an old decommissioned Russian aircraft carrier, The Minsk. The taxi ride to the ship confirmed our suspicions that it probably wasn’t the most popular tourist attraction in Shenzhen. The ship is harboured in a newly developed suburb of Shenzhen, quite far away from the city centre. Since we also happened to go during an intermittent thunderstorm, we were 4 of only 10 people who seemed to be on the ship, excluding staff.
The Minsk is a soviet ship that changed hands several times and with much complication, ended up in the hands of CITIC Shenzhen. It doesn’t seem like maintenance is a big concern for the Minsk Operations Team, as the entire ship has fallen into disarray. To be honest, the Minsk experience felt as close to the stereotype Communist trope as we’ll probably ever get to see in Shenzhen – the rest of the city is awash in Nike, KFC, Louis Vuitton and other brands that speak of the new wealth and conspicuous consumption habits of China. The ship was an interesting time capsule experience.
We then went to check out one of the coolest and surreal art spots I’ve ever seen…
Dafen (大芬) Art Village
Buji Town, Longgang, Shenzhen, China
In the early 1990s, a group of about twenty artists started the Dafen Village, where they created uncanny forgeries of famous artworks by masters such as Van Gogh, Dalí, da Vinci, Rembrandt and Warhol, to name a few. It’s such a mind blowing thing to see people painting the masterpieces that you’ve seen before behind 50 layers of glass at a museum somewhere in real-time. There are walls and walls, boxes upon boxes of art that look like they should all be incredibly important but are instead ubiquitous and stacked like worthless Jenga pieces on top of each other all around you.
What I can say about the village is that forgeries aside, it has the atmosphere of a real art haven, and the artists themselves definitely have immense technical talent (perhaps not the creativity?) that probably takes decades to master. Someday, I believe future Chinese artists will come from places like this with something incredible to say. There’s just too much atmosphere and talent there. I refuse to believe it will only ever be a art copy sweatshop.
After a stop at a nearby café bar for an inordinate amount of Budweiser (we questioned whether the beer was real or not – there’s no way I should be able to drink THAT many cans of Bud without getting wasted…) and some dialogue with a few Chinese tourists looking to polish their English abilities with native speakers, we were back in Hong Kong.
Shenzhen was supposedly modelled off of Hong Kong, but the skyscrapers and proximity definitely haven’t obscured the unique differences and histories of both cities, creating very visible distinctions in atmosphere and culture.
Shenzhen is definitely worth a visit.