DREAMS AND MO­BILES MADE HERE

The sky has be­come the limit in Shen­zhen, China’s hi-tech hub

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION CHINA - SUE BEN­NETT

THERE’S A LIVELY ARTS SCENE, CHINA’S LARGEST BOOKSTORE, BARS, STREET FOOD, GASTROPUBS AND RESTAU­RANTS

Un­til the late 1970s, the quiet fish­ing vil­lage of Bao’an County, north of Hong Kong, was home to 30,000 peo­ple. Today, it’s a city with an es­ti­mated pop­u­la­tion of 12 mil­lion and the high­est real es­tate prices in main­land China. Aus­tralians visit Shen­zhen to play golf (one re­sort has a dozen 18-hole cour­ses) and it con­tin­ues to at­tract day trip­pers from Hong Kong look­ing for fake hand­bags. But nei­ther of th­ese is the best rea­son to visit.

For any­one with the slight­est in­ter­est in see­ing what the Chi­nese eco­nomic mir­a­cle looks like, this is the place to see. It’s the Sil­i­con Val­ley of China, a pow­er­house of high-tech in­ge­nu­ity and the place your mo­bile phone was al­most cer­tainly made.

Ar­riv­ing at its in­ter­na­tional air­port, named Bao’an in a nod to its ori­gins, pas­sen­gers are met by a dra­matic, fu­tur­is­tic build­ing wrapped in an un­du­lat­ing hon­ey­comb de­sign.

It’s said the city has an­other three air­ports on the draw­ing board. For now, a multi-lane toll road lined with palms and flow­er­ing ole­an­ders takes vis­i­tors on the 32km jour­ney to the CBD. There’s a metro train op­tion but the bus or car gives fur­ther clues to the iden­tity of a “gar­den city” of con­spic­u­ous suc­cess with myr­iad Maser­atis, Rolls Royces and Porsches pound­ing the high­way.

DE­SIGNER HEAVEN

Shen­zhen be­gan its jour­ney from vil­lage to the mod­ern face of China when it was des­ig­nated the coun­try’s first spe­cial eco­nomic zone in 1980.

Un­like its Hong Kong neigh­bour, flash­ing neon signs are not its style but tele­com and in­ter­net gi­ants like Huawei and Ten­cent are based here, of­ten be­hind lead­ing edge ar­chi­tec­ture.

A seven-storey, mod­ern build­ing with sweep­ing stair­cases houses an in­dus­trial mu­seum that cat­a­logues the city’s in­no­va­tions, al­beit achieved over less than four decades.

With a dar­ing wave de­sign roof, the ad­min­is­tra­tive hub, Civic Cen­tre, sits amid wide open spa­ces in the Fu­tian busi­ness district. Nearby, in­sur­ance com­pany Ping An is now housed in the world’s fourth tallest build­ing. Re­cently opened, the glass and stone ta­pered sky­scraper rises 599m.

UP­HILL STRUG­GLE

Also in Fu­tian, Lo­tus Hill sits in a 166ha park. On the week­end, it’s a mag­net for kite fly­ers but take the chal­leng­ing path to the top, pass­ing fruit trees, palms and honey sell­ers for a bird’s-eye view of the city and to stand be­neath a 6m- high statue of Deng Xiaop­ing, the man who made this city’s mir­a­cle makeover pos­si­ble. The con­se­quences of his gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to se­lect Shen­zhen for its ven­ture into cap­i­tal­ism is laid out for all to see.

MELT­ING POT

Shen­zhen’s open­ness to start-ups at­tracts cre­ative minds from around the world and it’s es­ti­mated one mil­lion for­eign­ers live and work in the city. With this comes a lively arts scene, China’s largest bookstore, bars, brew­eries, street food, gastropubs and restau­rants serv­ing food styles from French to Filipino. And with Chi­nese from through­out the coun­try here, ev­ery style of re­gional cook­ing is on sale. In the Fu­tian district, ex­cel­lent Can­tonese dim sum and con­gee are easy to find.

SHOP­PING

Ar­riv­ing by train from Hong Kong, there are two stops. Choose Lo Wu sta­tion to com­bine shop­ping in the gi­ant Luohu cen­tre at the bor­der, and a lunch of fiery Sichuan hot­pot, sold at many out­lets in Luohu district. Copy watches and hand­bags are nu­mer­ous in the cen­tre but so too are silks, tai­lors and cloth­ing stores. I bought high qual­ity, orig­i­nal de­signed blue and white china at ridicu­lously cheap prices.

Au­thor­i­ties would pre­fer vis­i­tors to think “De­signed in China” not “Made in China” th­ese days and tech heads should take the metro to Huaqiang­bei where there are malls with thou­sands of elec­tron­ics stalls. This is hi-tech Shen­zhen at a mi­cro level with stall­hold­ers be­com­ing masters of creativ­ity be­tween their day jobs. It’s said the short-lived hov­er­board be­gan life here.

But there is a dark side and it’s well doc­u­mented. Mil­lions of Chi­nese women flocked to Shen­zhen when mi­gra­tion rules were re­laxed, at one stage out­num­ber­ing men by seven to one. They came to work in the fac­to­ries and live in ad­join­ing dor­mi­to­ries mak­ing prod­ucts, par­tic­u­larly mo­bile phones. The male to fe­male ra­tio is now more bal­anced but dis­cus­sion con­tin­ues about work­ing con­di­tions.

THEME PARKS

There’s a Sea World but Shen­zhen spe­cialises in a less con­ven­tional style of theme park, the replica vil­lage. On a 30ha site, Splen­did China recre­ates the sights of the coun­try from the Great Wall to the Three Gorges Dam. In minia­ture. On a rather larger site and more life size, Win­dow of the World has recre­ations of many fa­mous tourist at­trac­tions. Vis­i­tors en­counter a 108m Eif­fel Tower, the Egyp­tian Pyra­mids and the Taj Ma­hal, Angkor Wat and our own Syd­ney Opera House. It’s all slightly kooky and there’s more. At Folk Cul­ture Vil­lages, China’s eth­nic mi­nori­ties are cel­e­brated through repli­cas of their hous­ing and life­styles.

PLAY ON

Back to the mod­ern day and there’s no bet­ter place to see China at play than Mis­sion Hills Re­sort. In ad­di­tion to its 12 full-sized golf cour­ses, there are 40plus ten­nis courts and a 22ha sports and eco park with al­most ev­ery sport imag­in­able. The ad­join­ing MH Mall has a range of good shops and there’s an ex­cel­lent spa. But don’t rock up and ex­pect to get a golf game with­out book­ing in ad­vance. This bur­geon­ing city likes to play be­tween re-cre­at­ing the world as we know it.

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