Shenzhen (1)

Tuesday 10/10

We wake up 15′ before the arrival of the train in Shenzhen (at 6:30am), which is the terminal station.

We go by metro to our hotel, which is located in the West part of the city, at Sea World; it’s a bit far. It’s rush hour so the metro is a bit crowded. We arrive at the hotel around 8am. Isabelle booked a serviced apartment at Fraser Suites (where we’ve already stayed in Dubai and where I spent many nights in Seoul). We are lucky today: they nicely give us an apartment upon arrival (check-in time is normally 2pm) and they upgrade us in a nice 2-bedroom apartment. It’s very spacious, clean and comfortable. It’s great! And the hotel has a pool! With this weather (30C, humid), it’s nice.

As soon as we arrive in the room, I connect to internet to try to book tickets for the Ghibli Museum in Tokyo, next month. It is the museum designed by the master animator Miyazaki, whose Studio Ghibli produced his animation movies that our family love. The tickets must indeed be purchased in advance. They open the bookings for November today at 9am. Despite our efforts during 2 hours (Isabelle and I were both on our computer), we could only get one ticket. At one point, I was about to get 4 tickets but my useless internet banking system bugged. I’m very disappointed. I try sending a message on Facebook, which is rather unusual for me.

We go to eat a brunch near the hotel, in the Sea World area.

I go to the swimming pool with Florence and Jules.

Isabelle and I go with Ludivine to OCT Loft. It is a hub of art museums and cultural venues, where old factories have been converted into creative cafes, pubs and shops. We spend a good time there.

We then do a nice ride on Ofo bikes along the sea, towards our area. Great views, at sunset.

We go to a very nice supermarket.

We eat pasta at home.

We have a great internet connection, with “integrated” VPN (I mean no blocked websites…). It feels good!

I write posts until 2:30am.


Just an explanation about this stop in Shenzhen. Many of our friends indeed wondered why Shenzhen was part of the programme of our world trip.

First, Shenzhen is known as “the silicon valley of hardware”. We wanted to know why Shenzhen is called that and why Shenzhen has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the world and is now China’s wealthiest city.

A bit of background: People have been arriving here from every corner of China since 1980, when the country’s reformist leader Deng Xiaoping launched one of the boldest economic experiments ever attempted, kickstarting the plan to turn China from a conventional communist economy into the global powerhouse it is today. Shenzhen, with fewer than 30,000 inhabitants, made history as China’s first “Special Economic Zone” (small, controlled areas where the Chinese communist government first tested out market reforms before rolling out new policies nationwide), where foreign direct investments and private enterprises were allowed. It was a move that would turn this town into one of China’s most dynamic cities. Tax incentives and freedom to trade without the approval of the Chinese government helped Shenzhen to lure Hong Kong manufacturers and investors to open factories there. The much cheaper labour and land earned the region the nickname “the factory of the world”. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Shenzhen was indeed considered a cheap and rather soulless manufacturing base. Mainly occupied by factories, and oriented as a low-tech and intensive-labour manufacturing centre, the population predominantly consisted of migrant factory workers from rural parts of China.

Fast-forward to 2017 and Shenzhen is now a national hub of innovation, technology, artificial intelligence, start-ups and biotech which avidly competes with its more famous neighbor. In just 40 years, Shenzhen has transformed from a fishing village to a booming innovation hub, with skyrocketing economic and population growth. Shenzhen is also the headquarters for many of China’s High-tech companies such as Huawei and Tencent. This sprawling urban Goliath north of Hong Kong has now become an incubator for cutting-edge design, a rule-breaking tech hub and also a bastion of next-gen urbanism (and even a leading cultural capital). Meanwhile, the Chinese government is using Shenzhen as a showcase for its move from “Made in China” to “Designed in China” — a program to rebrand the country as a place that can invent, not just copy and mass-produce.

Shenzhen has now 12 million inhabitants and is home to the fifth busiest port in the world. The growth can also be seen in the city’s skyline – last year Shenzhen completed 11 skyscrapers taller than 200m, more than Australia and the US combined.

In summary, Shenzhen appeared to us as one of the cities of the future. We wanted to discover the Hardware Capital of the World (for drones, smart bikes, scales, phones…). While the average consumer in the West may still think of Chinese tech companies as copycats, that mentality is outdated and, quite frankly, ignorant. China’s tech companies have gone from followers to innovation leaders in their respective fields in record time.

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