Being back in the cosy warmer surroundings of Guangdong Province presents a sense of relief. Though the weather is cooler, it is no way as punishing and cold as Beijing or Shanghai at this time of the year. After arriving in Guangzhou from Beijing, I headed straight to Shenzhen for a small project. I could have flown straight to Shenzhen, but I flew on the China Southern Airlines Airbus A380 to do a project for them so I had to fly to Guangzhou first (Shenzhen is around one hours train ride from Guangzhou).
The city of Shenzhen borders Hong Kong, and is a fine example of how rapidly the Chinese economy has grown over the past 30 odd years (and even more so since 2004). Newcomers to the city will probably think that they are still in Hong Kong, considering all the high rise glass and luxurious hotels that have spurted out of the ground.
Ever since the early 1980s when the late Deng Xiao Ping established Shenzhen as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ), the city has continuously attracted a vast amount of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)- far more than any other city in this country. Before the 1980s, Shenzhen was a hamlet filled with hundreds upon hundreds of rice farms, and fish farms. Those fish and rice farms have been replaced by the Shennan East Expressway which is choked with Ferraris' and Maseratis'. Then there are the grand hotel such as The Ritz-Carlton, The Grand Hyatt, and recently the St Regis Shenzhen (the tallest hotel in Shenzhen), and so on so forth etc.
The only evidence of any kind of rice and fish farms are those that are situated across the border in Hong Kong's Northern Territories. At least that part of this area still looks no different to what Shenzhen looked like before the 1980s, and its a stark reminder of how times have changed here. The sons and daughters of those farmers become overnight millionaires (some even billionaires , and are now enjoying the benefit of shopping at the likes of the Coastal City Mall, or in Shekou. They have lavish properties in places such as the Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), or near Shenzhen Bay. I used to live in Lian Tang in Luohu District in 2004-2005, and today I can hardly recognise the place. Just like the rest of the largest cities of China, the place has become westernised.
The city houses the headquarters of China's many electronic and telecoms companies such as ZTE, Huawei, Haier, Konka, Mizuda, Mindray, and many others. Many of these companies are hiring foreign executives, some of whom worked on the board of many fortune 500 corporations. Shenzhen Airlines, the locally based airline, is in the process of recruiting foreign pilots too. Back in the hectic Huaqiangbei and Dongmen areas (two major shopping streets in Shenzhen), it is common to come across foreign business persons trying to make deals on bulk orders on Chinese made products (mostly electronic parts), that they can take back to their home countries and sell at a higher price. Many of these entrepreneurs come from the African Continent, Middle East, and South America. There are pockets of South-East Asians too.
The thing that continues to amaze me is that Shenzhen is so close to Hong Kong, and yet the differences are so varied. I am sure there are people on each side of the border who don't have any experience of what is life on the other side (that's probably the sad part of the Shenzhen story). While people on the fish and rice farms on the Hong Kong side must be wondering what on earth has happened to the fish farms on the Chinese side, and all they could see is building upon building growing out of the ground every other day. Indeed, the skyline of Shenzhen is changing at a dizzying pace, and probably will continue to do so for many years to come.
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