For most Hong Kongers, a visit across the border to Shenzhen triggers mixed (but generally negative) reactions, from the frantic ‘you’re going to wake up and find your kidneys are missing!’ to strange advice like ‘dress very casually and don’t wear make-up so the thieves at the station won’t look at you’. Yes, you need to exercise a reasonable degree of caution (as you would anywhere) but my weekend experience affirmed that this young city, which was named UNESCO City of Design back in 2008, is indeed on the move to become a leading city in China and has evolved from its preceding reputation of being only about prostitutes and pickpockets.
With a taste for innovation and curation amongst the city’s young population (average age is younger than 30!), it comes as no surprise that there’s an emerging art scene with OCT Contemporary Art Terminal being in the centre of it all. Mirroring similarities with the 798 Art Zone in Beijing, the terminal space is a collection of galleries (most closed on Mondays), studios, outdoor installations, quirky shops and cafes.
Most of the map signage is in Chinese so if you can’t read (like me), then just be curious and wander down corridors and climb up stairwells to see what you can find.
An outdoor library and/or installation – I couldn’t quite tell but my inner bookworm was very excited and wished not all the books were in Chinese.
It’s almost expected that a thriving coffee culture and contemporary art go hand in hand. At this charming cafe, ordering a cold brew is a meticulous process where the baristas introduce their coffee beans selection and collection of drip makers before describing in great detail the flavours and aromas we can expect.
A buzzing warehouse-turned-cafe we stumbled across, which even had an art-jamming class out at the back.
With the trendy industrial vibes and the eclectic mix of colours, materials and textures, the space is the perfect excuse for the #InstagramBoyfriend to come out and get to work.
A staycation in Shenzhen may not be top of mind for most travellers, but the creativity and palpable energy of this fast-moving city will leave you pleasantly surprised. And of course, the bonus is that you can top this off with a very cheap full-body massage at one of the many 24 hour spa complexes whilst you’re there – it’s just that the city is becoming a lot more than only being about that. I’m glad I gave Shenzhen a second chance.
Writer: Stephanie Lau
Photographer: Stephanie Lau