China’s tech land

2015-09-23 10:52
Endless stores retailing electronics line roads in Shenzhen.

Endless stores retailing electronics line roads in Shenzhen. (Kyle Venktess)

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WELCOME to Shenzhen, China’s very own Silicon Valley. The city is a hub at the forefront of international technological development. While much of China is still under strict law imposing restrictions on most Western websites, including the world’s top sites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, Shenzhen is home to many international technological manufacturers.

Just 30 years ago, Shenzhen was a small city that thrived on fishery and agricultural industries, however, due to its very close proximity to Hong Kong — a city itself that is well-connected to the Western world — Shenzhen became China’s closest connection to international markets, spawning the development of world-renowned companies such as Huawei.

Foreigners in Shenzhen are easily perplexed by the city’s balance of high-income, mid-income and low-income earners as poorer apartment blocks exist very close to richer buildings. Visitors can also be enthralled by the focus on trade in electronic devices, equipment and almost every gizmo and gadget that operates with a battery.

Globally, top electronic manufacturers are pitted against one another in a battle for market share, resulting in patent wars and lawsuits. But this is not the case in Shenzhen.

The city manages to harmonise the sale of Sony, Samsung, Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi — a brand soon to hit SA shores. Brief conversations with locals who can understand English, reveal that the Chinese belief is that competition is never a bad thing. This credo results in stockists advertising the same products in at least eight different stores in a single kilometre stretch of road.

The beauty of the city is that the abundance of tech vendors makes it any gadget lover’s dream. In Shenzhen, non-English-speaking traders will never shy away from reducing the prices of their products for a sale and the language barrier is easily overcome with the point of an index finger and the punching of buttons on a calculator, to reveal the price of the desired item. Another trading trend is to offer the purchase of more than one item of the same product, referring in a very local accent to them as “pieces”.

While the temperature of Asia in general is very humid during this time of year, local men take the opportunity to fold their shirts up revealing their bellies or as one in South Africa would say boep.

While they may not seem in the best shape, very few locals in Shenzhen are obese. With a decent smartphone pedometer, it is plain to see exactly why. The goal of walking steps on many smart apps is 10 000. In Shenzhen, due to the close proximity of amenities, walking is always the easier option, and crushing the walking goal twofold is an everyday experience.

Katie Melua popularised rumours that there are “nine million bicycles in Beijing”, 2 100 km away in Shenzhen the same can be said as throngs of bicycles padlocked on pavements are witnessed.

With all the exercise being done travelling around the city, coupled with a high-protein diet with very few carbs, Shenzhen is likely to get Tim Noakes’s stamp of approval, and without too much banter explains the slimmer physiques of locals.

Local cuisine may make foreigners cringe when biting a lemon with items such as frogs’ legs, rabbit and an almost human-looking pork brain all a part of the typical menu. For the less adventurous, local restaurateurs always offer their guests duck, mutton, local favourites dumplings and dim sum, and of course various types of noodles, prepared in several ways.

In China, and in Shenzhen, local billboards and shops are all emblazoned with Chinese texts. Foreigners unable to understand Mandarin are only able to recognise a 7-Eleven, KFC, Burger King or McDonald’s sign to understand what store they may be walking into.

Once again breaking down the language barrier, locals are ever willing to aid and befriend foreigners, pointing out locations or even using their smartphones to type out requests in English and converting them on screen to their vernacular.

Touring the rest of the city, an abundance of culture and courtesy are scents not very hard to smell. A run at 6 am still provides a sweat session due to the humidity, but the culture of greeting a fellow jogger who returns the gesture is abundant. Even when touring the city during peak traffic, congestion offers the feel of home and China’s own e-tolling system only feeds more nostalgia.

Shenzhen’s architecture may seem not very well thought out, similar to a child who grew up too fast. A fusion of shanty towns with very developed buildings coexist, however, both culminate in a serene setting free of violence, and offer one the embrace of safety in the most dingy of alleys at the most vulnerable of times during the day or night.

Vulgarity in the city is almost non-existent, with women comfortably walking home in groups during late hours. Nightlife in Shenzhen is very rare to find, but once found it can result in the most unique of experiences of colour and crowd., who are enthused by foreign visitors.

Shenzhen makes a culture-rich holiday destination, but is the ideal city in the world to visit if one hungers for the latest tech toys.

• Kyle Venktess’s travel and accommodation was sponsored by Huawei South Africa.

@KyleVenktess on Twitter

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