8 Things Only Someone Who Lives In Shenzhen Will Understand

Having lived in Shenzhen for more than 6 years now, all of these are still true!

1.  If you want to save money, eat out every day.  Eating out locally is cheap and delicious. There is a great variety to choose from: street food, different types of mien (noodles), jiaozi (steamed dumplings), baozi (steamed bread with various fillings), sizzling aubergine in gravy, sweet potato topped with melted cheese and sprinkled with desiccated coconut, to name just a few. If you eat foreign or Western food out it is more expensive as these are usually specialist restaurants; however, eating locally is cheaper than buying the ingredients and cooking it yourself. For example, you could have steamed vegetable or meat baozi for breakfast at ¥3 for two (approximately 30p or 45¢), a good portion of chow mien or ban mien at ¥5-¥10 (50p-£1 or 75¢-$1.50) for lunch, and squid and broccoli with rice for ¥25 (£2.50 or $3.75) for dinner, with enough left over for dinner the next day too, giving a grand total of ¥38 (£3.80 or $5.70) for a whole day’s meals. Cheaper than one dish at a Chinese restaurant in Britain!

2. Anything red is lucky. Unless it’s a red rainstorm warning.  The colour red has been a sign of luck for the Chinese for a very long time; wedding dresses are red, money is given on special occasions in red envelopes, decorations for Chinese New Year are red. The only time red is not a lucky colour is when there is a severe tropical rain or thunderstorm and a red warning is issued by the local government – then it means stay indoors and take your washing in from the balcony before it blows away. A black warning is the only one worse – batten down the hatches and hope that you have enough DVDs and popcorn to last you the length of the storm.

3. Baths are a luxury. As are ovens.  Very few Chinese apartments have a bath. Most have a ‘wet room’ with the shower often right next to the toilet or sink (depending on how much space there is) and no curtain or separate unit for the shower, unless you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a more expensive apartment. As for ovens – Chinese cooking is all steaming, grilling, boiling or frying, therefore there is no need for an oven. The object in the kitchen that looks like an oven is actually a machine for sanitising dishes; as kitchen sinks don’t usually have running hot water, everything is washed in cold water and then put in the sanitiser.

4. Just because you are in the queue, doesn’t mean you will be next.  Queuing is a very British/Western idea, and it doesn’t always translate to other countries. If you want to make sure you are served before the people behind you, you have to be quite assertive – and even then it doesn’t always work. Whether at the supermarket checkout, getting on the bus or waiting to go through passport control, people will often walk past you as if they are meant to be there – they’re not. You need to stand your ground and not let them past (unless they are obviously going to join someone else or you’re feeling generous), or else reposition yourself in front of them again in order to regain your spot. However, sometimes being a foreigner can have its advantages; on the odd occasion you get to skip the queue simply because you’re foreign and either that means you’re a VIP and get taken to the head of the queue by the staff or it means you don’t understand Chinese (even if you do) and can’t read the signs

5. Wear layers. It is often cold inside.  If you are from a place substantially north (or south) of the equator, you are probably used to the temperature being colder outside than inside. This is not so in China, particularly in Southern cities such as Shenzhen. Whilst the temperature outside in the summer can reach well above 30°C, inside it can plummet to as low as 16°C, regardless of whether you are on public transport, in a store or even at work. Make sure you always have at least one extra layer so you don’t freeze to death the next time you go to the movies

6. An umbrella is essential all year round.  As well as being useful for the frequent showers during monsoon season, umbrellas are often seen during the sunnier months being used as parasols. Protection from the sun is very important, of course, but it is considered even more so for Chinese women. Pale skin is seen as a sign of status dating back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. If you have dark or tanned skin it used to mean that you were a peasant or worked outdoors; now it means you’re not as attractive as someone with white skin. Once you’ve lived in southern China (or anywhere in South-east Asia) a while you will understand the benefit of having an umbrella with you constantly – instant shade on a scorchingly hot day.

7. It’s important to check around you in every direction when walking anywhere.  Technically motorbikes are banned in Shenzhen; however that gives free reign to mopeds, scooters and electric bikes. These are rarely confined to the roads and seem to ignore any kind of rules or signals when they are. Make sure you always check in both directions when crossing the street, even if the traffic is supposed to only be travelling in one direction. Also be aware that scooters may sneak up behind you on the footpath and then beep really loudly to frighten you out of their way and give the driver a good chuckle. A good game to play with your friends is, ‘How many people / how much stuff can fit on a scooter?’ You’d be amazed at the balancing acts some people perform!

8. Health and safety is optional.  The spectacle of a man hanging out of a window 20 stories up, attached only by a rope round his waist that is clipped onto the window frame, is not an uncommon sight. This is standard practice when fixing air conditioning units, whichever floor you may live on. Be wary around scaffolding and give it a wide berth (there are not always fences) as otherwise you may be hit by the sparks flying out at head height. Even when there are fences it’s often worth keeping an eye out for trucks reversing out across the path just ahead of you or people precariously balanced on ladders working with live wires. Anyone working in a practical industry such as electrics or plumbing deserves the utmost respect as they take their lives in their hands almost every day

Are there any ‘Only in…’ things you’ve experienced? If so, please share in the comments!


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