$10,000 Android Phones, Smoke and Gourmet Espresso: My Impressions of Shenzhen

Joe Heitzeberg
May 11, 2013

By now, Ethan is now back in the states and I’m treating myself to another helping of Shenzhen in order to catch up with Romotive, to visit a security marketplace and to stop by an RFID factory to buy some supplies (blog post about that later) for a side project. I’ve also spent some time exploring the city’s non-techie side.

Just by looking at the cars, I’d say that Shenzhen citizens are actually better off than Seattle’s. I know that may surprise you, but if you literally picked 100 cars at random from both the streets of Shenzhen and of Seattle, you’d find that the Shenzhen cars are, on average, newer and nicer. I’ve seen very few, if any, beaters. I’ve driven all over the city and it’s the same everywhere.

I visited the KK Mall, one of Shenzhen’s many shopping malls, and its newest and most luxurious. I’ve never been to any mall in the USA that compares to KK in the sense of luxury brand presence. Versace, Armani and others like them are all here, but have you ever seen a McIntosh speaker store? Or a Vertu dealership? You remember Vertu, right? They sell $10,000 Android phones now. And it’s nothing but the high end designer brands. This mall isn’t empty or filled with foreigners, it’s bustling with locals. And people are buying things. (Sidenote: the espresso bar in the basement grocery store is every bit as legit as any indie espresso bar in Portland or Seattle…seriously.)

Another impressive thing about Shenzhen is the smoke. I don’t mean the pollution, I mean the cigarette smoke. Everyone smokes. I know that’s an exaggeration but it’s a decent approximation of the truth. Between the pollution and the smokers I’ve started to feel kind of trapped.

I went to the lobby of the hotel I’m staying at to an area clearly marked in both Chinese and English as “No Smoking.” Two guys says down beside me and lit up. I pointed out the sign. One of them said, “sorry” and then continued to smoke. I left but happened to turn back and noticed that the guy had flipped the sign down to hide it. That flipped a bit in me so I went back and stood the sign back up and then went to the front desk to complain. They said “sorry” and then took no action. It then dawned on me: here in Shenzhen, smokers here have the right of way. It’s the exact opposite of how it is in the States.

I remember in Japan in the early to mid-90′s — it was much the same. You couldn’t go to Akihabara without leaving with a nicotine high. They changed and now it’s now much more like the US where smokers have been relegated to the back alleys. For the sake of the Chinese people’s health (and mine and your’s when you visit) I hope China wakes up and makes some changes. Same goes for the pollution situation too.

The espresso stand in the basement of KK Mall in Shenzhen made some killer cappuccinos.

The espresso stand in the basement of KK Mall in Shenzhen makes a killer cappuccino.

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