Suzy Gershman’s Postcard from Shenzhen, China

Dear Peter,

You know that we usually save our political discussions for over dinner and in person and I would hardly send a postcard of my views, but now that I have seen the New Shenzhen , I feel like I have to not only share with the world, but make it clear what is so different from the New China.

WELCOME TO “SZ”

Since this city on the Pearl River Delta, just across the bay from Hong Kong, is written as SZ, I think I can identify on initials alone. Certainly not on age, as Shenzhen is one of those new economic zones the Chinese government created about 30 years ago. Before then it was a fishing village, now it’s so cosmopolitan that real estate prices rival those of Shanghai.

Bath in hotel roomBecause Shenzhen has no historic significance (or very little) it is one of the few major cities in the world where the infrastructure works.

When I splashed in my fancy bath tub at the Ritz-Carlton and gazed out the windows to the convention center and boulevards below, I could see miles and miles of wide highways and towers and towers of New China.

The roads are lined with greenbelts, flowers are always in bloom, there is a newish metro system but taxis are cheap—what more can you want?

    For more, don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Hong Kong, China. For more insight on how the area has changed, don’t miss A “Belonger” Looks Back at Hong Kong as Its Capitalist Heart Beats On.

NOT YOUR MOTHER’S LOWU

There are American tourists who will tell you they have been to Shenzhen or even that they “know”  it—they mean that they have been across the border at the LoWu Border Crossing and they have shopped in the LoWu Commercial Centre, a giant mall with more fake Tod’s shoes and bags than you can ever imagine. This is not the Shenzhen I want you to discover.

Welcome to LoWuSince the crack-down on frauds, LoWu Commercial Centre has not had very convincing merchandise. Furthermore, if you want AA quality (as it is called) you must sit and wait on a plastic stool while a runner goes to fetch the goods. This takes a lot of time, saps your energy, and then you still have to bargain. There’s no guarantee the watch will work or the shoes will stay together.

LoWu is more fun for its fabric mart and the numerous tailors dotted around the fifth floor, where you can have trousers copied for $10 plus the cost of fabric (probably another $10). Just don’t count on anything too complicated and, of course, you have to come back a few days later.

    Read more from Suzy in our Shopping & Travel section.

SPEND A NIGHT OR TWO

So it’s better to spend the night or the weekend, start at the tailor and then work your way into the parts of town that aren’t packed with Hong Kong expats taking their in-laws on a spree. The Ritz-Carlton chain has just made a huge investment in this part of China with a new hotel in nearby Guangzhou as well as one in Shenzhen and one about to open in Hong Kong.

Club Lounge Living RoomWord on the street is that this new Ritz-Carlton Shenzhen is the fanciest hotel in town, so I had to test it. Not only does the hotel live up to its reputation, but I learned a million things about the New SZ.

First off, I was directed to cross the border at Lok Ma Chau, not Lo Wu. This is a brand-new station, very clean and spiffy and a whole lot easier on the Western mentality than LoWu. You leave the New Territories of Hong Kong, enter China, walk over a river, and enter the Futian Station which leads you either to the metro or your waiting car and driver.

Our suite had access to the lounge which is a living room space up on the 26th floor and provides views out all over China. The swimming pool, on the third floor, is on a roof garden and is fitting an Olympics installation. Most importantly, the concierge staff gave us directions and map print-outs in Chinese so that drivers always knew where to take us.

Shenzhen China Suzy GershmanWe shopped the traditional Dongmen Pedestrian Street, where hordes of teens shop to the beat of the newest trend. We went to the IT district and got lost and found in giant malls of digital gadgets—most of them at very low prices. When I needed a new memory card for my camera, the techie girls all got together to help me—no English and much giggling, but I got an 8GB memory card for $15.

The hotel sent us to the street of jewelry dealers where we found the jade suppliers who sell their goods to Gump’s in San Francisco. WE were dazzled. Soooo, we didn’t buy any fake DVDs or copy watches and instead had a very sophisticated time, rapt to the point of distraction at all that Shenzhen has become.

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