Recently in Shenzhen Category

09_krispykreme_lg_l.jpgThe blogger at Silicon Hutong doesn't think so.

Krispy Kreme has announced it has plans to expand from it's Hong Kong location into mainland China, with Shenzhen being the first mainland city to host the rich donut-maker. The China Economic Review reports:

"We are negotiating with the franchisor but nothing has materialized yet," said Jim (Krispy Kreme's Hong Kong CEO). "Shenzhen is a migrant city, many are from the north, and the people are more receptive to fried products."

Silicon Hutong, a well-respected blog which follows Chinese business news, thinks the move into Shenzhen shows that Krispy Kreme isn't serious about expanding into the mainland Chinese market:

...if Krispy Kreme really understood the way into China, they would start someplace where there are a lot of people who already like donuts, can't get them, and will form long, slavering lines outside their door each morning. If you're afraid of Shanghai, go with Beijing. Call me crazy, but tens of thousands of American and Canadian businesspeople, students, diplomats, and families seem like a built-in market for a store or ten, better (especially initially) than a million or two migrant workers and their factory bosses.

Silicon Hutong, which is an excellent business blog, shows a misunderstanding of Shenzhen when it characterizes it as home only to "a million or two migrant workers and their factory bosses." While there's no doubt the foreign market is larger in Beijing and Shanghai, China's expat and thriving business communities are no longer located solely in these two locales.

Shenzhen is home to millions of dollars in foreign exhibitions and trade fairs each year, has one of China's most thriving and prestigious sailing clubs, some of the highest real estate prices in China, and is home to one of the country's major stock markets. Its proximity to Hong Kong, Macao, Guangzhou, and Zhuhai, which are overflowing with the kind of expats Silicon Hutong talks about, makes it just as logical as a place to begin as Beijing or Shanghai.

The blogger also writes that KFC, McDonald's, Starbucks, Papa John's, and Pizza Hut are all examples of foreign brands that did it right. It's ironic that each of these brands are already located in Shenzhen, and are thriving. In addition, Shenzhen supports luxury malls along the lines of Shanghai's Plaza 66 and Beijing's Shin Kong Place with Armani, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton stores.

To be fair, "the Hutong" notes that there are things that Krispy Kreme could do better, such as put people on the ground in mainland China and develop relationships with local governments, rather than run their franchises from Hong Kong. But the argument against opening first in Shenzhen is another example of the tunnel vision that seems to affect expat residents of Beijing and Shanghai. People in these two cities seem to assume that the rest of China remains backwards and undeveloped, and are unworthy or unsuitable for high-level foreign brands. This shows a lack of understanding of the development that has been occurring in China's second tier cities, and is unworthy of an otherwise excellent business blog.

gzsz.jpg As a regular commuter between Beijing and Tianjin, I'm surprised there is not a much easier way to get between the two closely-linked economic hubs in northern China. Right now, to get to Tianjin one must either drive, catch a taxi (which I've once sadly had to do - it costs around RMB 400), or take the train. The problem is buying a train ticket to Tianjin is no different than if you were going to Shanghai; long line-ups, buying the ticket in advance, and going through the general inconvenience of train travel.

The good news is this will be changing, which I will touch on shortly. And if it changes the way the commuter trains work between Shenzhen and Guangzhou, I will have a smile on my face each time I make the trek.

A friend and I just wrapped up a two-day mini-holiday down in southern China, where many readers of this blog know I like to spend my free time. While I've caught the trains between Guangzhou and Shenzhen in the past, I haven't sampled the new bullet trains since they were unveiled last spring. And what a delight. We arrived at Guangzhou East Station at about 12:50pm and wanted the next train to Shenzhen. Well, the next train was 12:58. Should we rush, we wondered? When is the next one? 1:03pm. Then 1:10pm. Yes, the trains depart that frequently -- almost as frequent as Beijing's subway cars. By selecting the 1:10pm train, we had enough time to pop into Starbucks - conveniently located inside the Guangzhou train station - for a quick brew prior to the trip.

Like on a subway system, we pressed "Shenzhen" on an automated machine, popped in our cash, and out came the tickets. They are coded electronically, so we swiped them at the turnstiles and walked down a hallway and onto the train. It left one minute early, and arrived one minute early. We didn't talk to a ticket seller (although they are available if need be) and spent precisely zero minutes waiting for anything. It was a pleasure, reminiscent of Hong Kong's public transportation system (which, in my travels, is the best I have used).

Guangzhou, as the capital of Guangdong, and Shenzhen, which anchors many of the factories in Guangdong, are closely linked. Both cities are economic giants, and the traffic between them -- both commercial and private -- is substantial. Which is why the parallels can be drawn between those two cities, and the two in northern China: Beijing and Tianjin.

So my question is this: Why must it be so difficult to get around up here? Beijing has opened subway line 5, and more are in the works to be opened soon. I've caught line 5 once, and it is a pleasure. But I avoid lines 1 and 2 as much as possible. The dreary stations, the Soviet-era cars, the smells, the crowds, and the lack of ammenities is often even less appealing than sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic sucking back exhaust on second ring road.

But back to the Beijing-Tianjin commute. Unlike the high frequency of trains between Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the Beijing-Tianjin trains leave, I would say, on average about once every hour and 45 minutes. To me, that's not good enough: Tianjin is home to an increasing number of residents who work in Beijing, Tianjin's new TEDA zone is designed as the north's answer to Shanghai's Pudong, and, according to real estate agents in Tianjin, more and more Beijing residents are showing an inclination to relocate to Tianjin because of its (slightly) cleaner air and slower lifestyle.

The future portends that both Beijing and Tianjin will be developing a much closer relationship. And the good news (at least for me, and other commuters) is a new uber-fast train between the two remains on schedule to open in August of this year. This, from a website called Railway Technology:

The link between Beijing and Tianjin will establish a fast corridor between the two major centres, which currently suffer from major road congestion and a slow railway service. The new railway, 115km (72 miles) long, will cut journey times to just 30 minutes, although at the same time the main express road is also being improved.

The new trains will, apparently, travel at speeds of up to 300 km/hr. Count me as one who's excited about this development. When I used to live in the Guomao area in Beijing, and commuted to Shijingshan, where China Radio International is located, it took me about an hour from door to door. Now I could be looking at the same length of a commute going all the way to Tianjin.

While I like the idea of a fast train, that is only half the battle; the ticket-buying process must be simple, the trains must leave frequently, the stations must have ammenities. Perhaps this seems like petty nagging from a spoiled foreigner, but they are important in the development of world-class transportation services.

They got it right down in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Let's hope they get it right here, too.

The Pearl River Delta

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There are many discussions out there comparing Beijing and Shanghai. I've even written briefly about this myself, although it's a cliched argument. Yes, Shanghai is glitzy, modern, glamorous, etc. Beijing is gritty and "artistic" and "cultural". So be it. People can choose whichever one they like.

Often lost in the discussion is the Pearl River Delta region, which boasts a little bit of Beijing and a little bit of Shanghai, all in one place. I spent the weekend in Shenzhen shooting a television program, and it was nice to be back in the area. As regular readers of this blog will know, I lived for nearly a year in Guangzhou working for the Guangzhou English Channel. I spent many weekends exploring Guangzhou and other cities in the Pearl River Delta, and there are many of them: Dongguan, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Zhuhai, Macao, etc.

I definitely enjoyed my time in the region, and I met many other foreigners who had lived in either Shanghai or Beijing before making the move to sunnier climes. 100% of them -- no exaggeration -- say their lives are far better in the south, and they have no intention of moving back.

I share their enthusiasm. Unfortunately, I am a 20-something slave to opportunity and career-growth. That means, at this point, Beijing is the place to be. In fact, the longer I live here (I lived here for a year and nine months the first time, going on six months this time around), the more I think, perhaps, I could stay. I like cycling around, the weather isn't that bad, things are relatively cheap. Lots of culture, history, and character people.

Then I go to the south and realize that I'm maybe I'm starting to believe my own PR spin.

Beijing will always have a special place in my heart, no doubt. But for lifestyle, nothing beats either Shenzhen or Guangzhou; and you can choose to live in either, because they are so close you can easily go between them anyway. I spent Saturday night in Shekou, in Nansha District, in Shenzhen. Shekou boasts a beautiful square featuring an old cruise ship that has been turned into a restaurant on one end. The other sides feature everything from western retail restaurants and cafes to excellent nightlife options. There was no hustle and bustle, no fancy cars, no talk about the Olympics or politics or business... it was relaxing. Couples walked around the square, kids were rollerblading, and others were enjoying drinks on the patio (drinks, by the way, which were much cheaper than Beijing's). And it seemed so, so far away from what's important in Beijing.

Like Shanghai, the weather is good in the south, the fashion is upscale, the nightlife is above average. Like Beijing, it is unpretentious, gritty (in Guangzhou's case), and historic. It's a good mix of the two.

Imagethief mentioned in one of his excellent blog posts (and he has many) that he left his heart in Beijing. After this weekend, sometimes I wonder if I didn't leave mine in Guangdong.

I'm heading out of town for a few days, off to the sunny climes of Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Most of the time will be spent in Shenzhen, where I'm assisting with the production of a new television program (hopefully much more on this to come).

I've always enjoyed Shenzhen. It's a border town (next to Hong Kong) and has a real pulse. People in Shenzhen come from all over China, and very few speak Cantonese as a native language despite the city's location in the heart of Guangdong. In fact, in one of our few email exchanges (and I don't mean to name drop), Da Shan told me Shenzhen and Zhuhai are the only two cities he really visits in Guangdong, because they are the two cities filled with Mandarin-speaking people who are most familiar with him. Conversely, people in Guangzhou are too busy watching TVB Pearl and Phoenix to care.

Anyway, posting this weekend (and likely early next week, when I return to work) should be sporadic. Unless Paul decides to do something useful, of course! Before I head off to fight with crowds at Beijing's horrendous airport (the new terminal can't open soon enough), I thought I'd leave you with some thoughts about Shenzhen, written by a colleague of mine based in Hong Kong. If you're depressed already though, you might want to give this a pass...

See ya when I return.

in shenzhen on the weekend joe told me he was on the edge of the planet, SZ gives you that feeling, a border town if ever i saw one, the tattered edges of the world, brimming with god's unwanted children, god's lonely men.
the alley joe sits and drinks beer in is lined with whores from all the corners of china, sitting on stools for endless hours, eating bird seed or chewing sugar cane, their empty faces staring blankly ahead, their over-made-up eyes with fake MK lashes like the glassy balls of some doll you'd see in your grandmother's house. there was some new ones this time, some looked 13 and change, others had a few more years under their belt, but not many.
i often wondered how joe ended up in SZ, what f*cked up moment of inspiration drove him to the shit hole of a whore house he lived in where he was driven insane by the whores he fell in love with and tried to "rescue," or more precisely, tried to make his sole partner.
mae mae was the latest, he was in love, and now he wanted to put another god dammed child into china. he felt he could die happy if he had a chinese baby. i didn't know what this meant to joe, except struggling with what he was doing in life, having lost himself, he wanted to leave a piece of himself in SZ, in the city he has spent so many years in, the city in which he was certain he would die. i still found it amazing to think he used to own two houses in LA and live on mulholland drive.
since the first time i met joe he told me he was on "over time" and every day was extra beyond the point he was supposed to live. that much seemed true. i remember the time joe slipped down some stairs and couldn't leave bed or move for several days. i tried to bring him some pain killers but the stubborn motherf*cker refused, instead insisting on drinking himself back to health.
joe only drank beer these days, and whisky when i bought it at the border. "my brother said, 'die young and leave a good looking corpse'," joe told me, for the first time talking about his family. "well, he died young but he didn't leave a good looking corpse." joe's brother drank himself to death, a gallon of vodka every day until his body was so ravaged that his liver burst, his eye balls burst, and he bled and bloated everywhere for 13 hours until he finally died.
joe was loosing the fucking plot in SZ, but there's not much i can do about it, he's got to live his own life. it's a mix of feelings i get from him, and whilst his I Ching (易經) readings are invigorating, the whole city itself is a f*cking downer and after joe dies i don't think i ever want to go back.

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