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Saturday, 11 February 2012

My 5 month working stint in Shekou (蛇口), Shenzhen, China

True to my preference of feeling the stones as I cross the river, when I got my maiden offer to work overseas in China, I negotiated a short 6 months contract to Shekou, China. 

What if I don’t like China? What if I can’t function without the support network of Singapore? What if I don’t like the food? What if they laugh at my Cheena and England? What if, what if… Imagine being chained to a 2 to 3 years contract when all I want is to fly home and suck my thumb?

Like what we do in the supermarkets, I grabbed a bite of the free sample before making a purchase ;)

Little did I know then it would be the beginning of a 7 years journey away from home. 

A bit about Shekou

It’s just an hour’s ferry ride away from Hong Kong airport. So getting to and fro is easy and so very convenient. 

Tip: If your company (ah kong) is paying for it, avoid using Shenzhen airport. If you use Hong Kong airport, you can use Cathay and SQ mah!

Being so close to Hong Kong is a big draw since I can take day trips to Hong Kong during the weekends.
Shekou used to be an industrial zone, but it has since been transformed to be an expat’s hub for foreign companies in Shenzhen.

It’s quiet, have no army of bicycles (which was a pleasant surprise to me!), and has a laid back tranquil calm to it. It’s a bit like our Holland Village in Singapore or Stanley Market in Hong Kong.

I stayed at the Nanhai hotel which has 2 floors of service apartments. Imagine getting 5 months of free hotel breakfast? After my second week, I started going outside for the dim sums. I prefer cheap but delicious local fare over hotel meals any day! 

A city of immigrants

I was expecting everyone to speak Cantonese; but was a bit puzzled why people here speak so much Mandarin?

My lady companion (hey, a single guy got to do what a single guy got to do) explained to me that Shenzhen is a man-made city. It was only a sleepy fishing village before late 1979 when it later became the first and one of the most successful Special Economic Zones (SEZ) in China. 

Therefore, 99% of the inhabitants of Shenzhen today all came from other parts of China. Hence the wide use of Mandarin or what they call Putonghua. No one can claim they are more “local” than the other. Everyone is a 过江龙 (immigrant)! 

It’s a marked departure from the other first tier cities of Beijing and Shanghai, where the “locals” there treat their Chinese counterparts from other parts of China, very much like how we in Singapore treat our foreign talents/workers.

Which is a shame as Singapore 100 to 200 years ago was not so different from Shekou today. 

Shekou more liberal than Singapore?

I am not a fan of those touristy artificial theme parks in Shenzhen. What Window of the World, Splendid China, or Shenzhen Happy Valley? I’ve never visited them.

When we were not in Hong Kong during the weekends, my lady companion will bring me to the “interesting” places of Shenzhen.

Mistress town

It’s a neighbourhood where it is common knowledge the inhabitants of the apartments are either kept mistresses, or ladies of the night.

We would walk around the neighbourhood in the evenings and watch the fashion show. Must say some of the ladies got fight with the Hong Kong starlets. Money can’t buy happiness; but it surely can buy beauty and youth!

I’m glad our Singaporean women can earn their own keep and don’t have to depend on men. There is at least a freedom of choice.

Gay park

I forgot the name, but there’s a park in Shenzhen where the gay men congregate in the weekend mornings. I’ve never seen such an open display of gay pride! If that were to happen in Singapore, I think some more conservative Singaporeans will have a fit!

There were picnics, groups playing badminton, volleyball of sorts, singing and general “wholesome” fun. There were no “illegal” or “distasteful” acts between the men. 

OK, I’ve never stuck around till the evenings. Better not, some of the men are taller and bigger than me. You should see how tight I held the hands of my lady companion as we walked through the park. LOL!

That was seven years ago. Not sure whether this “openness” is still being practiced today.
Of all the places in the world, I would never have expected to find such a liberal enclave in China! 

I wonder. Would Singapore evolve to become more like the liberal State of California, or would we remain like the conservative Southern States of US. Hmm…

My next step Shanghai!

After 5 months, my company recalled me back to Singapore and made me an offer. Continue in Shekou or go to Shanghai with a longer term 2+1 year contract.

Since I have an idealized image of 上海滩  (Shangahi Bund) from the Hong Kong TV series of the same name; off I went for my next adventure in Shanghai!

Especially now I know from my first-hand experience I can survive, enjoy, and thrive in a foreign environment!


  1. You must be quite a charming man. Found a girlfriend in a foreign land within 5 months. I think you were already a Man of Leisure in Shekou. Haha.

    I was just thinking, if there are so many mistresses until there is a Mistress town for housing them, then I worry about a potential social timebomb.

    Due to Chinese favoritism for male babies, there are already more men than women in the population of China. If there are already not enough women for each man and each rich man is taking more than one woman(all the pretty ones too), then there will be many poor men without lady companions (not to mention ugly ones). This is a social timebomb!

    1. Hyom,

      I am sober enough to know it's not my charm. I belong to category 2 in the ranking of desirable men in China. I'll share more next week in my follow-up post on my stint in Shanghai ;)

      There are horror stories of young women being kidnapped and sold to remote villages as slave wives... The whole village is in on it!!!

      Not only that, they are treated as beast of burden and child bearing machines!?

      Even without the sexual imbalance in China, if you can't afford an apartment, you can forget about getting married...

    2. It is very sad to read how women are being treated there.

      I think it takes great discipline not to get hooked over there and get married. I have been to Shenzhen for short trips and the women there are indeed attractive. If you had succumbed to temptation and gotten married, it will cost you a bomb to divorce and get rid of a woman who loves you for your money. It would have set you a decade back to achieve your goal as a Man of Leisure.

      I think you will have a better chance of finding a woman who truly loves you in Singapore than over there. Hope I am right.

  2. Hi SMOL

    Your stories about your life abroad are very interesting. I've not had the chance to work overseas for anything longer than 1 week in any location so I find it fascinating to read about others' experience working abroad. :-)

    Be well and prosper.

    1. Thanks Panzer!

      When I'm old and look back at my old postings, hope it will remind me of the fun and naughty things I've done.


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