Recently I went to Shenzhen to check out the local scene, catch up with peeps, and most importantly, escape Beijing for a few days. Something that I was REALLY interested in doing was attempting an international bar crawl; attempting being the key word. I have a few people China-side who frequently rage in Shenzhen for a few hours and then CROSS INTERNATIONAL BOARDERS to continue the party in Hong Kong… until 3-4am when they decide to hop back over to Shenzhen.
Who does shit like that?
My cool pengyous (trans: friends), that’s who. I’ve never crossed international boarders before while incapacitated so I basically flew down to give it a whirl! I was just so curious… Would I end up in a Chinese prison? Would I be lying dead on the streets of Hong Kong? Who would take care of me when I started questioning “is there really a God” when the inevitable hangover kicks in?
So much fun. So little time.
This blog post was difficult for me to write because I didn’t go on any adventures that really blew my mind or inspired me; which is exactly what I wanted. I’ve been working 3 jobs in Beijing so when I was asked what I wanted to do all weekend sleep was my main priority. For once, I wanted a proper vacation: I wanted to sleep all day, eat too much, and drink the majority of my calories. I am so exhausted from the daily grind that I just couldn’t be bothered to go on an adventure… but we still found ourselves involved in a few adventures despite my best efforts. That’s just how China works.
One thing that I really enjoyed about Shenzhen was the art and expat scene. As an outstanding connoisseur of brunch around the globe, I was eager to start my days no earlier than 11am and sample all of the “not-really-China” things to do in Shenzhen.
Some of my best eats include:
I haven’t had pizza in 5 months, so when we walked by the display case, my knees went weak. Celery is 98% water… and 100% not pizza. It was finally time to break Paleo and go cray cray; I earned it! The American Flour Company has a great product. The dough was deliciously soft and perfectly crusted, but the service definitely needs some help. We watched one employee take a butcher knife to a massive can of olives… for 10 minutes. Entertaining, yes, but he definitely could have lost a finger and the owner said nothing about it-while he watched. Then it took them 30 minutes to serve me my ONE slice of pizza. Not cool bro.
I literally licked my plate clean, super classy, but they don’t seem to have a website? Welcome to the 21st century people! The Brunch Café can be found in the OCT Loft tucked away in a corner. May the odds be ever in your favor if you try to find it. Go for the baked goods and coffee! I won’t judge you 😉
Hands down: the best experience I had in Shenzhen. The kitchen manager is a former patron of Beijing and we spent a good 30 minutes gossiping about our mutual friends and then he OPENED THE KITCHEN FOR ME well past closing and made me the most delectable pieces of meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting in my mouth; interpret that as you like. He cooked up a juicy beef burger, topped it with pulled pork, drizzled spicy mayo on it, and made all my dreams come true… fo’ free. Now that’s some southern hospitality. Best southern restaurant in China so far. Frankie’s Bar absolutely crushes everything we have in Beijing…. Damn it Kevin. You’ve ruined me.
Some of my favorite spots in Shenzhen:
The OCT Loft is filled with posh art galleries, quality cafes, and local merchants: i.e. a hipster’s wet dream. There was a local art fair going down in the heart the district, so we perused the booths for an hour and then grabbed coffee and cheesecake at a stylish jazz bar nearby. The jazz bar was featuring a killer Spanish guitar band for the afternoon and their soulful sets drew in everyone within earshot. Super chill. Super dope. Super not Chinese.
The OCT Bay was the most impressive collection of architectural feats that I’ve seen in one place. It was super dynamic, highly detailed, and trying waaayyyy too hard. Despite the over-indulgence, there were a variety of bars, clubs, and restaurants to choose from. Oooorrrr you could just go to the OCT Bay supermarket, buy cheap booze, and people-watch along the waterfront; which is exactly what we did.
You can find ANYTHING in the Dafen Oil Painting Village… or you can ask them to make it for you. Many people pay an artist to copy another piece and then alter it slightly. One friend’s dope-as-hell girlfriend paid an artist to put her boyfriend’s face on the body of Napoleon in the piece “Napoleon Crossing the Alps.” The painting is massive, creative, and he should probably marry her.
Later in the day, we befriended a nice old Chinese man who held us hostage for an hour while we viewed all of this paintings and photos of his “black friends.” We made a really impressive video of my calligraphy skills (but not really), but my blog refuses to host it properly. Click here to view it.
I was also taken to an AWESOME outdoor street-food market (location unknown, but here are a few ideas) with its own secret DVD bootleg shop down some strange ally. We literally met the guy on the street, he told us to follow him, and we turned up in a makeshift store hidden from the prying public eye. I love following strangers down dark alleys.
And there you have it! My sparknotes version of Shenzhen in a nutshell. Feel free to tag me in your trips @wanderonwards if you want some helpful advice or a shout out!
Author’s Note: I’d also like to apologize for the lack of original photos for this particular trip. My usual photographers were MIA and my guy friends kept teasing me about wanting to take “glamour shots” everywhere. Useless.
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About Vanessa Elizabeth
Vanessa Elizabeth is a cultural chameleon currently based in London. She enjoys sports (such as CrossFit and dating), cooking, and demolishing her savings account. When she's not busy blogging about her feelings, she works full-time and practices Chinese with her English/German friends.
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