The Artistic Side of Shenzhen

Imagine my surprise when I learned of a 2-week international jazz festival happening in this city, with artists from Italy, Russia, China, all over, and just my luck it was only the second day! I ended up only catching this one show, “Second Approach”, before leaving the city — a Russian trio of piano, upright bass, and singer. It was exciting to be in this kind of music venue all of a sudden, full of young Chinese jazz fans shouting for an encore.

This whole neighborhood, OCT, really surprised me after staying in the middle of the overcrowded concrete center of Shenzhen. “Overseas-born Chinese Town” is basically a reverse Chinatown, a place where people from all over the world have settled in China but brought international culture back with them. So there are patisseries and cafes and art galleries nestled among some of the most creatively-repurposed warehouses I’ve seen — giant wooden structures that let you slide down from the 2nd to the sidewalk framed by impressive and modern murals. I was pleasantly reminded of Arcosanti — a city whose architecture encourages you to climb onto roofs.

With graphic design firms and art galleries sharing renovated warehouses with shops of creative, handmade one-off goods, it reminded me of the parts of the American rust-belt whose economies are reinvigorated by the ‘creative industry’ — software, design, and technology firms, where money is made with ideas and services instead of physical goods. Many of these new businesses occupy the old warehouses of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago and so on, and is often referred to as a post-industrial economy.

Well in OCT, these renovated warehouses are neighboring factories and shipping warehouses where business couldn’t be better. A large part of everything the world consumes is manufactured here. Foxconn is just up the road. With that, OCT struck me as a strange post-industrial utopia surrounded by the ultra-industrial reality of the world’s factories. (I expressed this while walking with some new friends, so I had to explain the notion of being “post industrial” to some people who lived in the most industrious city I’ve ever seen).

Oh my god that astronaut is fixing his flying saucer I love this place.