One of the cool things about my time in Shenzhen so far is that I was able to get housing in a residential village. Called a 村 / cun (pronounced “tswun”), these villages are scattered all across the city, and make apartment living much more bearable.
Because Shenzhen is a planned city, it was built with certain things in mind that other cities were not. For example, Boston was not built with the intention of ever allowing cars to drive along its roads, a fact which becomes pretty apparent to most visitors pretty quickly. The city also was built up randomly and sporadically over time, which results in roads that are almost parallel but not quite, intersections that don’t make any sense, and all in all, a pretty tightly packed living space.
But since Shenzhen was built all at once and in a place where there was previously nothing, it was built with a purpose. Not only is my village packed densely enough with tall apartment buildings to house thousands of people, but the village is also packed with meandering paths, green spaces, and areas for people to gather and relax.
For the first few weeks in the city, I mainly stuck to the village, just trying to master its wandering pathways, dead ends and surprise gardens. You could probably spend at least an hour or two exploring the space, if you went down each and every path, and the great part is that it is all very public. Everyone shares the space evenly and respectfully.
The village is always full of life, from young kids riding their bikes to old women walking or practicing tai chi. Walks in the morning reveal people exercising in the large public square or at any of the public exercise equipment available throughout the village, and walks in the evening are filled with high school students returning home for the night or, if your timing is right, large flocks walking to the subway stop from their jobs nearby.
In the center of the village is a strip of shops to make life easier—a bookstore, a bakery, a few small restaurants. Just outside the parameters is the subway stop, bus stops, a small grocery store, and a huge vegetable market where everyone heads at night to prepare for dinner. In the morning vendors sell steamed buns or bing, Chinese pancakes.
Because the village is almost entirely Chinese people, I do stick out a bit as I walk around. Many people have given me an odd, concentrated glance, like I don’t belong there. But it never makes me feel unsafe—in fact the neighborhood feels quite peaceful and protected, as it is mostly inhabited by families. And the neighborhood is full of security guards and protected by gates in various places, not to mention that I live on the seventh floor with no elevator, so it’d take quite a bit for something to go wrong at my house.
I have really enjoyed living in the village so far, as it has enabled me to feel a part of a genuinely Chinese neighborhood. It is peaceful compared to the city which closes it in, and yet is still vibrant and full of life.