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A Tech Entrepreneur's Guide To Visiting Shenzhen

timothy posted about 8 months ago | from the name-the-best-place-to-eat dept.

China 49

Freetronics is Australia's answer to a lot of electronic tinkerers' needs, selling items like Arduino compatible boards, cables, and specialized tools. Founder Jonathan Oxer is a (serious) electronics hobbyist himself; he talked with Slashdot last year about making ArduSats, which were then launched to the International Space Station. Now, Oxer has written an excellent guide for hobbyists who might get the chance to travel to Shenzhen, where so many of the world's electronic bits and bobs are made. As travel writing goes, it's fascinating for the sheer novelty of the place. If you actually have the chance to go, some of the advice here might save you money and time. For those of you who have been to Shenzhen, what else should visitors know?

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Don't eat the street food (5, Informative)

Dumass (602667) | about 8 months ago | (#46421893)

Beware of Gutter Oil. [] Only take red or blue (electric) taxis. The guys at Shenzhen Bay who want your business will charge 2-5x the regulated rate.

Re:Don't eat the street food (5, Interesting)

Dumass (602667) | about 8 months ago | (#46421969)

The advice to get a limo ride is also terrible. If you share the car with someone and they get searched, you get searched. If the car in front of you gets searched it can take a very long time to cross.

It's much easier to take a cab from HKG to the border and walk across if it's evening time. It's about $300HK/ $50 USD and you can take 1-4 people. The Shenzhen Bay crossing closes ~11:30PM, though, so if you're late you'll have to find another way.

During the day, a ferry is a better bet because customs can be extremely clogged up at the walk through checkpoint. I've waited 2-3 hours to walk back across into Hong Kong. There are far fewer people at the ferry terminal checkpoints.

Re:Don't eat the street food (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46422037)

Beware of Gutter Oil.

My mouth now tastes like vomit, which I assume is not too dissimilar to what gutter oil tastes like. I can't believe that someone actually thought to themselves one day, "I should take sewer waste and cook my food in it."

Re:Don't eat the street food (1)

Dumass (602667) | about 8 months ago | (#46422143)

We stay near a street vendor that serves "Stinky Tofu." He's not the only one in town with that product, but I'm fairly sure I know where the stink comes from.

The worst part about gutter oil is that the "reprocessing" actually makes it more dangerous. The worst chemicals aren't broken down by heat and become more potent as the other garbage (literally) boils off.

Re:Don't eat the street food (2)

slew (2918) | about 8 months ago | (#46424305)

No, stinky tofu relationship to tofu is analogous to cheese and milk.

Gutter oil is something totally different, it is usually boiled and filtered, and bleached (in less than sanitary conditions) to a state comparable to normal cooking oil. Unfortunately, although it looks okay, it still contains lots really bad chemicals. If you think you are avoiding it by simply avoiding stinky unfamiliar foods, you (and your digestive track) are simply fooling yourselves.

Re: Don't eat the street food (1)

Dumass (602667) | about 8 months ago | (#46425877)

Yeah. I know the difference but just wanted to make a joke about stinky tofu.

Re:Don't eat the street food (5, Informative)

Dumass (602667) | about 8 months ago | (#46422069)

Also, bring your hotel name and address written in Chinese. The cab drivers will not know English. When you get to the hotel ask for a name card. It will have the name, logo, address, and phone number of the hotel on it. You can then give that to a cabbie.

The hotels will change cash, but only perfect foreign bills. I got told "this bill is broken" when it had a small crease in the corner. Either use an ATM in China or use one in HK and have Travelex do the conversion. There are also ATMs at the Hong Kong airport that dispense RMB. I trust those more than the ones in China. Beware that Travelex will convert your foreign currency to HKD and then to RMB if you bring them cash, doubling their fees. Use the ATM.

Re:Don't eat the street food (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46422845)

That is good advice.
I would add. Make sure it's big text, some of them can't see their hand in front of them.
Put the hotel number into your phone, most of the time the easiest way to explain is to call the hotel and have them talk to the driver.

Re:Don't eat the street food (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46424943)

Hotels will change cash, but at a horrible rate. Bank of China will change cash too, at a slightly less horrible rate. Better to buy RMB while in Hong Kong.

Re: Don't eat the street food (1)

Dumass (602667) | about 8 months ago | (#46425889)

We waited for an hour at BoC last time to change money. It was like a Kafka-esque DMV. 4 windows, 1 wasn't available for currency transfers, then 2 closed as it became my turn (lunch time.) Then they didn't change all the money over. Why? Who knows. Use China Merchants Bank or just take your RMB back to HK.

Re:Don't eat the street food (1)

jrumney (197329) | about 8 months ago | (#46424849)

When you arrive at Shenzhen International Airport, be aware that the official taxi rank is at the other end of the airport outside one of the domestic terminals, poorly signposted from the international terminal. Anyone offering you a taxi at the international terminal is a tout for the illegal taxi mafia who will announce a sudden price rise when you are on the motorway, and if you protest will exit the motorway into a deserted industrial estate and dump you there (if not rob you).

Mmm Sai (5, Interesting)

Casper0082 (2274124) | about 8 months ago | (#46422031)

Any place where they sell stuff, if you look like a tourist, one or more person will follow you for hours trying to get you to buy something. "Mmm Sai" is roughly "No thank you". Get used to saying that over and over. When I went to Shenzhen we had someone follow us from the bottom of the mall to the top floor. He heard us say we were hungry and quickly showed us where the american diner was. Being nice, we said we prefered local food. He then took us to another resturant. We spent 45 minutes eating and talking and when we walked out of the resturant, that guy was sitting outside waiting for us. I ended up buying stuff from his store just because of that dedication.

Re:Mmm Sai (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46424155)

Or say, "bu yao", which is literally "no want."

Re:Mmm Sai (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46426269)

I ended up buying stuff from his store just because of that dedication.

Great, thanks for encouraging his behaviour.

Re:Mmm Sai (1)

qubezz (520511) | about 8 months ago | (#46432809)

Expect to be defrauded buying anything that can be faked. 16GB SD cards that are 256MB of looping flash, hard drives filled with bolts, walnuts filled with concrete, food made out of rats and glue and sewer scrapings. This is a place where the goal of any business transaction is to swindle to the maximum extent possible.

Shenzhen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46422191)

Last I had heard, Akihabara was the Asia tech city that all geeks had to make a pilgrimage to.

Re:Shenzhen? (3, Interesting)

slew (2918) | about 8 months ago | (#46424369)

Last I had heard, Akihabara was the Asia tech city that all geeks had to make a pilgrimage to.

Only if you are into otaku [] ...

If you actually want electronics, Shenzen is your place. However, if you are actually just into PC/computer gear, Guanghua in Taipei is probably a better bet.

Re:Shenzhen? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46424769)

Last I had heard, Akihabara was the Asia tech city that all geeks had to make a pilgrimage to.

Hasn't been true for a good 15 years now.

No need for sunglasses (4, Interesting)

SydShamino (547793) | about 8 months ago | (#46422259)

I was in Shenzhen yesterday, and a few other sites in Guangdong for the week before that. The continual gray haze gets to after a few days, beats you down, and holds you there. I have a residual cough. I took a chance to go on the company dime, but don't ever consider it a place for a holiday.

-- typing from LAX twenty-four hours into my transit home

Re: No need for sunglasses (5, Interesting)

SydShamino (547793) | about 8 months ago | (#46422295)

We stayed at the GoodView Hotel in Tangxia. With a good corporate rate it was just $117 a night including buffet breakfast, and is a resort including indoor pools and spa, outdoor activities, weak drinks, and secured property you can walk around on safely. It's far enough away from industry that the air was usually decent at ground level, though there was still no sky. The first sun I saw in a week was in the hotel shuttle this morning just after we crossed the bridge into Hong Kong.

Re:No need for sunglasses (2, Informative)

kumanopuusan (698669) | about 8 months ago | (#46422553)

The last time I was in Shenzhen, it was perfectly sunny and in fact too hot outside. Neither did I notice any haze when I was in Hong Kong last month. Maybe you picked a bad time to go.

Re:No need for sunglasses (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46422809)

He probably did.
Over the last 3 years I logged about 270 days in the area.
Most of the time it's sunny, tyfoon season is a bit wet and in winter you should bring a jacket.

He wouldn't like sweden, we had the first sun since december started today.

Re:No need for sunglasses (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 8 months ago | (#46425563)

We certainly avoided the steamy season, if that's the alternative. But I didn't pick the travel dates regardless.

Re:No need for sunglasses (3, Funny)

BigT (70780) | about 8 months ago | (#46422623)

The continual gray haze gets to after a few days, beats you down, and holds you there.

Sounds like Seattle...

Just go on AliExpress (5, Informative)

jeffmeden (135043) | about 8 months ago | (#46422299)

If you are a casual technogeek, save yourself about $4000 and just go on AliExpress and buy whatever knicknacks you are interested in straight from Shenzhen. What, did you think they haven't figured out ecommerce? If you do have the chance to visit (i.e. for work), or are really after niche goods/services (in particular, to start your own import business) then certainly its a great place to go. But if you are just looking to get out of the US, don't go to Shenzhen just to browse around Huaqiangbei. There are plenty of other, far far more exhilarating/enlightening/relaxing places to visit in the world.

Re:Just go on AliExpress (4, Informative)

kamapuaa (555446) | about 8 months ago | (#46422819)

Yes and no...Shenzhen itself may be not a place you'd visit, but it's right next to Hong Kong and Macau, both of which are (to me) top tourist cities. One could easily make Shenzhen a day trip from either city. There's even a commuter train between Hong Kong & Shenzhen.

Re:Just go on AliExpress (2)

Casper0082 (2274124) | about 8 months ago | (#46422895)

I agree that if you are that close you should add it into your trip. One thing to remember for US visitors, Hong Kong does not require a visa while China does. If I remember correctly, expediting a visa in Hong Kong for travel to China is not cheap so plan ahead.

Re:Just go on Ebay (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46423125)

Anything on aliexpress is already on ebay and at a lower price.

Nice Chinese tour guide... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46422307)

Nice propaganda site, but in the Podunk town I live in, I can find SMT machines, wave soldering contraptions, injection molding items, even machines from Mitsubishi that will do both additive and subtractive sintering (create a rough product, then machine it to uber-tight tolerances.)

I respect China and the people that rave about them, but I prefer buying domestically, and even though I live in banjo country, I can pretty much find the same things without having to have a partner in the foreign country that owns 51% of the venture.

I also respect that China can make virtually anything cheap, and are the go-to place for bottom dollar OEMs/ODMs... but the stuff I spec, cheap is not what I look for... and virtually every other country can make good stuff, be it Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Taiwan, Japan, or even the ol' US.

Yes, the propagandists sell China as the way to go, but there are many other places in the world that can make things and make them well.

Something you won't find (1)

Vinegar Joe (998110) | about 8 months ago | (#46422405)

Fortune cookies.......

Unit conversions? (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46422421)

Because the RMB is currently at about AU$1 = 5.5 RMB (give or take) you'll see prices that at first make you go "what the hell?". Everything looks ridiculously expensive ("that can of drink is $2.50?!!") until you do the arithmetic and realise that the $2.50 can of drink is actually about AU$0.44c, and you can afford to drink it after all.

Wow. It must feel incredibly condescending for a techie to be taught how to do unit conversions and that different countries have different currencies. Or perhaps that's just some Australian quirk I'm not familiar with.

Re: Unit conversions? (2)

SydShamino (547793) | about 8 months ago | (#46422607)

It's still momentarily strange to see a sign that points out an extra pancake on your stack is a $20 surcharge. The part of my brain that processes conversions is apparently a bit slower than the part that reads signs.

Re: Unit conversions? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46423011)

Yeh well you should try some areas of South America where you'll see completely crap cars for the absolute 'deal' of only $350,000+ of the local currency.

Re: Unit conversions? (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 8 months ago | (#46423113)

Except that if a Chinese price tag contains "$", there's something wrong with it since it should contain something like this [] . And if you're looking at something like this [] and see it as "$", there's something wrong with you.

Re: Unit conversions? (2)

Cimexus (1355033) | about 8 months ago | (#46423535)

In Shenzhen yeah absolutely.

This effect does exist over the border in HK though, of course (since they use HK dollars). Even though you are perfectly aware the currency is different, it does kind of throw you for a loop when meals cost three-digit amounts and hotel rooms cost 'thousands' etc. At least for a few days until you get used to it. This doesn't apply as much in Japan or mainland China where the unit of currency itself is not 'dollars'.

Re: Unit conversions? (1)

SydShamino (547793) | about 7 months ago | (#46465813)

This was in Hong Kong IIRC, at the Spaghetti House in the airport.

Re:Unit conversions? (2)

houghi (78078) | about 8 months ago | (#46424367)

Living in Europe with the Euro, so prices are easy to compare. When I visited Munich, I had heard that Munich was an expensive city to live and I thought the beer prices were indeed very high as they were almost double as what I would pay where I live.

That was untill I realized they were also twice as big.

For those interested, I was comparing Hoegaarden and Paulaner Weisdbier. Both Wheat beers []

right next door (4, Interesting)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 8 months ago | (#46422773)

Shenzen gets all the credit. For example Toshiba builds most laptops there but they have a secondary factory or assembly facility or storage facility or something in the nearby Chonquing, China. That's pronounced "Chong Ching China" in English. My customers think I'm kidding when I tell them their shipment is still in "Chong Ching China."

Re:right next door (1)

mythosaz (572040) | about 8 months ago | (#46423495)

My customers think I'm racist when I tell them their shipment is still in "Chong Ching China."

There 'ya go :)

[I keed, I keed....]

Notes from a Shenzhen veteran (4, Interesting)

prodigalmba (2844961) | about 8 months ago | (#46422849)

Freetronics' guide is certainly a strong positive contribution to the hardware ecosystem. Now that said:

I believe that for product developers who are enthusiastic about hardware, unless you're planning to do a deep dive into the China ecosystem, complete with building professional relationships, opening up a manufacturing services shop there etc., your best strategy for engaging with China's manufacturing prowess is 1) through the community-driven hardware-sourcing sites (e.g. Adafruit here is the US answer to Freetronics) + DigiKey for prototyping purposes, then 2) when you're ready for manufacturing (because you've verified your market!), engage with one of the hardware incubators that have arisen in recent years, whether stateside or in Shenzhen itself.

As accessible as the supply chain in HuaQiangBei is (see TFA), there's a lot of opaqueness when it comes to quality. I challenge you to do a six-sigma caliber audit (think component variation, and the supplier traceability that comes with that) based on the HuaQiang Bei ecosystem that meets the requirements of your customer who in their home country is likely located behind the curtain of a strong regulatory body that needs satisfying. The simple truth of the matter is that these vendors consider revealing their supplier sources antithetical to their way of doing business, and will talk around such queries ad nauseam instead of telling you outright.

Many of those aforementioned hardware incubators are there because they already have long standing relationships with credible factories, so they can reach through the morass of suppliers to those they have a demonstrated work history with.

Some miscellaneous tips: If you're visiting because you have a flair for industrial tourism, then have fun and keep your head about you. If you're planning to be there long term, make sure to reference the experience of expats (say, posted online at least if you don't know such folks) who've lived there long term there to understand non-work aspects to life there which are also important. Build a strong support network of the expats around you there. One undermentioned point is that The Great Firewall will keep you in a communications bubble while you're there, so make sure to get out frequently to stay in touch with f+f and colleagues.

Source: Over a year in Shenzhen.

Two good blogs for this (4, Interesting)

Megane (129182) | about 8 months ago | (#46422955)

I doubt I'll ever go there, but the two places where I've seen the most about Shenzen (without trying to) and all its wonders from a techie point of view are Dangerous Prototypes [] and Bunnie Huang [] . I think it helps a bit that they are both (AFAIK) living over there right now.

American McGee too. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46433921)

I don't know if he's there full-time, but he was running a new gaming studio out of Shenzen last time I looked up on him.

For those that don't know him, he's one of the id Software crew from the original Doom era (earlier?), and also did a number of games post-q3a era, such as American McGee's Alice, and AMG's Grimm (haven't played the latter, but the former was a straight up drug trip. And that was playing it sober. I can only imagine what it would be like for somebody dropping acid while playing.)

Anyways look up his blog for some more insight into Shenzen life.

Chiba city? (2)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 8 months ago | (#46423169)

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Sounds like a wonderful place. I'll take 2 derms and slot a couple of 'softs, please.

Re:Chiba city? (1)

stoploss (2842505) | about 8 months ago | (#46428361)

I think so, too. I gotta punch deck... well, maybe I will go through my withdrawal in a coffin hotel first.

Been there, done that (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46423563)

I was in Shenzhen in 2006. Granted the city has changed quite a bit since, but there are a few other items the article missed.

Theft / Pickpockets - If you are China, it will happen. There are organized groups and lots of distraction thefts / pickpockets. The more western and rich you look, the more likely you are to have something disappear. Think everything is safe in your purse or backpack? Think again, they carry razor blades and cut the bottom out the bag and then take off like a shot, usually passing items off multiple times.

Street vendors - wonder where there fancy electronics disappear to? The answer is right to a busy city street where people will openly try yo sell them to any passing person that looks like they have money. "Hey, mister Laptop. You want laptop?"

Chopsticks - Most places will assume that if you look western you are an idiot and therefore cannot use chopsticks. The best way to get good service in a restaurant is to pick up the chopsticks as soon as you sit down and just practice using them. Once the order takers see you using them, you will get better service and usually better portions.

Haze - the haze is usually not so much smog or pollution per se, but rather dust kicked up from all the construction. When I was there the sky was a permanent shade of tan / pink the whole time. It was in an area that was under heavy construction further from the coast. Obviously areas that are closer to the sea or more windy have less of the haze.

Specialization - With a population as large as China, everyone needs a job, so you will find that jobs are very task oriented. As an example in most restaurants ( not mom and pop shops), there is one person who sets the tables, one person who takes the order, one person who delivers the food, one person who checks on how you are doing and one person who clears the table. That's five people to serve one table. It is like that with most other jobs as well. Even the street cleaning is done by several with straw brooms. Seriously.

haven't been laid... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 8 months ago | (#46424001)

There are a ton of hookers outside the train station.

White Man's Cultural Blogging Burden (1)

Zanadou (1043400) | about 8 months ago | (#46425665)

God... 7000 (!!) words from a white guy about "OMG, I discovered a foreign country! Do you know they have a subway system?? Wow!! Like Us!!! And they have store that sell stuff too. Like, I KNOW!! Do you know they have Chinese food in China??? But, they have "good" food like Starbucks and McDonald's, so you don't have go outside your confront zone all the time. Wow! You can trust me now as your "Shenzhen expert" because I'm a white guy like you. And, I speak English!!!!!"

(Insert photo of poster dressed like a 12-year old boy in a T-shirt, posing with a fanny-pack.)

(Insert video of another white "I'm-an-expert-JUST-COZ-I-LIVE-HERE-YO" guy.)

Dont bother (1)

RobertinXinyang (1001181) | about 8 months ago | (#46425791)

I live in China and I have compared prices in China with the US. For almost any consumer electronic good, the prices are higher in China. There is a reason that the Chinese go on shopping sprees when they go to the US. The only way you can get prices that beat US prices of to get something several generations old or accept significantly lower quality. It does not matter if the product is made in China, it is more expensive in China.

It is often cheaper to purchase made in China goods online and have them shipped to China.

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