Crossing into China

Sunset over Shenzhen

Heading back to where we left off… It was mid-June and we were wrapping up our visit to Hong Kong and heading over to mainland China. China was not really a place on my travel bucket list but Ashraf, my brother, and his partner Aneta are currently living in Shenzhen and we wanted to visit. We were looking forward to seeing having some family time and staying in one place for a longer period of time.

Shenzhen is a very young city that was purpose-built about 40 years ago due to its close proximity to Hong Kong. In the 70s, the population was about 30,000 and it was basically a fishing village. Now, the population of Shenzhen is about 12 million and growing. Every detail of the city has been intentionally designed to appeal to the business people, expats, young professionals, and families moving in. There are parks, open spaces, arts and culture facilities, lots of restaurants, and all kinds of other amenities. Plus, everything is in Chinese and English. Ashraf and Aneta took us to a new neighbourhood almost every day so we got a good feel for the city.

The Shenzhen Metro
The Shenzhen Metro looks just like the TTC

Ashraf met us at our Hong Kong AirBnB with a cab he’d organized to take us to the border, making everything nice and easy for us. Arriving at the border, the young guard was quite confused by our ‘group’ visa, which was simply stuck to a piece of printer paper, but after consulting with his colleagues, let us through without any real questioning. We were prepared to be thoroughly questioned and examined but we were more than happy with the straightforward and efficient processing.

Arriving in Shenzhen. We are cheesy like that 🙂

The highlights during those two weeks in Shenzhen mostly revolve around the food. We really enjoyed trying all different kinds of food in Shenzhen and Steve was the most adventurous, yet again. These were some of our favourite foodie experiences:

Magpie: On our second day, one of Ashraf and Aneta’s teacher friends who is also chef was doing a guest shift at a fancy restaurant called Magpie so we headed there for dinner. They had amazing cocktails made with funky ingredients and the food was delish. Steve was the most adventurous and tried the frog legs that were lovingly prepared by my brother’s friend.

Chicken on a Stick: We were introduced to “Chicken on a Stick” on one of our first nights in Shenzhen. It is the nickname Ashraf and Aneta have for their local takeaway place that serves up chicken skewers and other yummy authentic Chinese dishes. The perfect thing to do when no one feels like cooking and you want to order lots of things to share.

A typical open-air food court where you can get "chicken on a stick"
A typical open-air food court where you can get “chicken on a stick”

Ashraf’s birthday: It was Ashraf’s birthday while we were there and we went for dinner with his friends at a local Mexican restaurant owned by a couple from Mexico City. They had an all-you-can-eat taco deal with the tastiest and freshest tacos we’ve had since actually going to Mexico City for our honeymoon!

Hot Pot: On our last night in Shenzhen with Ashraf and Aneta, we went for hot pot. You basically choose a number of different broths and then cook your meats and vegetables at your table. We had a blast trying different combinations. Aaaand, Steve tried goat brain.

Hot pot
Enjoying our authentic hot pot experience

Yes, we ate a lot. Food is cheap and we found it was often cheaper to eat out than buy groceries and cook at home. It’s a very different lifestyle. Other weird and wonderful things we did in China:

Eyeglass shopping at Luohu: Luohu is a massive shopping centre with all types of clothing and accessories. It is a paradise for prescription eyeglass wearers where brand name frames and lenses can be had for as little as $30 since they come directly from the manufacturers in Shenzhen. Since I have to wear glasses most of the time now, I stocked up.

Luohu shopping plaza
Luohu shopping plaza

Hair washing: Aneta took me to a salon specializing in hair washing, which is apparently a big trend. You lie on a massage table with your hair over the sink and they scrub the crap out of your scalp for about 30 minutes. I’m not sure if it was supposed to be relaxing or invigorating but it was a fun experience.

Dancing Ladies: Every evening around 8 pm it’s time for dance class in the street! Groups of ladies with music show up and jump right into flash mob-style dancing. Anyone can join in and start learning the choreography but the ladies take it seriously and it can get intense! This was just one of the ways we saw people keeping up an active lifestyle when we were there.

Ladies dancing in the street
Ladies dancing in the street

After two weeks of family time in Shenzhen, we said our goodbyes to Ashraf who was heading off to Thailand with some friends and Aneta who was going back to Montenegro for the summer to be with her family. We would see Ashraf again in a few weeks for the Central Asia portion of the trip. Such is the life of the international teacher on summer vacation!

Sunset over Shenzhen
Sunset over Shenzhen


  1. Rae

    Sounds like you were pleasantly surprised by Shenzhen. It looks and sounds like a pretty cool city! Steve, I have to know, what was goat brain like? Was it basically all about the sauce or broth with it? Did you guys join in a flash-mob style dance class? If so, I’d love to see a video if you have it.

    I’m glad you guys are making the most of what each location has to offer and that you’re indulging in some adventurous local cuisine options – definitely one of the most fun things about travel 🙂

    Love these blog posts! Keep ’em coming 🙂

  2. Steve

    Brain is basically all fat, so it was mushy when cooked and took on the flavour of the broth, as you’d guessed. Glad I tried it, but once will be enough for me. Frog legs and chicken feet though, those I would definitely have again!

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