Fascinating 9-minute documentary of Shenzhen, the "Silicon Valley of China"

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/02/12/fascinating-9-minute-documenta.html

Great documentary. Here is a safe-for-work interview with perhaps the city’s most well-known-in-America resident (Naomi Wu) talking about her city and it’s place in tech as seen on Thai PBS.

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I visited Shenzhen (which in Cantonese is pronounced something closer to sum-jun) in 1987 while living in Hong Kong. After going through HK passport control you walk over a small bridge and go through Chinese passport control. If you didn’t apply for a visa in advance you had to find the office where you could apply for a visa, which on a good day might take an hour. The Chinese side was not exactly friendly, but they were professional and there was seldom any problem. When leaving the building, all there was, was a dirt road with no buildings in sight. We walked for nearly five minutes before seeing a lone small brick building selling cheap Chinese pottery and then another ten minutes before coming to something resembling a village. I have been to places in rural Laos that were far more developed than Shenzhen at the time. There really wasn’t much to do, so we found a noodle shop, ate lunch, bought some Cuban cigars for friends and went home.

Nearly ten years later, when the sleepy village had been transformed into a shiny slap-dash concrete rabbit warren, the kind of place where people die in fires in discos because the fire escapes are chained shut, I opened an 3D animation studio in Shenzhen in a small flat in a 30 floor block of flats. We were lucky enough to get all our staff from the south so everyone could speak Cantonese and some English instead of broken Mandarin. I crossed the border three times a week for nearly two years and Chinese immigration and visas hadn’t changed at all. I remember there was a very beautiful woman working in the Visa office that I dealt with almost every trip. She was almost too slender to pull off the stiff starched military uniform which was designed to impress and intimidate more than anything else. I always smiled and tried to make a joke – which always resulted in getting that frosty stone stare that only Chinese women can pull off. But I didn’t give up. After a year I started to notice that she didn’t hold herself as stiffly as she once had when I talked to her. After another six months, I finally managed to get a very slight smile out of her. She must now have children in College. Sometimes I think about her and wonder if she remembers that crazy giant white guy who kept trying to tell bad jokes in Cantonese. When living in Beijing, years later, I was assigned a pair enormous PLA soldiers with AK47s as a 24/7 security detail after I had been stoned by a mob during anti-American/British protests. These guys had the stone stare as well, but it only took me three months to get them to smile.

A few months later we sold the company, moved to Japan to open another company. Hong Kong will always be the king of speed, people are born at that pace and live their entire lives that way. Shenzhen is a youngster who is populated by people from all over the mainland who often struggle with the pace of life. My ex-wife who was born in Hong Kong visited the World Expo in Shanghai (what, 10 years ago at least) and when she got back home I called her (I was living in Udonthani Thailand at the time) and asked her what Shanghai was like. I hadn’t been to Shanghai since the 80’s when the Bund was still rather run down but in a charming way, and was curious how it had changed. She said, “you wouldn’t believe it. It’s just like Hong Kong, but slower.”

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