SHENZHEN YOUTH activity center teacher Ms. Chen Ting sees alot of kids on a daily basis.
That gives her an excellent vantage point to monitor Shenzhen's rapid socioeconomic progress and also get an idea of what kind of people will be leading the country's growth 20-30 years from now.
NextInsight recently met up with the twentysomething Ms. Chen to better find out what makes Shenzhen tick, especially the young crowd, in our fortnightly series of profiles on professionals based in this South China market miracle.
NextInsight: What prompted you to leave Wuhan with its rich and storied history, to come to Shenzhen, one of the most cutthroat, competitive metropolises in China with just three decades of modern history?
Ms. Chen: I came here in 2006, knowing full well that there was much more room for career growth. I know that must seem quite shallow, but I don’t think I am the first person to move to Shenzhen for better opportunities, right? We probably ended up here for similar reasons.
Tell us about your fresh-off-the-train impressions of Shenzhen four years ago when you first began your new life here and how these have changed over the years.
Ms. Chen: When I first started to explore the city, it seemed very much a monolithic rather robotic city of money-chasing immigrants, much like myself at the time. It was really no more than a glorified anthill, with people everywhere running about with their own designated tasks, much like the division of labor with ants.
But after settling in, I realized that the city did indeed have a unique personality, and that the teeming ranks of locals and even the overworked migrant labor pool consisted of individual personalities that could only be discovered after spending more time in the city and with the residents.
Maybe they are simply too busy – or exhausted -- to worry about first impressions or making lots of friends. Perhaps if I could catch everyone on a leisurely day off then Shenzhen would have appeared warmer and giving from the get go. But now I am definitely seeing that, in pockets here and there, and am beginning to feel that this is more than a temporary career move but in fact my permanent home.
From the more physical side of the city, its appearance, it’s a matter of where to begin.
I can say that things are moving quickly on the architecture, infrastructure and standard of living front. These are obvious even to a newcomer.
Sounds like you are handling homesickness okay? How often do you get back to see family in Wuhan?
Ms. Chen: Of course I miss home, and always will. But my parents of course understand that I need to go where the opportunities are. I get home around once a year, usually with the hundreds of millions of other people crowded like sardines into trains during the Lunar New Year.
Other than that holiday, I of course keep in touch with family by telephone and naturally by the Internet as well. Having free chatting available so easily has really made frequent returns to my parents place less necessary, I am afraid to admit.
I don’t mean to say I am not happy to go home more often to see everyone. But let’s face it... when you chat online with friends and family members back home nearly every day, you are less likely to be met at the train station with your entire extended family bearing flower bouquets and offering big teary hugs.
After all, we probably just texted each other via cell phone an hour earlier as my train approached Wuhan!
How would you rate business opportunities in Shenzhen – for investors, management and jobseekers?
Ms. Chen: I would say that the huge market opportunities in Shenzhen and by extension, China, work to lift all boats, as it were. So even though it is incredibly crowded here, I would say there is still room for growth and an ever-present need for a more talented, innovative entrepreneurial class and labor force.
Does this mean you are putting your hard-earned savings into A shares in China? You are, after all, living in the home of China’s second biggest bourse.
Ms. Chen: I would love to be more skilled and informed in this area, but I am afraid the whole idea of entrusting the stock market with my money, what little there is, is very frightening and daunting a prospect.
I am always looking for more free time to improve myself in any way possible, and I keep promising myself that one of these days I really need to devote serious time to learning more about stocks and other investments. After all, it is hard to really make your money grow by just putting it in a savings account.
Speaking of which, is your salary and the interest on your savings keeping up with inflation in Shenzhen?
Ms. Chen: I think that as long as the city is growing, the market and economy is growing. That means that I will have better off parents putting more privileged children through my center. So it all works for the best, even if rent, food and transportation costs keep creeping higher.
You are still young and the prospect of raising children may be far off in your imagination right now. But if and when it becomes a reality in the future, would you be happy to send your children to school here in Shenzhen? I ask this in part because you run a youth activity center here and see a wide spectrum of kids from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds.
Ms. Chen: I am willing to raise hypothetical future children here if that is where my future husband – whoever he turns out to be – and me are based here. Wherever we are, then that is where the kids will go to school.
I never quite understood these well-off families that send their kids to faraway schools for supposed incrementally higher educational reputations. The price they pay for separating children from parents and siblings is never worth the bragging rights that come from sending some spoiled kid to a better school halfway across the country, or even overseas. It is never worth the payoff.
I think I am in an excellent position to comment on youth in Shenzhen, dealing with them on a daily basis. I can say that no matter how well off or deprived their parents background, all the kids that pass through our center's doors have one thing as their top priority -- being kids and having fun.
Therefore, which college they eventually get into or what career track they must get on is the furthest thing from their minds. It's a pity that these are the sole concerns of most of the parents of the kids I see. If childhood is encouraged to be skipped over, then you usually end up with very unhappy adolescents, and even more miserable adults.
Finally, you run a youth activity center which is no small accomplishment. How easy is it to start a business here?
Ms. Chen: I haven’t traveled much, to be honest, but from what I read and hear from friends, I don’t think that there is a more startup-friendly city in China than Shenzhen.
SHENZHEN: 'Easy to start business, hard to find people you can trust'
SHENZHEN: Young woman learns it takes more than two to tango
SHENZHEN EXPAT: Briton Walking On The Wild Side