In the ultra-modern district of Futian near downtown Shenzhen, there exists an overlooked area called Shuiwei. Decades ago this tiny area was just a simple village that stood very close to the border with Hong Kong. Today many people pass by it on their way to the Huanggang border crossing without ever realising that a few hundred metres away is one of the most vibrant parts of Shenzhen.
A break from expat Shenzhen
For a large proportion of expats residing in Shenzhen, it is likely that they will live in one of the three main residential districts: Nanshan, Futian or Luohu. To varying degrees, all of these areas offer the usual blend of expat convenience (bars, Western restaurants and supermarkets) and the diversity of local Chinese flavour (fabric markets, laundry services and an endless litany of electric bike outrages). However, for the typical expat, it is easy to fall into a routine of becoming more and more insular as time goes on. When the most challenging decision of your whole weekend is to decide which pub in Shekou to watch the rugby in, you should take it as a warning that it is time to get out and explore the city.
From bargain shopping to luxurious spas, Shuiwei in Futian is a secret shared by an initiated few who happen to live nearby. You might not find it mentioned in any of the more famous travel literature available, but it is certainly worth a visit, especially if you are a Shenzhen resident who is jaded by the mundane familiarity of the expat lifestyle.
Getting to Shuiwei
The first thing you need to know about Shuiwei is how to get there. You can try jumping in a taxi and attempt to pronounce the names in as many exaggerated tones as you can, but if all else fails, say something like “Shuiwei Fumin Lu, Futian!”, or something like that. An easier way is to take Line 4 to Fumin Lu metro station and leave from Exit D. From there you will find yourself on a busy street. To enter Shuiwei, simply walk towards the maze of buildings adjacent to Fumin Lu, and you are there on the edge of this tremendous little place.
The best way to get around Shuiwei is undoubtedly on foot. Because it is a former village, the lanes are rather narrow and are all called Shuiwei No.5 Street, No.6 Street etc. As it is such a small area, it is relatively easy to familiarise yourself with the place, so there is no need to try and remember street names. If you do happen to get lost or wander too far, you can easily find your way back to Fumin Lu and from there escape to the metro or hail a taxi.
Shuiwei is the ideal place to get something to eat. A whole host of fantastic Cantonese restaurants adorn the streets and back lanes. This is largely due to the area’s proximity to the border with Hong Kong, and indeed many locals from Hong Kong doing business in Shenzhen choose to dine in this location. Because of this, and perhaps because of Shuiwei’s survival as a village, the locals here still speak Cantonese, and you can hear it spoken in every street corner, resisting the onset of Mandarin and other dialects now ubiquitous in Shenzhen. My advice is to go somewhere that looks busy, and even if you can’t read the Chinese on the menu, just point at random and order. At the very worst, a dish you really can’t stomach will only have cost you 20 RMB or so.
If you don’t fancy dim sum or seasoned tripe, then you can get something from the ever-popular street market. The stalls that line the main street in Shuiwei are open until very late at night, every night, and sell everything from mini kebabs to scorpion. For food a little more palatable to Western tastes, there is a very homely and unbelievably cheap Malaysian restaurant called Rendang Island, run and owned by the ever-cheerful and welcoming Ding. The chicken and beef satay are a must, as is their beef rending, and they always stock ice cold large bottles of Tiger beer.
Rendang Island Asia Café
Add: Shop 308, Shuiwei No.2 Street, near Fumin Lu, Futian District, Shenzhen
Tel: 0755 8380 8596
Opening hours: Daily, 11:00-01:00
Get some DVDs
Shuiwei is an excellent destination for shopping, especially for the essentials when living in China, namely DVDs. There is one cavernous shop dedicated to DVDs on Shuiwei No.4 Street, just past the food market stalls on both sides, and another at the corner of Shuiwei No. 10 Street. You can always find a comprehensive selection of the latest Hollywood releases, as well as a good choice of Japanese and Korean films. I recently bought the now hard-to-find entire Sopranos series for around 200 RMB, but you are likely to find movies and TV series that you wouldn’t think you would be able to buy in China, especially from the dodgy little DVD carts that expats are used to in other parts of the Shenzhen.
Get a massage, not a massagie!
Continuing along the same street, you will notice an abundance of massage parlours. While some of these are certainly of the unwholesome variety, there are one or two regular establishments where you can get a foot massage for no more than 30 RMB. I apologise for not giving any names here, as they are all in Chinese. While I can’t tell you what they are called, all you have to do is use your common sense. If a massage parlour has several young men outside it saying “massagie, massagie” to you, and you are a man, walk on. Shuiwei, although bustling, is such a small place that you will be able to find your way around without fear of incriminating yourself or getting ripped off.
Although few expats are aware of this area, I urge you to make a visit at least once. Shuiwei has a lot to offer, and remains completely un-Westernised compared to other parts of Shenzhen. Although this article barely skims the surface of this interesting place, I am sure that there is something here for everyone.
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Keywords: interesting places in Shenzhen Shuiwei Shenzhen border towns in Shenzhen
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