SHENZHEN DOWNTOWN MAP

FUTIAN SHUI WEI VILLAGE, HUANGGANG VILLAGE SHENZHEN

These two villages are situated just north of the Huang Gang border crossing and south of the CBD around Cai Tian and Jin Tian Roads. Because this area is close to the Huanggang Border Checkpoint, there are lots of Hong Kong visitors. Different dishes of typically Cantonese food are the specialties; indeed this is one of the few places in modern Shenzhen where you’ll hear mainly Cantonese spoken around you and where the original Cantonese spirit of the area is maintained.

Shui Wei Cun and Huang Gang Cun are so close together that if you keep walking you’ll pass from one to the other without really noticing. Bright flashy neon lights, some street stalls selling clothes and knick-knacks and lots of colour and noise. Also very prominent are bars but not the type for families; the ladies standing out the front in long gowns are something of an indicator. But, for all that, there is a surprisingly family-friendly atmosphere. Our first visit was on a hot July night. Nobody was indoors. We wandered down narrow alleys bathed in red and green flashing neon light, passing families sitting out at outdoor restaurants eating Cantonese delicacies. We crossed a major road and suddenly came into a large public square. The square was packed with hundreds of people sitting in rapt attention at… something. We pushed further in and soon discovered the focus of everybody’s attention, an enormous TV screen. It was Sunday night and everybody was taking in an important episode of a not to be missed TV soap opera. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Some women in particular were sobbing visibly and uncontrollably. We moved around a corner and more narrow streets of Sunday evening diners.

One restaurant, which stands out in Shuiwei Village, is Ah M’s. In 1977, Ah M, a native of Shuiwei, felt very alone. He was ten years old. There was hardly anybody left in his class at school. Everybody had fled to Hong Kong. Even his mother and father had gone.

He determined to join them. He wrote his father’s telephone number on a piece of paper, wrapped it in plastic, put it in his mouth and swam the Shenzhen River. When he arrived, he went into the first house he saw and rang his father. His father met him in the Hong Kong town of Sheung Shui and bought him a bowl of wonton noodles that he declared to be the best thing he’d ever eaten. Food was still scarce in 1977.

From then he prospered. He went to Taiwan, got a university degree, married a Taiwanese girl and returned in triumph. He became very well-to-do through a chain of bakeries. But his real passion was the local food of Shuiwei Village. He opened a restaurant specialising in Shuiwei local dishes. This was a large undertaking because some of the ingredients were no longer available. Ah M solved this problem by organising contract growing of the special varieties.

Ah M and his wife are typical of successful Shenzhen business people in that they don’t keep it all to themselves. Apart from their local food interest, they collect books for schools in poorer parts of China and each year lead an expedition of Shenzhen people to distribute them.

Address: Huanggang Village Futian District

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