Shenzhen is not known for culture or history. It’s something I didn’t know before moving to China in 2005. Even the Chinese refer to the city as the cultural desert — not exactly the kindest of descriptions for the country’s first Special Economic Zone. This is partly why the city opened theme parks like Splendid China to provide a form of cheesy culture.
Despite it’s reputation, Shenzhen has made efforts to bring culture to the populous. Early on they opened Window of the World, a theme park in which visitors can see and experience all the countries of the world. Not long before I moved away from China, they opened OCT East, which mostly includes a European village as well as a more traditional Chinese village.
My first experience with the cheesiness was a day at Splendid China and the Folk Culture Village. Splendid China is home to all the wonders of China in miniature form — there are replicas of the Forbidden City, Buddha of Leshan, and the Terracotta Army. There’s even a Great Wall that runs through the park. None can really compare to the experience of seeing the real thing.
Some of the replicas are well done; others look poorly constructed. And, of course, no one pays attention to the signs that tell visitors to not touch or stand inside the exhibits. And no one that worked at the park cared to say anything.
Attached to Splendid China is the Folk Culture Village, where guests can visit some of China’s 52 ethnic minorities and watch them sing (or lip-synch) and dance. Of course, some of the minorities aren’t actually minorities. The best attraction of the Folk Culture Village was the Mongolian performance — it portrayed the invasion through the Great Wall and included vocal sound effects from the announcer.
Although most of the original structures of Shenzhen have been demolished and replaced by sterile blocks of apartment complexes and shopping centers, a few neighborhoods have remained as a reminder of the fishing villages that once existed.
And sometimes when you find culture in Shenzhen, like the semi-ancient remains of the original town, you’ll find a claw machine filled with cigarette packs.
While it may sound as though I abhor such cheesiness, I actually enjoyed most of these trips. When given the opportunity to witness kitschy attractions around the world, I just can’t resist — it’s just too much fun. It makes me wish I had had more time while moving across the U.S. to stop at the ridiculous roadside attractions.