Monday, April 05, 2010

Unhappy Shenzheners

An opinion column in the Shenzhen Daily reminded me about the lifestyles of Shenzheners. The headline says it all: "An Unhealthy, unhappy lot of money worshippers?"

It's no secret that people in Shenzhen care more about money than anything else. They also love to show off how much money they have, hence the desire to own larger cars to haphazardly drive through the overcrowded roads and sidewalks. I once asked a class about the possibility of people in Shenzhen driving less as the bus system was extensive and the subway was set to expand. The response I received was that the people would never abandon their cars for public transportation because the car owners would lose face if they didn't drive. And they have to continue purchasing more expensive cars because they have to show that they're more successful than everyone around them.

Around the same time that I asked my class about the growing car culture, there was a survey claiming Shenzhen as the most unhappy city in China. Most of my students agreed--very few seemed to like living in such a large city. That was a change in perception from the beginning of the year as most students were new to Shenzhen and loved the idea of living in one of China's modern cities. It usually took a month or two for the honeymoon phase to wear off. Most students hoped to move back to their hometowns or cities nearby--very few wanted to stay in Shenzhen after graduation. Those who wanted to stay in Shenzhen said it was because they could earn more money.

One reason why most Shenzhen residents are unhappy is because it is a migrant city--a lot of the people are far from home for the first time. Combine that with the fact that many residents came from small towns and villages, only to be dropped in the middle of an enormous, busy city. Adapting to that change in stress can be difficult for anyone. And then there's the pressure to succeed in Shenzhen--there are constant reminders of how much money people should make in the city. Quite a few new malls opened while I lived there, and I couldn't afford to buy anything in most of the stores--it made me wonder who was keeping the stores in business.

The detail of the Shenzhen Daily article that caught my attention was that it called residents physically and mentally unhealthy. With the stress of work and long hours in the office, Shenzheners aren't getting enough exercise (not to mention the plague of pollution). And those constant reminders of how everyone makes more money is taking its toll on the sanity of the people.

It's not really Shenzhen's fault. The city is always an afterthought. It's stuck between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, with Macau nearby. With all the wealth and history that surrounds it, the city suffers an inferiority complex--it's the younger brother that can never be as great as its siblings.

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