30 May Sea World
This beating heart of expat life in Shenzhen is actually quite famous within China. It was here, or rather the nearby port, that the idea of a modern, open China was launched back in 1979. It was the designated as a Free Trade Zone and allowed foreign oil companies to come in and open up shop. It was a small test run for a more capitalistic economic model. Forty years on, it is easy to see that this little experiment helped jump start China towards the economic beast it has become.
Sea World is most well known as the home to many of the expats in Shenzhen. This is due in part to two of the largest international schools, SIS and QSI, being situated nearby. It is also thanks to the rather Westernized feeling of Sea World, with its proliferation of Western chain restaurants and English-friendly bars. That being said, walking around, you know that you are still in China. Locals like to indulge in some of the more funky attributes of Sea World just as much as expats, and the main, open pedestrian plaza plays host to events almost every weekend, from music shows to promotional events. It is a hub of activity, day and night.
Sea World Shenzhen starts from exit A of the Sea World metro station. The escalators take you to the beginning of the main plaza. McDonald’s and KFC to your left, Taiwanese bubble tea and shaved ice desserts to your right. A little bit of the West, a little bit of the East, which is a theme that will continue around the area.This plaza is where most of the larger public events take place. The speed at which they set up and break down stages in this area is impressive. I have left to run errands for a few hours, only to return to a full on promotional event from Cadillac, featuring a full-size car submerged in a tank of water. Why? I’m not sure, but I hope it helped them sell more cars.
At the end of the plaza is the iconic Mingua Cruise Ship. This huge vessel has been turned into multiple restaurants and bars. If you turn to the right, you will find Tequila Coyote’s, our go-to Mexican restaurant when we have a salsa/tacos/enchiladas itch that needs to be scratched. Is it the world’s best Mexican? No. But they do have authentic tacos al pastor and refreshing margaritas. PRO-TIP: If you head to the left from the cruise ship at the end of the plaza, you enter another corridor of restaurants and bars, including hot pot, Japanese, and Mexican options. There are also bars like Havana, which while technically a bar, is known for providing other…services. Best avoid those places if you just want a drink.
As you continue walking around the right side of the ship, you will find yourself in another open area, surrounded on all sides by more restaurants, coffee shops, and bars. There is a Costa Coffee (our UK friends will be familiar with that brand) and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, not to mention more local favorites like Honeymoon Desserts, with their variety of mango, fruit, and durian (yes, durian, that exceptionally stinky fruit) desserts and drinks. Old Street, a Sichuan restaurant on the second level above Costa, is quite tasty and in our regular rotation. Cold cucumber salad, green beans, Mapo tofu, and anything covered in chile oil and Sichuan peppercorns. Is it spicy? Yes. Is it delicious? Absolutely.
This section of Sea World also has its own unique art installation/children’s play area/seating, much like the whale tails on the main plaza. Not sure exactly what it is supposed to be modelled after, but looks a little like the spine of a large animal. Again, weird yet wonderful. The wooden walkway that frames the pools behind the cruise ship is one of the key spots for people watching around Sea World, particularly in the evening when there are live fountain shows at every half hour interval between 7pm and 9pm. They rotate the songs each half hour, so it’s possible to see multiple shows during a single evening. We can hear the music from our apartment so it’s also our little evening clock – Celine Dion at 8:00, Whitney Houston at 8:30.
The right side of the pools contain a long stretch of high-end restaurants, ranging from Italian to Chinese. We’ve eaten in most of them, including Allatore and Tim’s Kitchen, and while they’re fine, they skew more expensive than most of the neighboring restaurants. We mostly find ourselves in these restaurants when we want to introduce someone to the fountain shows, because the best views are from the outdoor seating gracing the entire stretch. e-Cool Nanhai: Situated a few blocks east of Sea World along Xinghua Lu is e-Cool. This area (three blocks by three blocks) is a converted Sanyo factory complex. Now, it is filled with pedestrian-only areas, offices, and ground-level restaurants, coffee shops, and clothing stores. The city has maintained the industrial feel, but added funky touches like painted tires cut in half as lane dividers and large street art installations. You’ll know you’ve found it by the Starbucks on the corner, but there are also fun independent coffee shops throughout the complex.
Sea World is a compact area, but one that is a popular spot for visitors and locals alike. Thanks to the crazy fountain show and pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, this is the kind of place where a family can spend an afternoon, browsing the museum, walking on the water and eating themselves silly. It’s also a place where expats can easily indulge in food from home, which is sometimes really, really essential.