Our teachers are talented and interesting professionals, but they also love to have fun–both in and out of the classroom. BASIS International School Shenzhen music teacher Brian DeLay had a few fun, and humorous, thoughts to share with us about things he has learned while living in Shenzhen. Hitchhikers have a Guide to the Galaxy, consider this the Expat’s Guide to Shenzhen.

Where Are We?

Shenzhen frequently isn’t on the map. It’s a new city, only about 40 years old, and part of a larger network of cities built around the Zhujiang River Estuary. With a population of roughly 20 million, Shenzhen is the size of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston combined. It’s HUGE. But I was surprised how often Shenzhen isn’t identified on maps. That omission included the in-flight map of my jet as we were landing here! When people ask you where you live, your mantra should always be “it’s a really big city just north of Hong Kong.”

China map

Many cities listed…no Shenzhen.

Parts is Parts

They use everything on the chicken in cooking except the feathers. When your food arrives, don’t chomp down too soon; cooks rarely bone the chicken. They just use their cleavers and chop. While the preparation may look like a scene from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 6” (and you can watch them do it in places like the butcher in Walmart’s grocery), it’s usually quite delicious.

I’m not a big fan of the feet, however, although they’re a popular snack sold in most convenience stores.

Chicken feet snack in China

Shenzhen Bus Drivers & NASCAR Drivers: A Comparison

NASCAR drivers wear helmets. They also drive much slower than Shenzhen buses, and NASCAR drivers don’t usually tailgate other cars as closely. Bring a book when you commute. It’s better not to look out the window.

Despite the NASCAR habits of bus drivers, though, the drivers in China are much more aware, and observant of, their surroundings. In fact, they have turned merging into an art.

Shenzhen merging traffic

Everything they said about time travel on Star Trek was true

One of the cool things about being an American living in Shenzhen is that you literally live in the future because of the international date line. You’ll get used to wishing people Happy Birthday a day early on Facebook, and watching your favorite television shows on the wrong days. But you can always text your friends in the West and tell them that you’re safely in the future, and that the weather is fine!

Say Farewell to IHOP

The traditional American breakfast is a rare find in China. No omelets, pancakes, breakfast burritos, waffles. Not even toast. You’re more likely to be served a bowl of noodles, a dumpling stuff with meat, or other foods you’d typically consider “lunch” back home–all of which are delicious no matter what time of day. If you simply MUST have your morning bagel and cream cheese, there are stores that specialize in hard-to-get Western foods. Luckily, one happens to be only half a block away from us at BASIS International School Shenzhen. On a related note, coffee can be tough to find in bulk, but you can get your caffeine fix at numerous Starbucks or Seven-Eleven stores throughout Shenzhen.

Never gamble with the old folks outside the corner market

Every evening, after the weather cools, the older folks gather on street corners to play cards. They gamble with gusto. I’ve seen a 70-year-old winner slam his cards on the table and do a victory dance. Never be tempted to strut your Texas Hold ‘Em skills with these card sharks. Many helped build massive Shenzhen in a mere 30 years, working daily up on skyscrapers. They know a thing or two about odds and risk! The Chinese have a passion for gambling and they’ll gamble on almost anything. It’s no surprise that Macau, one of the world’s largest gambling centers, is just across the bay from Shenzhen.



The Spicy Sauce on the Table isn’t Your Grandma’s Tabasco

Sure. I know you’re a veteran culinary heatmonger, at ease with various North American chilis: jalapenos, ghost peppers, habaneros, and whatnot. But here in China, restaurants routinely offer table sauces that put Drano to shame. It will bruise your ego to watch little 5-year-old locals fearlessly spooning on the oily red goo at the next table, knowing that just a few drops will crumple you into a fetal position, praying to the Pepto gods for mercy.

But fear not my heat seeking friend, many restaurants offer less spicy options as your stomach adjusts to the new flavors of a delicious culture.

Brian DeLay is a music teacher at BASIS International School Shenzhen. Read his story of moving to China to teach with BASIS International Schools here.

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