The Nanfang / Blog

PRD People: Transport Planner and Shenzhen Stalwart Mike Clark

Posted: 04/23/2014 11:00 am

If you had worked and been successful in London, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Haven, Connecticut, where would you choose to live? Englishman Mike Clark, 67, one of the world’s leading transport planners, has done all those things and decided that Shenzhen is the place where he wants to spend the rest of his life.

Mike Clark in Yunnan, image via Shenzhen Stuff

Clark has been a transport planner since shortly after he graduated from Bristol University in 1968 with a degree in Pure Mathematics. His career, which has also taken him to Algeria and Bolivia, saw him become one of the most sought after transport planners in the world in the 1990s, when he lived in Hong Kong.

Clark is also a well known character in Shenzhen who is known for – among other things – well-attended annual birthday parties, coining the term “YCG” (Young Chinese Girl), and having a cross-dressing alter-ego named Meimei (more on that later). This week, he took the time to talk to The Nanfang about Shenzhen, transport, ageism, and the impossibility of reintegrating after being an expat for so long.

A career in transport

Transport planning is the first stage of developing major infrastructure projects such as highways, railways, ports, and airports before or in parallel to the engineers, land use planners, economists, and other experts. He started out as a transport modeller in London before moving to Hong Kong in 1973 for his first particularly well-paid job.

“A transport model is a set of relationships which allow transport demand to be forecast from sets of input data including transport supply, socio-economic data, what are the costs of transport by various means of travel, and what transport policies are in place,” he explained to The Nanfang.

Clark left Hong Kong for Algeria in 1976 but would return several times in the eighties, most permanently in 1988 when his employer won a project called the Port and Airport Development Strategy [PADS] for the Hong Kong Strategic Planning Unit. The next decade would prove to be the most colourful period of his career.

“The project looked at ways of relocating Hong Kong’s port and airport and the necessary infrastructure and land use plans to go with those relocations. It was a very high-profile project with steering committees up to the Chief Secretary’s, and presentations to Hong Kong’s parliament, so I got a lot of exposure at the highest level,” he told The Nanfang.

Moreover, many of the government people he had worked with in the 70s and early 80s had progressed to very senior positions in the Transport Department and Transport Bureau. They knew, liked and trusted him. “As a result, our company won most of the important projects during the 90s, including Updating of the Second Comprehensive Transport Study, Electronic Road Pricing Study, Third Comprehensive Transport Study, North Lantau Development Study, and Hong Kong Airport Terminal Design,” Clark said. The common factor in all these studies was Mr. Mike Clark, so if somebody, somewhere had a transport question they would call him.

Life in Shenzhen

Despite having retired in 1999, he came to work in Shenzhen in 2003 when the consultancy he had worked for won a project called The Shenzhen Comprehensive Transport Study. He has since made a life for himself in Shenzhen. “Shenzhen suits me well now given what I want from my life, but wouldn’t have suited me in other stages. I wouldn’t want to be raising a family here for example,” said Clark.

One reason he cites for preferring Shenzhen to Hong Kong or the U.K. at this stage of life is the relative lack of ageism. “I know that I am old because I have a calendar, but I don’t want to do the things that old people are supposed to do in the UK. The western world is ageist in a way that China is not,” he opined.

His belief on the subject can perhaps best be summed up by two quotes on his Shenzhen Stuff page: “It’s not getting old that stops you doing things, it’s stopping doing things that makes you get old.” and “Honestly, I often think that it would be good to act my age, but it is so difficult.”

Enjoying the freedom of not having to act his age has led to some memorable moments in Shenzhen, many of which have involved his cross-dressing alter ego Meimei. “At fancy dress parties I usually wore a female costume from university days onwards,” he told The Nanfang when explaining how the character originated in 2009.

He discovered he could get a qipao made for 250 RMB shortly before his young adult daughters came to visit from England. “I think it’s part of a father’s duty to embarrass his daughters,” he explained.

But the most important thing keeping him in Shenzhen, along with the ease of travel for residents of the city, is the people he knows. “I can act as I wish with the friends, restaurant staff, people I meet on the metro, other expats cut adrift from their roots, whatever,” he said. His birthday parties, which are held in Huaqiangbei every December, are among the most popular annual events in Shenzhen’s English-speaking community.

Eternal expat

Although he still spends a good chunk of every year in Worcestershire, England, he is convinced that he will never be able to fit in again in his home country. Having worked overseas since 1973, he initially tried to stay in touch with school and university friends, but their lives have taken different paths. “Our life experiences and expectations were so different that we gradually lost common ground to support our friendship. My friends became more and more my colleagues and those people I met overseas,” he said.

Continuing on the subject of ageism, he claimed that in the U.K. there is a separation between young people places and activities and old people places and activities. “I was clearly part of the old people, but wasn’t interested in doing old people things. I found it almost impossible to make friends with young people and wasn’t accepted in their places,” he said.

Comparing the strong friendships he has in Shenzhen with the dull conversations about cars and gardens that he is forced to have when in England, Clark – who has just received a three year visa – is in no doubt that he prefers life in the Pearl River Delta to England: “Maybe I’ll go back there to die, but that’s what it would be.”


Fake iPhone chargers: Cheap, dangerous, and can be purchased anywhere

Posted: 07/18/2013 7:00 am

When flight attendant Ma Ailun was killed after being electrocuted while using her iPhone when it was still on the charger, a CCTV report concluded that her death was probably caused by using an unauthorised (shanzhai) charger.

On Tuesday, an investigative reporter from Guangzhou Daily went into Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei area and discovered just how easy it is to mistakenly buy a shanzhai charger and looked into exactly how dangerous the chargers can be.

Although in 2011, Xinhua reported that China’s shanzhai industry was declining, and one third of the estimated 3,000 sellers of shanzhai products in Huaqiangbei had left the business, it is still remarkably easy to buy shanzhai products in the area.

Since Ma Ailun’s death, blogger Ken Shirriff has argued that it is completely plausible that a shanzhai charger was responsible for her death. In his blog post “Tiny, cheap, and dangerous: Inside a (fake) iPhone charger,” he states:

There’s 340 volts DC inside the charger, which is enough to kill. In a cheap charger, there can be less than a millimeter separating this voltage from the output, a fraction of the recommended safe distance. These charger sometimes short out, which could send lethal voltage through the USB cable. If the user closes the circuit by standing on a damp floor or touching a grounded metal surface, electrocution is a possibility.

However, there is another possible cause of Ma’s electrocution. Shenzhen Daily has it that the charger may have been intended for use in Japan and malfunctioned because of voltage problems. China has a 220-volt standard. Japan has a standard of 100 volts.

Buy your chargers from reputable stores.


Busy road in Shenzhen’s popular Huaqiangbei area to close for 3 years

Posted: 01/29/2013 1:36 pm

The major trunk road in Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei Area, one of the busiest areas in the city, will close for 3 years after the Spring Festival holiday for construction of Metro lines, Shenzhen Daily reports.

The city’s railway construction office said that on February 25 a section of Huaqiangbei Road, between Shennan Boulevard and Hongli Road, would close.

The paper continues:

Pedestrian sidewalks on each side of the road will remain open to provide access to businesses in the area and hopefully limit the affects of construction on commerce.

The work, which is part of the city’s Metro line 7 project, will cause relocations, land requisitions, pipeline rerouting and traffic relief efforts in the area which lies in Futian District.

Meanwhile, residents and business owners in the area said property owners should lower their rents and the government should reduce taxes or offer subsidies during the construction period, because their businesses’ incomes will drop during the next three years.

Is Huaqiangbei, which is mostly known as the city’s high-tech centre, an important part of your life? If so, what do you think of this?


Shenzhen, at the cutting edge of tech in China, has highest Weibo penetration rate

Posted: 12/14/2012 11:17 am

It could be argued that Shenzhen is becoming China’s very own Silicon Valley.  It is the home of Tencent, China’s largest web company and creator of QQ and the WeChat/Weixin apps, and also Huawei, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the world.  Shenzhen will also be home of Baidu’s impressive new international headquarters when it opens in 2015.  This doesn’t even touch on the fact the vast majority of the world’s electronics are manufactured here or near here, and a burgeoning trade of gadgets and toys has made Huaqiangbei almost as famous as Tokyo’s Akibahara neighbourhood.

It should be no surprise then that Shenzhen also leads the way when it comes to internet penetration rates and use of Sina’s popular Weibo microblogging service.  The Shenzhen Development Internet Research Report found that Shenzhen’s internet penetration rate is 76.8%, well ahead of Beijing and Shanghai. It means means 7.97 million people are online in the city.

Liu Bing, vice-president of China Internet Information Center, said that Shenzhen’s netizens infrastructure is better than most cities in China. Netizens between 20 to 40 year-old account for approximately 60%. Take a closer look on these young netizens, student groups are comparatively smaller while on-job groups are bigger. Netizens’ education level is higher than the national average.

Guangzhou’s rate stands at 72.9%, also ahead of Beijing and Shanghai.

As for Sina Weibo use, the report says it is used by 58.6% of netizens in Shenzhen, which is 10 percentage points higher than the national average.

At the same time, Shenzhen weibo users are more active. The ratio of netizens who use weibo 3 times per day is 16 percentage points higher than the average. Weibo users that spent more than 2 hours per day account for 35.3%.

Except for performance on weibo, Shenzhen netizens are also more active on SNS, blogs, BBS and online videos compared with netizens in other first-tier cities.

Perhaps Beijing’s vaunted Zhongguancun won’t be considered ground zero for China’s tech industry for much longer.

(h/t @Chomagerider)


Shenzhen man dies on wedding day after being injured during anti-Japan protests

Posted: 10/9/2012 12:37 pm

Deng Junbo, who was hospitalized after falling off a rail during anti-Japan protests on Shenzhen’s Shennan Boulevard last month, died after more than two weeks in hospital, Southern Metropolis Daily reports.

To add insult to injury, the 27 year-old died Tuesday October 2 at Shenzhen No.2 People’s Hospital, the day he was due to marry his fiance.

Deng came from Hong’an City in Hubei Province and worked as an engineer at an electronic factory in Fuyong in Baoan District. On September16, he went to Huaqiang Bei with his colleagues during the height of the anti-Japan protests. About 1:10pm they were on Shennan Avenue. There’s no definitive word they were participating, but they may have been. On the way back to work, they climbed over a road guardrail.

As they were climbing the rail, it collapsed. Deng’s injuries were the most serious as his leg was trapped under the rail and his head smashed into the ground, spilling lots of blood.

Despite being at his bedside for much of the time, his fiance’s goodwill and the best efforts of doctors could not save him.

One netizen lamented that his patriotism had brought lasting pain to two families. Another inquired why the official media wasn’t making more of the story. Another, possibly sarcastically said that he was the latest casualty in China’s ongoing war with Japan.

Should we join others in calling Deng the first casualty of the protests?



New, unreleased iPhone floating around Shenzhen if you have a spare RMB50k

Posted: 08/22/2012 10:29 am

The suspense is building for the release of Apple’s next iPhone, but leaked photos indicate the phone — or a version of it — is already all over Shenzhen, where the device is expected to be manufactured.

Several tech websites are reporting that the case of the new iPhone has been circulating in the city for quite sometime, which helps manufacturers prepare new cases and bumpers in time for launch.  It’s believed Apple will unveil the newest iPhone, which some people are calling the iPhone 5, on September 12.

The leaked case shows a much longer device, but the width appears the same, which will continue to allow one-handed typing.

While parts of the new phone may be circulating around Huaqiangbei, the cost of borrowing (that’s right, they’re not for sale as far as we know) the components for 24 hours equals the price of more than three new Retina Macbook Pros: RMB50,000.  Worth it?

One wonders what the deposit will be, if the borrowing cost is RMB50k.

Photos below.



Public officials in Shenzhen volunteer to shine shoes

Posted: 05/22/2012 12:16 pm

As Mr Huang was going about his business in Shenzhen’s Huaqiangbei area, he decided to stop and get his shoes shined. He sat on a stool and said to the worker who squatted before him, “Shine my shoes” and the worker complied.

After the worker began shining his shoes, Huang noticed a badge on the worker and his colleagues’ uniform which said “Volunteering Public Official.” Huang asked, “Are you public officials?” The official replied, “yes, we’re doing this for free.”

Huang expressed discomfort at having a public official shine his shoes, and tried to take his foot away, but the official said, “Sit still, I’m nearly finished,” according to Huang then joined several onlookers in taking a photograph of the scene with his mobile phone.

Zheng Danjiang of the city’s Auditing Bureau is among the more than 4000 public officials who took part in the volunteering activity, which also included maintaining order at taxi ranks and sweeping roads.  He praised the activity as improving communication between citizens and officials.

In order to train for shining shoes, the officials must first shine their own. Although many officials feel self-conscious at first, within minutes, most of them are enthusiastically shouting at passers-by, offering free shoe-shine service.

Although the service is free, some citizens have offered to give a donation, but the officials have refused.

Weibo users have expressed skepticism about the activity. One named Unhappy Nana asked what the ulterior motives were, Another pointed out that Mr Huang would be at the mercy of the officials next time he had to get anything done.


Crowds gather in Huaqiangbei, gang fighting?

Posted: 03/24/2011 5:25 pm

Sina Weibo was all atwitter around 5pm on Thursday regarding what appeared to be a major scuffle in the Huaqiangbei area of Shenzhen. More than 500 people posted comments to Weibo, but nobody seems to know what was going on.

All we know is there was a large crowd on the scene, as well as several police officers. We hope to post more information as we find out, so check back later.

UPDATE (21:17):

Details are still scarce, but we are at least getting some second hand information. First, all references to the event can no longer be found on Sina Weibo, including the photo we’ve included in this post.

@mic tweeted us (@thenanfang) to let us know that it was a gang related confrontation with the police. He said: “Seems to be a gang fighting, hundreds of tenants of Zhuowang Building against with police, for some unknown reasons”

As always, if you know anything let us know and we can pass it on.



Knock-off mobile phone makers run into trouble in Shenzhen

Posted: 03/9/2011 6:00 am

The prices of mobile phones are going down faster than a beer at a frat house, and that is causing problems for some of China’s “no name” brand phones. Huaqiangbei is famous for being ground zero for mobile phones in Shenzhen, but declining prices on legitimate brands such as Nokia and Samsung are putting the squeeze on manufacturers. The Shenzhen Daily reports there are 3,000 manufacturers of knock-off (more commonly known as shanzhai) mobile phones in the Huaqiangbei area, and sales are down 12% already this year.

Phone buyers now have higher requirements in looking for mobile phones, and more buyers are buying branded phones plus around 300 new brands of registered mobile phones are released in the market since last year. For a unbranded mobile phone maker to release a new model the need to invest around one million yuan. Investing in making new mobile phones will help maintain their market share of unbranded phones but with a risk of bankruptcy if it doesn’t sell well.

This risk have forced companies to go out of business, and many said the knockoff mobile phone industry should undergo restructuring. With newer and intense market competition will surely out phase manufacturers, while those with a strong research and development ability will stay a little longer.

In nearby Hong Kong, some Nokia-branded phones are being given away with the purchase of other electronic items, underscoring how far their value has plummeted in recent years.

As bleak as the picture seems for knock-off mobile phone makers, Huaqiangbei, at last check, still had a vast selection of devices. So no need to panic…. yet.

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