What’s The Real Dongguan?

You Might Not Know It, but all this time living here, you thought you were bored. You longed for more restaurants, more concerts, more, more, more. Little did you know, everything is perfect here. Yes, you’re living the dream.

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Some French guy once said, “Marriage is like a fortress besieged. Those on the outside want to get in. Those on the inside want to get out.” I almost feel like this is about Dongguan. Almost.

When I lived in Dongguan, I was not a fan in the slightest bit. Why? Because it seemed so limited. Sure, there were plenty of birthday parties, farewell occasions, BBQs and various pubs, but they all often felt like the same exact places, events and people going ‘round and ‘round again on repeat. It is no secret that people gain weight once they move to Dongguan; it must be from all the beer lifting. In the end, you simply grow numb and probably just end up staying at home instead of going out.

However, when you are on the outside looking in, things somehow change. I live in the capital now, half a China away and suddenly, it feels like perhaps there were a few things from “little Dongguan” that I took for granted.

The number of people in Dongguan stands out once you have left. Once described as China’s “Sin City,” the population in Dongguan has dropped a bit since the prostitution crackdown in 2014. Baidu even showed a heat map revealing how thousands of people suddenly fled Dongguan. Dongguan now has about 8 million inhabitants. Beijing holds over 21 million. This, along with the large area, means Dongguan never feels too crowded.

Every city experiences difficult rush hour traffic, and Dongguan is no exception, but until you see 24/7 rush hour, you can’t appreciate the joy of Dongguan’s open roads. Or maybe you do and that’s why you chose this city in the first place.

Taxis, being the main transportation in Dongguan, are also cheap. Shanghai prices start at 14 RMB, Beijing 13, Guangzhou 10, but Dongguan is seven! Unless you got into a black taxi, it is not expensive to travel around the city.

I live in the capital now, half a China away and suddenly, it feels like perhaps there were a few things from “little Dongguan” that I took for granted.

In Beijing, it now costs me nearly 50 RMB to ride from downtown to home, which would have probably only been 30 RMB for the same distance in Dongguan. I knew plenty of people who could walk five minutes to work, but choose to take a taxi because seven kuai is practically nothing, not even enough to buy a cup of coffee!

Of course, there’s always another option: the subway. In Beijing, the carriages only have jam-packed or super jam-packed periods. Dongguan’s underground is like a ghost town.

International cities can often be anonymous and unfriendly, but in Dongguan, it doesn’t matter if a puppy is missing or a child is desperately sick, people will bind together and help each other solve any issue. Whether it’s asking for donations or reposting something on WeChat, the community often rallies to save the day.

For those who like adventure, travel and/or live life as a backpacker, at the end of the day, you realize places are often defined by their people. Dongguan is a living example. The special cast of characters and bars where literally everyone knows your name are the top reasons why I love and miss Dongguan.

Friends abound, Dongguan is where I’ve made virtually all of mine. There is the bold girl: it doesn’t matter what it is, if you want to do it, just go for it. The honest and logical guy who never judges, but is always there to share in the good and bad times. The nice girl who always keeps her customers and friends happy with free shots whenever they are in her bar.

As the Chinese saying goes: Depend on your parents while at home, depend on friends while you are away. After leaving Dongguan, you will surely miss the sturdy wall on which to lean. Cherish your city while you have it.

Category Op-Ed