It is always crowded on the bus to Dongmen. Many visitors to the Dongmen Commercial Area are from Hong Kong and other cities. They may be from different places but they all have one thing in common: They are all heading to one of Shenzhen's shopping heavens.
But don't mistake the place for just a fancy shopping arcade simply because of its name. Known as Dongmen Old Street, it is not just a popular shopping mecca but more importantly it retains the style of a traditional Chinese commercial street. Established in the 17th century during the Ming Dynasty, it has been the city's busiest street for over 300 years.
Originally called Shenzhen Old Ruins, Dongmen was renamed as Shenzhen's frontier town in the early 1980s. It was also described as the center of the city's commercial development. Covering 130,000 square meters, it boasts a total of 400,000 square meters of retail floor space. Over 3,000 shops of various sizes sell everyday items, various kinds of domestic and foreign brand-name clothes, leather products, antiques, calligraphy, paintings, cultural relics, pottery and porcelain. There is a saying that you can't call it a worthwhile trip to Shenzhen without visiting Dongmen.
Today, when you walk on Dongmen Old Street, you can still savor the delights of old-style buildings. Located between Yiheng Street and Erheng Street, off Renmin Road North, the so-called Old View Street transports the visitor into the traditional small town that often features in TV series.
Guanghua Pavilion, Wenshan Pavilion and Xihua Palace are standing records of South China's architecture. The main halls and corridors are decorated with stone, brick, wood, porcelain and clay carvings, iron casts, door paintings and wall paintings. All of these are exquisitely made.
After experiencing some old-world culture, you can take a pleasant walk across the two plazas on the east and west of Dongmen Old Street. The huge coconut palms, fragrant lilies and tulips, modern sculptures as well as covered pavilions offer a green breathing space amid the bustling shopping atmosphere.
If you ask avid shoppers why they come to Dongmen Old Street, you will probably be given a similar answer - it is the busy commercial flair that attracts them most.
While many people are mesmerized by modern Dongmen, some may have forgotten about the old market just across Dongmen Footbridge, a great place to experience Shenzhen's traditional lifestyle. Walkers and motorcycles fight their way along wet and muddy streets. A strong smell of petrol fills the air. Pedlars stand on stools, waving their hands, yelling at people not to miss the chance to buy cheap stuff. Shopping malls with names familiar to Hong Kong people, like Mongkok Shopping Center, appear between the small shops.
Other than frenzied shopping, Dongmen also offers something for the soul such as Shenzhen Pokart, a place where things related to art and design, like calligraphy tools and musical instruments, are sold. Though not as large as Shenzhen Book City, it has a whole floor devoted to books.
Walking along crowded Dongmen Old Street, the visitor is overwhelmed with a sort of traditional market air. It is acclaimed as Shenzhen's "Commercial United Nations" with more than 10 department stores and hundreds of small shops, but you can always feel the historical flavor, which has not yet been lost amid the modern commercial climate.
You can get to Dongmen by taking the following buses: 1, 3, 5, 11, 102, 103, 113, 203, 211, 223, 300 and 351.