Amidst the City's Frenzy, a Stylish Retreat

Frequent traveller Christina Bay writes about her experience at the Somerset Garden City, Shenzhen

Issue: Oct 2009

Somerset Garden City's rooftop garden gives residents a panoramic view of the city
Somerset Garden City's rooftop garden gives residents a panoramic view of the city

The Shenzhen that I've come to know is one defined by relentless development: endless concrete surfaces broken by flash projects and theme parks. Here is a city in China where buildings can go up in three days on land that was under sea only three decades ago - a border town in every sense of the word. But the frenzy that is so apparent to the outsider's eye is the norm for its citizens, and new residents and first-time business travellers can easily find themselves caught in between the two.

Perhaps this is why after staying at the Somerset Garden City, Shenzhen - the newest property operated by The Ascott Group - I think it deserves to be called a retreat in the city. This serviced residence of more than 140 units is located in the Shekou residential district, a quiet and pleasant crook of the city backed by green mountains and facing the sea. This is a place favoured by expatriates who have their families here with them, because of its slower pace and lower crime rates.

Somerset Walkabout

A breezy, sun-lit living room in the studio apartment
After dinner, I returned to a neighbourhood that was quiet, without the noise and neon lights of the downtown area. In the morning, I woke up to the morning bustle as people left for work.

I met Residence Manager Louis Tam at the lobby after breakfast and he took me on a guided tour of the place. The affable Hong Kong native introduced the property's range of apartments: from the one-room studios, like the one I was staying in, to the two- or three-bedroom suites that families prefer.

All the units are well-furnished, and conscientiously designed, with an eye not only for comfort but also an understated sense of luxury. Each unit has a home entertainment system, and high-speed broadband Internet access, so I was able to get my fix of international news and update my Facebook status.

I like how every unit has a breezy, sun-filled balcony that gives residents either a glimpse of the sea or of the city with the mountains beyond. In the mornings, it's the perfect spot to sip a cuppa and catch up on the papers; in the evenings, you can chill out with a glass of wine, and just stare out at the twinkling city lights below.


Entertain guests with meals cooked in a fully equipped kitchen
During the walkabout, I noticed that all the rooms, including the studio I stayed in, had fully equipped kitchens. Complete with refrigerators, hob cookers and convection ovens, they allow residents to whip up home-cooked meals if they wish. The bigger units also have separate living and dining areas that allow residents to entertain guests without sacrificing the privacy of their living spaces.

"The families are the ones that tend to make use of the kitchens," said Tam. "I often see the housewives go down the street to the Garden City Shopping Centre where there's a Walmart. There's also a free shuttle service from Jusco that comes by to pick up our guests every Wednesday and Saturday."

I found out later from Guest Service Manager Tim Lun that the property has organised cooking classes that were popular with the housewives. "We introduced some nutritious and 'cooling' Cantonese dishes to counter the summer heat," said Lun. "One of them was a mango sago dessert."

Prime spot

The Somerset Garden City hits the sweet spot when it comes to location. It is within walking distance of many major malls and high-end office towers, and a stone's throw from cultural and tourist destinations like Sea World and Poly Theatre. Not only is there no shortage of options for shopping, dining, and entertainment, Somerset Garden City is close to Shenzhen's best international schools and hospitals.

Swim laps or enjoy the sauna at Somerset Garden City's rooftop facilities
"Some of our residents work in Futian, Shenzhen's financial district, and although it's over half an hour away by taxi, they choose to stay here because of the friendly environment," said Tam. "Those who have children find the location especially attractive because of the international schools that are nearby."

Tam said that one of the most important tasks for staff is to help new residents settle into the city. They conduct a 30-minute orientation to familiarise residents with the nearby shops, restaurants, banking facilities, and transportation system. "Very soon, we should be able to conduct a drive-through of the city with new guests when our official car arrives," he added.

In order to ease the transition for families in Shenzhen, Somerset Garden City has a colourful outdoor children's play area as well as a babysitting service available. Lun pointed out to me that they have even included breakfast items that children prefer, such as milk, yoghurt, and cereals. In accordance with its family-friendly approach to living in Shenzhen, Somerset Garden City doesn't feature the high-octane bars, clubs, and restaurants that define other hotels and residences of the same class.

A hotel-like bedroom in the two-bedroom suite
Instead, it offers a peaceful home-away-from-home ambience, complete with a rooftop pool, garden, and BBQ area, as well as a fully equipped gymnasium and residents' lounge. A convenient business centre, secretarial services, courier services, and wireless Internet connectivity zones cater to those who need to stay in touch while away from the office.

I was pleasantly surprised when Lun revealed that the property celebrates the birthdays of their long-term residents. "We've celebrated about 10 birthdays so far," he said. "This is part of our social programme for residents, which includes a BBQ get-together that we will have every three months, for all the residents to mingle and get to know each other."

Currently about 72 rooms are open for booking, with 35 long-term residents already checked in. All 147 apartments will be open by the end of October. During my brief stay, I was impressed by the eager staff who were attentive and poised to offer invaluable advice informed by their local knowledge of the city.

Judging from the smooth service and promising occupancy rates, it is clear Somerset Garden City is already fulfilling Shenzhen's need for an excellent serviced apartment in the Shekou district.

Somerset Garden City, Shenzhen
1068, Nanhai Avenue, Nanshan District
Shenzhen 518067, China
Telephone: (86-755) 2602 9988
Fax: (86-755) 2602 9966
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