If Google Street View had been around in the 1970s, images of Shenzhen would have been fairly uniform: large stretches of green farmland, the odd dusty trail, a few scattered villages - and that's it.
Fast forward to 2012, and Shenzhen is putting the 'O!' in metropolis. It's the fastest-moving city in the country, boosted by Special Economic Zone status, inhabited by a youthful population who have come from all over China to seek their fortunes, and capped with some of the most significant buildings on the face of the earth. Spread along the boundary with Hong Kong, and reaching further north into the mainland, Shenzhen is linked by a well-developed public transport network, which includes frequent buses, trains and an expanding metro system.
The international airport is Shenzhen's prime gateway to the rest of the world, while numerous ferries connect the city to the rest of the Pearl River Delta.
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2010, Shenzhen's economy climbed healthily and steadily towards the future. Its GDP grew by 12 per cent to 951.09 billion yuan (HK$1.17 trillion), and total retail sales of consumer goods increased by just over 17 per cent to 300.08 billion yuan. Foreign trade volume increased by a substantial 28.4 per cent, to US$346.75 billion. Export volumes performed similarly spectacularly, increasing 26.1 per cent to US$204.18 billion, putting Shenzhen first among the nation's large and medium-sized cities for the 18th year in a row.
Much of the economic activity in Shenzhen centres on its trio of free trade zones, whose economic advantages have attracted such international heavy-hitters as Sony, Samsung, Walmart and Panasonic. Cargoes transported from outside the boundary into the free-trade zone or vice versa are deemed free of customs duties and licenses, substantially reducing operating costs. Cargoes transported into the domestic non-free trade zone from the free trade zone are regarded as imports, while those going in the opposite direction are regarded as exports.
Shenzhen's many commercial roles embrace being a production and research base, and a commodities trading centre of such hi-tech products as computers and software, communications and medical equipment and audio-visual, optical, electromechanical and biomedical products. Shenzhen is home to about 3,000 computer enterprises, and leads China in the production of colour TV sets, furniture, clocks and watches, clothes, jewellery and printing and artistic gifts.
The growth of Shenzhen Port has been one of the most phenomenal economic successes of this particular SEZ. By the end of 2010, it was operating 176 berths capable of accommodating vessels of 10,000 tonnes and above, with 44 dedicated for container ships.
In the space of 12 months, Shenzhen Port handled 220 million tonnes of cargo, up slightly more than 15 per cent from 2009.
Container throughput rose by nearly a quarter to reach 22.51 million TEU, putting Shenzhen fourth in the world for the eighth consecutive year.
Some 230 international container routes pass through Shenzhen, linking the Pearl River Delta with the United States, Europe, Africa, Australia and numerous other Asian cities.
In 2010, about 24,353 container ships put in at Shenzhen, mainly to take on cargo rather than unload it.
In a similar vein, Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport is one of the busiest in the country, handling in excess of 800,000 tonnes of cargo a year, in addition to more than 25 million passengers.
Amid the extraordinarily fast development, city planners have taken care to include more than a few green lungs.
Some 683 parks spread over more than 20,500 hectares, while a 'greenway network' already covers 335km.
The target is for the greenways to stretch 2,000km in total, so the majority of the city's residents will have access to a greenway within five minutes' walk of their homes.
Shenzhen has built a complete system to monitor environmental quality and sources of pollution, and there are 29 stations automatically monitoring air, water and noise polluters.
TAKE TIME FOR TEE
As examples of Shenzhen's progress, the city's airport, stock exchange and hordes of skyscrapers are impressive. But perhaps the most significant benchmark is what might be dubbed the 'green to green effect': the transformation of paddy fields to golf courses.
Within an hour's drive of the border with Hong Kong, more than a score of courses lie waiting to tempt all sorts, from the enthusiastic amateur to some of the world's top players. The king is Mission Hills, whose dozen 18-hole courses, roll call of golf glitterati - Nick Faldo, Ernie Els, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman - and Guinness World Record status rank it No1 on the global stage.
With so many courses, it's not simply the greens but the entire experience. Superb dining facilities, spas and plenty of space to relax and brag a little in plush accommodation mean that golf in Shenzhen is as much about the clubhouse as about sand-irons.
Other notable courses in and around Shenzhen include Noble Merchant and Sand River. Of particular note is the Xili Golf and Country Club, with two 18-hole courses and a clubhouse designed to mimic Southern California terracotta architecture that blends superbly with the lush countryside.
Most courses are relatively empty on weekdays but, even with after-dusk floodlighting, getting a tee-time at weekends and holidays is not easy. Golfers looking to upgrade their equipment should find some good bargains in shopping malls.
For the adventurous, Shenzhen is like a vast funfair. A day is long enough to take in the Eiffel Tower and Sydney Opera House - albeit scaled-down models - pick up a clutch of 'designer label' fashion items for a few dollars, dine on rat or raccoon, get an expert massage and facial, then dance until the wee hours before collapsing in the suite of your five-star hotel.
Shenzhen is Hong Kong's tearaway kid brother. By far the most successful of China's Special Economic Zones, in the space of a couple of decades it has grown into a wild, rumbustious metropolis where anything goes.
Thanks to Shenzhen's fast-expanding metro system, it's easier to get around the burgeoning metropolis. Window of the World is the best known of the area's clutch of wacky theme parks, with the Eiffel Tower visible even from Hong Kong. Passengers emerging from Lo Wu railway station are confronted by Lo Wu Commercial City, a vast and slightly mesmerising temple of shopping, with many goods 'inspired by' international designs. Be prepared to bargain fiercely.
Migrants from all over China have brought their cuisines with them, and more exotic fare is also available in 'wild flavour' restaurants. Bars and clubs are well up to international standards, while hotels include Kempinski and InterContinental.