Tripping to South China Market in a bread van


The entire Pearl River Delta area of China is a manufacturing powerhouse. Huaqiangbei, the famous giant electronics market, is just a tiny facet of a huge industrial ecosystem. About 30 minutes north of Shenzhen there’s a giant market the size of a town that supplies not just electronics, but chemicals, materials, tools, machines, and, of course, furs and leather.

South China Market is a planned development resembling a covered lumberyard spanning several square kilometers. Its frikin’ huge, but also eerily empty. They built it up, but its either not been successful or is still filling out. This street is almost exclusively ABS plastic bead vendors, with a few colorant shops interspersed.


We met up with Zach Hoeken on a rainy afternoon to check out the market. None of us had been there before, but everyone had read Akiba’s account from his trip there last year.

Zach’s new “mian bao che” bread van had a dead battery. Bread vans are the Volkswagon bus of China, a bare bones, no frills utility vehicle. We jump started that death trap from an electric scooter and hit the road. Only in Shenzhen!


The market is divided roughly into quadrants. Our first stop is the metal and materials market. Check out the plastic water bottles, hand labeled in Chinese, holding various chemicals and food additives. We feel really unprepared as there’s gotta be some great stuff to play with, but we didn’t do enough research to know what.


55 gallon drums of chemicals line the street. The bags are mostly ABS plastics pellets, some of the barrels are labeled glycerin.


Nothing but grinding bits and grinding wheels here.


A rosin supplier with dozens of grades in different qualities and colors. Your flux could be based on some of this stock.


A bag making shop. Spools of plastic tube, printed or clear, are cut and sealed into bags. Curiously enough, we spot a factory making the tube stock from raw plastic beads a few days later.


Bag shop? Check. Tape shop? Yeah, right next door. This is a custom tape cutting machine. Long rolls of tape are loaded and cut to various widths by what seems to be a computer controlled skill saw.


Long rolls of tape stock, ready to be cut to width.


Zach, co-founder of Maker Bot, checks out a 3D printer shop in an otherwise deserted floor of the electronics market building.

The electronics market was super weird. A brand new building, clean and stylish, but almost nothing inside. Floor 1 is about half full of quite modern electronics components and industrial control equipment. Floor 2-3 were mostly abandoned, and floor 4 had never been used.


We call this the burner shop – get all your day-glow, reflective, sparkly Burning Man materials here.


Laser cut patterns in fabric.

China is really laid back. There aren’t many places in the world where a couple foreigners can roll into a factory, have a poke around, and nobody even looks up.


A very handsome Velcro square cutting machine.


Wholesale wheelie bag frames. You know, the kind some douche is always fighting into a too-small overhead compartment on a plane. They gotta come from somewhere.


Tea and tea supply wholesale. According to the shop girl, everything is an “investment piece” that will always go up in value. Sure.


The fabric quadrant is surprising. Shops advertise sandwich. It turns out to be a layered fabric and not a tasty lunch, but the shop people never tire of foreigners asking for one with ham and cheese.

Several street are full of fur vendors, both surprising and slightly disturbing. Fake furs and real firs, mostly fox and rabbit.


More furs. Bundles and bundles of them. We all leave slightly inclined to make custom tailored fir coats, pajamas, and pillow cases.

South China┬áMarket has been on my to-visit list for more than a year, and it was definitely past time to visit. We’re researching fun chemistry experiments (glow sticks, super balls, snakes), and will go back soon to source supplies.

If you’re only visiting Shenzhen for a little while though, it’s not worth the effort to go here. While it is huge, it was mostly empty during our visit and the electronics market is like a ghost town. If you’re seriously into ABS plastics, chemicals, or fabric you can probably find anything you want.

Next on our list: Shajing market. This is supposed to be a huge tools and equipment market with a fun toys you can’t find in the Huaqiangbei electronics market. We’re hunting for a small injection molding machine to use with the 50kg bag of ABS plastic pellets we bought at South China Market.

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  1. “We all leave slightly inclined to make custom tailored fir coats…”

    Yes, fir coats are sometimes more stable than iir coats.

    1. I was thinking elm or pine coats.

      On another note, “… some douche is always fighting into a too-small overhead compartment…” I understand the frustration, but the use of that word is at best off-color and not what I have come to expect from you Ian.

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