(All photos by Daryl Lim except otherwise stated.)
In February, free-spirited Shen Lan made a decision that surprised those around her: she would leave the comforts of home, move into a recreational vehicle (RV) and live the nomadic life in Shenzhen.
Forty-year-old Shen told Lianhe Zaobao that her decision was prompted by her changing lifestyle needs and passion for travel and exploration.
Shen’s foray into RV life began at the end of 2021 when she rented an RV for the first time for a New Year’s trip with her family. She said, “My family and I found RV life very comfortable, and it enhanced our travel experiences. That was when I started to entertain the idea of getting my own RV and travelling around China.”
A mobile lifestyle
Shen began working towards this dream in December 2022. She rented out her 120-square-metre, four-bedroom, two-living-room home in Shenzhen, and bought her RV for 650,000 RMB (US$89,000), starting a car-based lifestyle with her poodle.
The 15-square-metre RV is fitted with a bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom and other amenities to meet Shen’s basic daily needs.
Even during hot summers when the air conditioning is switched on every day, the monthly charging cost does not exceed 200 RMB.
Shen is separated, and her two children are usually in the care of their paternal grandparents. She said, “Before I had the RV, it wasn’t so convenient for me to be with my children. Now, after they finish school, I can park right at their school entrance, pick them up for meals, help them with homework, and then take them back home.”
As an education consultant, Shen’s job doesn’t require her to sit in the office on a fixed schedule every day, as about 80% of her work can be done online. Living in an RV also allows her to accommodate her clients’ needs and provide consultation services at their location.
She said, “The RV is very functional. It’s not only where I live but also my mobile office where I write proposals and conduct live sessions. Clients can also come in for consultations.”
Shen admitted that the biggest challenge of living in an RV is planning and managing water and electricity use. She explained that the RV is equipped with solar power and can be charged on the move. The batteries can store up to 16 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and the RV does not need to be plugged in for charging if the air conditioning is not used. Even during hot summers when the air conditioning is switched on every day, the monthly charging cost does not exceed 200 RMB.
Now, I don’t really feel the urge to impulsively shop on Taobao. If I have free time, I might read or put more focus on self-improvement. I like it this way.” — Shen Lan, an RV homeowner
As for water, Shen’s RV can store 220 litres of tap water, which needs to be refilled every five days or so. She usually fills it directly from water outlets in parks, or collects tap water in a 40-litre water tank, and then pumps it into the RV.
Shenzhen’s sky-high rentals
I met up with Shen at the parking lot of Shenzhen Bay Park, where she usually parks while in the Nanshan district. She said that the monthly parking fee of 1,200 RMB is the biggest fixed expense for her RV lifestyle. She parks in the municipal park because it offers comprehensive facilities, including restrooms, charging stations and spacious parking spots needed to open up the RV.
Shen added, “There are more cameras and security guards round the clock in the parking lots in the Shenzhen municipal parks. As a single woman staying overnight in my vehicle, these are factors I must consider when choosing a place to park overnight.”
Living in an RV with limited space means that Shen has had to bid farewell to some material pleasures from her previous life, such as designer clothes and handbags. However, she believes that this process of selection and letting go has brought her more spiritual rewards, making her life “cleaner and purer”.
She said, “Previously, during shopping festivals such as Double 11, I would always buy a bunch of things to hoard. Now, I don’t really feel the urge to impulsively shop on Taobao. If I have free time, I might read or put more focus on self-improvement. I like it this way.”
For Shen, living in an RV is a choice she made to rediscover herself, but for some young people, it is a resistance to the high housing prices and expensive rents in Shenzhen.
A post-90s married couple wanted to ease their rental pressure and cut down on travel time, so the “Shenzhen drifters” purchased a second-hand RV for 160,000 RMB last year, making it their home. In an interview with AFP, the RV owner Zhang Xi lamented, “Shenzhen’s property prices are beyond the reach of ordinary folks like me.”
... she [Liang Min] chose to live in an RV because she did not want to become a tool for landlords to pay for their property.
According to a report on rental rates in 30 Chinese cities released in May by E-House Research Institute, the monthly rent for one room in Shenzhen is as much as 2,958 RMB, the third highest in China. Meanwhile, Shenzhen’s rent-to-income ratio is as high as 49%, ranking fourth among Chinese cities.
According to data released by property research institute Leyoujia in July, in the first half of this year, the average price of second-hand houses in Shenzhen was about 65,000 RMB per square metre, nearly nine times the average monthly salary of employees in the private sector in Shenzhen.
Desire for freedom
Liang Min (pseudonym), who has been working in Shenzhen for the past two years after being posted from Shanghai, said that she chose to live in an RV because she did not want to become a tool for landlords to pay for their property. She admitted that living in an RV is not as comfortable as living in a house, but at least it is considered her own.
Liang emphasised that there aren’t many like her who choose to live in an RV in Shenzhen for the long term; living in an RV is more of a choice than a last resort. She and I calculated that the monthly cost of the RV loan, parking and utilities came to around 2,000 to 3,000 RMB, which is actually higher than the rent of some houses further from the city centre.
She added that most RV residents in Shenzhen actually own property, and the RV is more of their “mobile refuge”. On weekdays, they can park the RV near their workplace, saving hours of commuting time, and then go on trips with their families during weekends and holidays.
She said, “Everyone’s intention for living in an RV is different, but we all have a desire for freedom and exploration, we like travelling and outdoor activities, and the RV life happens to meet our needs in this aspect.”
This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as "向往自由生活 深圳人住房车过“游牧”生活".