Not long ago, you could often see a scene like this in a Legend Square restaurant near the metro of Zhangjiang High Tech Park (Zhangjiang): A table of “sea turtle” (returnees) and “earth turtle” (natives) drug discovery scientists arguing over the key mechanism of a specific GPCR while enjoying their beers. Someone in the group suggests asking a friend from across the street, who is an expert in that area, to comment on their discussion; when they realized the person they are looking for is seated in the same restaurant.
However, lately it is becoming less likely to have these interesting chance encounters. Where did the people go? Is Zhangjiang suffering from a lack of talents? Absolutely not. Over the last six months, the French franchise supermarket Auchan, Chamtime Square, and Huizhi International Business Center have all started to operate in the area. Zhangjiang scientists now have more dining choices so the chances for them to bump into each other have decreased.
I am gradually becoming familiar with Zhangjiang, a nearly square piece of land that is about forty square kilometers in size. It is the so-called “Chinese Silicon and Medicine Valley”. Besides the pillar industries such as microelectronic engineering, software engineering and pharmaceutical/biotech, a few high-tech focused consulting firms and financial services have begun to crop up. Many Fortune 500 companies have their R&D sites here and a number of large domestic private and government-run companies have tapped into the talents of the Zhangjiang area as well. Not to mention that these giant pharmaceutical companies are surrounded by more than five hundred smaller biotechs in the surrounding area of “medicine valley.” It is no less impressive than the US biotech hubs of Boston and San Diego where I studied and worked. It’s not hard to see Zhangjiang’s important strategic position in the near future of global drug discovery. A senior colleague told me that there was farm land everywhere in Zhangjiang just ten years ago. I have long since heard about the “China speed”, but it was still hard for me to imagine how all these changes happened so quickly until I witnessed the opening of these three new shopping centers.
Several months ago, Legend Square was the only good choice for a business dinner around the whole Zhangjiang area. It’s no wonder drug discovery experts often bumped into each other there, but the newly opened shopping centers break the old monopoly. In the open-air Chamtime Square, you can find Subway and Starbucks, and even the rarely seen California Pizza Kitchen and Dunkin Donuts. Japanese BBQ and Sushi, Korean bibimbap and American steak houses have also begun to appear. Across the street in Huizhi, you can choose between Vietnamese pho, Thai noodles, and Italian spaghetti, not to mention all kinds of Chinese cuisine. All of these restaurants opened in less than one year! As it happens, all three shopping centers are located around my company. When I joined the company one year ago, there were only two floors of exposed iron framework outside. I watched them grow higher and bigger every day; soon surpassing the height of my fifth floor office. After another three months there was a Spanish style building complex standing right in front of me. Within the next two months I saw the arrival of H&M, Levi’s, Sephora and Clarks. Then came the fitness center, early learning center similar to Gymboree, English training institutes and, of course, all the restaurants. Everything happened so quietly and so efficiently.
After ten years of high speed, centralized development, Zhangjiang is now dense with global R&D centers, top Chinese Universities and research institutes, and thousands of start-ups. As you can see, even Zhangjiang’s shopping malls kept up with the pace of development. So to the scientists and industry talents, even if you think you don’t like Chinese food or fear that Chinese shoes won’t fit your feet; please do not hesitate to come to Zhangjiang. You will witness the growth of the drug discovery and IT technology fields and you won’t even have to give up your familiar comforts from home
Quan Zhou has studied and worked in the pharmaceutical center of Boston and biotech center of San Diego for eight years. He moved back to China in 2014 and started his career as a drug discovery scientist.