If you are a techie, electronic engineer or a maker with a project - there is a magical place you need to know about called Hua Qiang Bei (HQB). In the world of electronics, I'm not sure there is a component or device in existence that you cannot find here.
Pronounced Hwa Chong Bay, this is a massive electronics market based in Shenzhen, China - the electronic manufacturing center of the world. If your electronic device doesn't say Apple or Samsung on it, then it likely may have come from Hua Qiang Bei.
Intro to Shenzhen
Shenzhen (pronounced Shin-jen) is a so-called 'special economic zone', which basically means that China built this area to allow foreign buyers to purchase Chinese goods without going through the painful paperwork and bureaucracy that is known in most other areas of China.
According to the locals, nearly the entire city is brand new - having been built on what was swampland just 8 years ago. The streets are wide and smooth, yet eerily empty most of the day due to recent moves by the government to limit cars on the road. The buildings are all brand new and the subway system is the cleanest that I have ever seen.
Intro to Hua Qiang Bei (HQB)
HQB lies in the heart of Shenzhen, and is the largest electronics market in the city, and perhaps the country.
Describing HQB as massive is an understatement. Each floor has 200-250 vendor booths selling everything from transistors, processing chips, phones, cables, flashlights, cameras, TVs, computers, drones, you name it - if it has circuitry, you can find it in HQB.
Each building has 8-10 floors of vendors, and there are at least 25 buildings in HQB - equating to more than 50,000 vendors in one square mile. These electronics vendors provide the inventory that fuel Alibaba, as well as large chunks of Amazon, eBay and others. You can barely get out the front doors at the end of the day, as the streets are filled with boxes sending electronics to every corner of the earth.
My HQB Journey
My first day at HQB was an absolute tornado of a visit. My head was spinning with all of the processing chips, push buttons, batteries, LEDs, flying devices of all kinds, digital displays, every cable ever made, tools, tools to make tools, mobile accessories, cameras, and more that I could possibly take in on one visit.
My neck hurt from staring down at booth displays all day, and I had only covered two buildings. It was fun to spend a day running around like a kid in the biggest candy store the world has ever seen, but I had to make my search more efficient.
The second day was spent talking to people with items that I actually needed and getting pricing and availability from vendors. I quickly learned that bringing a list of part numbers, brands and quantities sped up the process.
I'd sit down with a vendor that had logos or signs of the things I needed, then hand over my shopping list. I was always offered a chair and sometimes green tea. If the vendor had an item I was looking for, then he or she would simply note the price, quantity and date available. It was actually pretty simple and fun even though I didn't speak any Chinese and they didn't speak any English.
The third day was much more efficient as I had printed out templates in my hotel room that had pre-set areas for part numbers, quantities and brands. I would give one page to each vendor and staple their card to the page. Having everything typed out, rather than my terrible handwriting, also made the communication that much more efficient. This was a fun process of going vendor to vendor, while fitting in random collisions with electronics of all kinds that I happened to pass by along the way.
The fourth day was spent checking off the final components that I needed for my project. By this time I was very efficient and even learned a few Chinese phrases to help me haggle and inquire on specific details.
HQB Guides for Westerners
SeedStudio made an amazing map in English that organizes the vendors and products throughout HQB. I used this map while I was in HQB, but an accompanying guide would have been much more useful.
If you are serious about going to HQB, you absolutely must purchase The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen, which has translation pages, pockets for samples, guides & more. It took me 4 all-day trips to learn a fraction what is included in this guide - and some of the more important information, like spotting fake parts, is something that I never managed to learn on my own.
I found HQB to be a friendly place with honest vendors. They were very straightforward with me on what was a knock-off and what was real - and many vendors turned me away because my quality specs did not match their products!
HQB is the place electronics dreams are made, and a pilgrimage to this Mecca of electronics is a must for any serious techie.