Mapping Gongbei’s Underground Market, Zhuhai – 拱北地下广场, 珠海

Gongbei Underground Market is an entanglement of narrow corridors, hidden doors, empty spaces, stairs going to nowhere, and an endless list of apparently chaotic distribution…

In many ways, this shopping plaza has become a real maze, not only for the randomness of its distribution, but also because its evolving nature, always changing and adapting to the needs of customers and gamblers rushing to each side of the border, selling from pastries, clothing or haircuts, to less mundane things like illegal money exchange services, prostitution at Lotus Road, or the always handy services of border couriers.

However, despite chaotic appearances, the market’s layout is pretty straightforward; the problem comes with the secondary corridors and aisles interconnecting the main halls; formerly intended to ease transit and access, now with stalls as commercial space it is getting scarce. Also, the original idea for the market was to separate areas by products and services, but as we’ll see, this idea is long abandoned.

The main services (bathrooms, taxis, bus stops, stairs…) are somewhat permanent, so I made these maps for each floor, with vectors, to help you move around (click each picture to enlarge):

-2 floor map of Gongbei Underground Market

-1 floor map of Gongbei Underground Market

Let’s see now how you can avoid getting lost amidst this capitalist potpourri. First of all, Gongbei Underground has two main entrances:

  • The stairs right next to the Port Authority, leading to the -1 level. Here below, a view of them from the Port Authority Building:

  • And the famous underground entrance at the -2 level. Although intended for charter buses and taxis, it has a small sidewalk with a railing for pedestrians, as well an underground corridor crossing across the traffic lanes.

There are also smaller, secondary entrances scattered around the Gongbei Port ground level, always easy to easy to spot, with improvised street markets clustered around each one, taking advantage of the great number of people passing by every day.

Inside, each level is divided according to a color code, displayed in the signs above each shop, meant to designate the type of business subscribed to that area only, and a numeric code to have a ‘permanent’ reference of the space independently of a temporary commercial name, in a small black square, lower left corner. Notice also the frames on the signs, reserved for the business permits. Here, shops at -2 level:

As said before, despite the initial zoning intentions, this idea is now gone, blurred as business crave for space and overlap each other, spreading to wherever there’s space available to catch up with the growing demand.

For example, now all the shops at -2 level are for clothing, shoes, jewelery and accessories (excepting a couple of food parlors including a KFC), and the upper level is a mix of everything, mainly focused on food, (illegal) money exchange parlors, beauty, and consumer electronics shops.

Even the smallest spaces are set up for business. An Alex used for scale 🙂

As you can see, even the smallest areas are ready for business, with or without furniture: space is money, and there’s no space nor time to waste in Gongbei!

Further reading:


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