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As I have wandered the edges of Shenzhen and as those edges have shrunk to the narrow spaces between the city’s elegant tree-lined boulevards and some kind of wall, I have noticed how easy it is to stumble into impromptu latrines.

Lines that redefine the territory: The road, a sidewalk, and a dirt footpath, which followed the river behind the row of bushes and trees that shaded the sidewalk. This particular latrine is located at the Sungang Bridge over the Buji River.

Once upon a time, maybe as many as ten years ago, this walk was part of Shenzhen’s official greenspace. Indeed, old tile walkways still connect the river path to the sidewalk. Consequently, I also stumbled upon chipped bits of walking path and several benches that provided a view of the Buji River.

The speed at which Shenzhen changes is the city’s identity. A popular saying has it that “To see thirty years of Chinese history, visit Shenzhen; to see one hundred years of Chinese history, visit Shanghai; to see 1,000 years of Chinese history, visit Beijing; to see 2,000 years of Chinese history, visit Xi’an (想看三十年的中国,到深圳;想看一百年的中国,去上海;想看一千年的中国,去北京;想看两千年的中国,去西安).”

A friend recently mentioned a twist on this theme, “Shenzhen took ten years to construct a new city; twenty years to construct an old city; and thirty years to construct a garbage city (深圳以十年建立一座新城市;以二十年建立一座旧城市;以三十年建立一座垃圾城市).”

Sigh.

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