found objects: houhai

this entry unites two of my obsessions: discarded objects and the houhai land reclamation project.


looking from old coastline toward the houhai land reclamation

in shekou, the land reclamation project continues, with new housing developments popping up like mushrooms after a spring rain, so to speak. like any good mushroom, these developments thrive in dark and fetid spaces, only to be washed up and presented as luxuries. the first step in growing a development mushroom is razing whatever came before (in the sense of shenzhen history: this entry presupposes that the rural has already been displaced). what came before is usually narrow, one-story high temporary concrete structures, which functioned as residences and small businesses (more or less from the 1980a), but also more substantial, once-upon-a-time intended for the long haul, housing (late 80s, early 90s).

step two in cultivating mushrooms is picking through the rubble, scavanging whatever might still be of use–plastic can be sold, as can metals. as i stepped through the remains, i found a small clay teapot and picked it up. one of the pickers yelled at me in a henan dialect that i didn’t understand. when i asked if she wanted the teapot, however, she said no, adding in mandarin, “it can’t be sold.” she wasn’t interested in talking with me, lugging her scavagings to a truck, where a man weighed and bought them.

pickers, like this woman, move onto the temporary rubble heaps, setting up campsites that blend into the rubble. indeed, the campsites are difficult to distinguish from the garbage. the tents are made from the same plastic the pickers are scavanging and the kitchens seem burnt piles of stuff. but looking closely (or prying as the case may be), i saw fresh vegetables, packaged foods, and soap, although no source of fresh water. at this site, there were two campsites, and each had a separate stove. lucky pickers have a bicycle to cart findings to collection stations, where they can sell them.

step three, of course, is the arrival of construction crews. images of objects found while others picked, here.

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