settled in?

Am now moved into new home in Shekou. Yesterday, rode the Shekou line to Window of the World, changed for OCT East and arrived for coffee at OCT Creative Park all in about 30 minutes. Very convenient. Nevertheless, half an hour was more than enough time to notice and set me wondering about one or two, well three actually, discordant notes.

Do: The Shekou line advertising is playing to the cultural Nantou theme. Those who know a bit about Shenzhen’s history, know that Nantou is the oldest city in the area, having been a salt yamen 1,000 years or so ago.Know that there was (and still is) a small temple to those Gods that bless Cantonese Opera singers. Moreover, Reform began in Shekou and the first Chinese themeparks (strictly speaking) were built in OCT, Nanshan; Shenzhen University is also here. So, the Shenzhen Subway company has illustrated these themes from Nantou’s cultural history. Wanxia, for example, is morning tea and Dongjiaotou has a Cantonese singer. An image of Nvwa illustrates Shekou’s importance in Reform and Opening; Windows of the World is the Eiffel Tower.

Alas, those who know this history also realize that this historical trail ran along “old street” from the west gate of Jiujie to Shekou. They also know that know that there was no direct path (except a mountain trail over Nanshan Mountain or on a boat around the peninsula tip) from Shekou to Chiwan. However, the Shekou Subway rewriting of this cultural history is on the order of land reclamation and, in fact, the subway does not connect Shekou to Nantou, but instead at Houhai (and more about Houhai below) turns east, heading through Science and Technology Park South though Mangrove Park to Windows of the World. Thus, the Subway Station History of Nantou appropriates and displaces the cultural ecology of the area. Wanxia, for example, is a local village and yes, you can have morning tea there, but Dongjiaotou was a riparian port, where trade goods from Zhongshan and other parts of the Delta were shipped to and from Nantou. Today, Dongjiaotou is the site of The Peninsula Estates, high end real estate development that winds around a genuinely old and decaying, already being “reclaimed” part of Shekou.

Re: Within this postmodern rewriting of Nantou’s history, Houhai is now a subway station and no longer a sheltered backwater. I have commented upon the Shenzhen tendency to raze mountains and lychee orchards and then name malls and housing estates after the no longer extant land formation. Land reclamation naming practices follow apace. Not only only has Nantou’s cultural history been rewritten as a series of Subway Stations through what used to be Houhai Bay, but also that Bay is now just another subway stop.

More importantly, Nantou’s cultural history was a history of backwater fishing, oyster cultivation, and riparian trade between small, village owned docks. A two-step sequence of appropriation is at play. First, the actual socio-economic base of local history has been destroyed. The last oyster fishing folk were relocated in 2006. Thus, in order to live here, one needs to be part of the new economy, which includes real estate development and working in more abstract cultural industries such as academia and tourism. Second, local history is now being deployed to add “flavor” or “local interest” to rich outsiders who are inhabiting Shenzhen. And real estate promoters can get away with this because most of those moving into Nantou don’t know the history of the area.

Mi: I also noticed that on the “local street map” which hangs in our station, our housing estate is conspicuously absent. There still remains much construction behind us, although I suspect that come Universiade, our own Europe [Shopping Mall for those living in Dubai style condos] will open. Here’s the point: with the opening of the Shekou Subway our housing estate is now part of the historic backwater. And as those of us who have watched the development of Nantou know, the purpose of backwater has been to reclaim it for ever-higher end development. Once all the reclaimed land has been filled in, our short walk to the Subway makes our housing development a prime target for upgrading and us for resettlement. Upside to looming displacement: we aren’t the only affordable housing development not on the map and maybe someone else will be targeted first. More upside: negotiations to raze a development usually take longer than the actual razing an old development and building a new development. We probably have several happy years ahead of us.

So yes, we are as settled as anyone in Shekou, where the landscape has been reshaped, cultural history is being rewritten, and the sands of prime real estate shift beneath our feet.

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