the first hack

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Liu He took up the challenge of hacking Baishizhou, April 27- May 3. Although raised in Shenzhen, Liu He has never lived in an urbanized village. Instead, his parents came from Dongbei to join a Shenzhen work unit, and so he lived in subsidized housing that his family subsequently bought.

Liu He asked: what would it take to move into Baishizhou? He discovered that contrary to his expectation of chaos, danger, and inconvenience, Baishizhou was easy to settle into. At 8 a.m. Liu Hu joined the morning rush to the subway station, stayed at work all day, and ate dinner at his office canteen before returning home at 9ish. He played his guitar or sketched at night, leaving the door open, but no one poked their head through the door. The only problem was finding parking. So after receiving his first ticket, he left his car at home. In fact, should his parents ever kick him out of their downtown condo, he’ll simply move to Baishizhou.

Over the course of the residency, Liu He grew increasingly curious about other residents. He noticed the rotation of street hawkers and their carts. In the late morning through the afternoon, vegetable and small goods vendors occupied the alley. Then from 5 to 10, the stir fry and steamed clay pot vendors took over the space. Lamb kabob and beer vendors took the last shift, from 10 pm to 2 or 3 am. Liu He wanted to follow pet owners home to see their living conditions because he saw several expensive and pedigreed animals. Moreover, many people walked more than one dog, and seemed to have them regularly groomed in a pet salon. The number of couples also intrigued Liu He. He wondered if they had hooked up in Baishizhou or if they had come as couples. Monthly wages in service seemed to average around 1,200 yuan a month, while clerical jobs were around 3,500 and high end salaries reached 6,000.

Liu He observed a smooth curtesy between residents in the building and throughout Baishizhou. People could stand shoulder to shoulder watching a television program, for example, but not acknowledge each other. If he asked directions, his interlocutor responded to the question, but didn’t ask anything personal. Indeed, Liu He mentioned that the happiest residents were the children who played together or came up to the room to hang out because they made friends.

Liu He concluded that Baishizhou was just a place to sleep, unless you had a family. His main social life unfolded outside Baishizhou. In contrast, the neighborhood schools provided children and their families with a social structure through which they were integrated into the community. Moreover, children needed care, which created networks among caregivers who regularly frequented the same public areas. Liu He attributed the lack of deeper conversation and community feeling in Baishizhou to temporary inhabitation. People come and go, so there was no motivation to make friends. But this kind of in habitation was only suitable for singletons moving through; families and long-term residents would need a social network.

For more images and to read Liu He’s journal, please visit the 白鼠笔记/ Village Hack blog.

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