The contrasts between the inner and outer districts are not immediately apparent because they are not juxtaposed in space, but rather through time; you need to travel (at least an hour, more by public transportation) from center city to its outskirts in order to viscerally experience the lived differences between here and there. Indeed, most people don’t make the trip (unless they live in one of the new gated communities along the subway lines that transport young managers and clerks and secretary types to their offices, most likely in Futian, because close examination reveals all subway lines–especially the high-speed and direct lines–converge in the city’s center) and even then, most don’t venture beyond the lines and malls because, well, there’s no time (true) and less interest (all too true).
So, yesterday I walked Guanlan, one of Shenzhen’s four old market towns. The other three are Shatoujiao, Shenzhen, and Nantou. Guanlan was a Hakka settlement and clearly was prosperous only a few decades ago, but now feels like a neidi township. Today, going through these pictures, I’m listening to John Mellancamp and thinking about the demise of heartlands here and there. And I feel, once again like Alice, except I didn’t arrive via a looking glass, but a jet plane, and I really didn’t escape my midwest roots. Pittsburg and Norway (Michigan) live like Guanlan, except for the population and the mahjong and the noodle shops, but other than that its the same; abandoned factories and young people who are trying to navigate the margins of a prosperity that vanished in a generation.