Here’s a story for a Monday morning: My husband and I recently bought a condo in Dali, where we plan to retire. This past Chinese New Year, we opened the condo, calling the gas company to send someone over to connect our gas line. A team of three people showed up. The best dressed of the group carried a clipboard and explained to us what was happening. One of the electricians set to connecting the line. The third was there to oversee the young man making the connection and insure that he didn’t make any mistakes. The entire process–explaining, connecting, and checking the connection–took about ten minutes. Once they had finished their work, they moved on to the next condo.
I found it ridiculous to send three people to complete the job. However, when I told a 20-something friend this story she half-jokingly responded, “Wow, Dali is really efficient!” She then told me that most government and central enterprises had an even higher ratio of bureaucrats and supervisors to actual workers. At her company, she explained, actual work didn’t start until Wednesday because on Monday mornings top level executives met to decide on the week’s work, Monday afternoons, vice-executives informed managers of their responsibilities, on Tuesday mornings, managers further refined jobs for office heads, and then on Tuesday afternoon, office heads assigned tasks to actual workers. I laughed (as I was supposed to) and then clarified, “You’re exaggerating, right?” And she said, “Not really. There are at least four or five levels of management above my level, where the work actually happens. Even in Shenzhen, it has all become too guanliao.”
Good friend, Jonathan Bach looked up Hilda Nagel, the name on the gravestone in one of the photos from Holy Hill. He found her listed only as the wife of Rev. A. Nagel in a 1910 directory called “List of Protestant Missionaries in China” under the heading for “Basel Missionary Society, Hong Kong, Lilong”. http://divinity-adhoc.library.yale.edu/Resources/Directories/1910_Directory.pdf. He was then able to find the above photo of Rev. A. Nagel titled “Pupils of the Boy’s Boarding School in Lilong (China)” with an annotation “Teacher Tschong, the missionary Nagel, Teacher Tschin”.
Indeed, for those interested in old photos from the Basel Mission, the USC Digital Library International Mission Photography Archive is a fabulous resource.
A few weeks ago, Handshake 302 visited a learning farm in Zhongshan. The farm was located in a valley near Zhuhai; five hundred years ago, the area would have been an island. There is underground spring water on the mountain, which facilitated the conversion of sand and silt runoff (from the West and North Rivers) into polders, where it was possible to grow rice and lotuses, and to cultivate fish ponds and vegetable gardens. This particular farm is too small to support a family, but large enough for children and their parents to visit and learn about organic gardening. Indeed, the municipal government has already annexed surrounding farms into its latest master plan. This farm survived because it has a “modern” purpose.
A week or so ago, we went to Huidong (惠东), one of the poorer counties in Huizhou City (惠州市). Huidong is located within the valleys of the mountain range that runs parallel to the eastern coast of Guangdong. Via mountain paths, it is a four-hour hike from Huidong to Haifeng (海丰县).
The threat of Wuhan coronavirus, notwithstanding, chez Shenzhen it’s been a strangely low-key beginning to the year of the rat or mouse or any other kind of rodentia that floats your boat. Squirrels and hamsters, moles and chinchillas with their long, long whiskers–any and all can appear on a happy new years card, although most are ordinary brown or white mice, and some are wearing breathing masks. Most public spaces have emptied out, events have been cancelled, and we’re at home eating dried persimmons, roasted chestnuts, and dumplings. Someone mentions that the night before they (and who are they?) locked down Wuhan, four million people departed the city. Some must have had advanced knowledge of the shutdown, but others must have been traveling for the New Year. After all, Wuhan is one of the four most important railway transit hubs in China; anyone on the Beijing-Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong high speed train went through Wuhan on their way north. We’ll see how (and when) they make their way back.
The first week in ancient Heshun (腾冲市和顺古镇) was a rush to the senses. Clean air and clear skies set off renovated homes and fields of rape flowers, while at night it was possible to count stars. We ate bean porridge seasoned with local chili sauce and stood in line to eat bean cake rolls, and as we left the restaurant we brushed our hands against the cool surface of volcanic stone. Although roads now thread through protected forest areas, nevertheless tourism has transformed Heshun’s “scenic area,” which costs 55 yuan to visit. The ticket includes entry to the town’s main historic attractions. Consequently, “scenic” Heshun is as modern as anywhere else in China: within its narrow allies, tourists navigate a smorgasbord of imported goods and plastic containers, fluffy kittens and easy-going golden retrievers, as well as stores selling luxury items such as Myanmar jade, “southern red” jade, silver jewelry, and local ceramics.
Heshun is a township located in Tengchong, which these past few years has been heavily promoted by the Yunnan Tourist industry. Heshun is indeed a fun place to stop off and explore for a day or two. In addition to enjoying great local food, jade, hot springs, and Bai ethnicity architecture, tourists can learn about the role of Han Chinese in the history of Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and the mainland territory of Malaysia. In Heshun, specifically, Han families tell multiple stories of cross-border family ties with settlements in Myanmar. In fact, in the Cun Ancestral Hall, the jeweled portraits of important ancestors were produced in Myanmar, while last year the wood for renovating the ancestral hall was imported from Myanmar. According to the tour guide, the wood cost over 5 million rmb.
So here’s a story about a young Chinese man in Angola. I heard it from a 30-something deliveryman, who currently makes his living delivering express letters and packages in and around Shenzhen. He is dissatisfied with this job because although he is the number one deliveryman in his unit, he feels that his potential is being wasted. He said that after facing down gunmen three (!) times in the streets of Luanda, delivering packages in a rainstorm, which many other deliverymen refuse to do is child’s play, implying, of course, that what he really wants to do is play with the big boys. Continue reading
I came to Shenzhen by way of Houston circa 1995. It was a time when the boom had fizzled and young developers were just rediscovering the downtown. The city I inhabited was proud to live like a suburb with its lamentable public transportation, its ethnic strip malls and its destination malls like the Galleria. For street life, most of us bypassed the Montrose area, choosing instead to drive to Austin or San Antonio, which were further along in their urban renewals.
Here’s the thing about the retreat of manufacturing from the townships and villages of the Pearl River Delta; these areas have urbanized, migrants have settled in and are raising families, but as the low-end jobs and shops that once sustained local and migrant communities follow the factories elsewhere, these neighborhoods are withering. Consider, for example, the older section of Dongguan–莞城, which only twenty years ago was a vibrant community and today is an abandoned reminder of the area’s complicated history with Ming pirates and British opium, its deep relationships with the late Qing Chinese diaspora, and the Pearl River Delta’s urban village origins. Old Dongguan has become a focus of concern for urban planners and concerned citizens: how to revitalize an “old street” that is no longer viable, but sits on prime real estate, or more precisely, inquiring minds want to know: to raze or not to raze historic areas and landmark buildings? Continue reading