morning tea

So, “Morning Tea,” a 15-year old blast from the past: a creative non-fiction piece that I wrote about Shenzhen in 2006. The essay includes photos of lost objects that I used to take on my walks–in the 00s the inner districts were still under construction and I was constantly stumbling on discarded stuff. Indeed, the earliest incarnation of the blog began with photographs from this walks (those early galleries are still up on livejournal). “Morning Tea” was published in archipelago (vol 9, winter 2006), an online journal that seems to have been around for 10 years…

和谐深圳:building a harmonious society II

To continue the 10 year anniversary celebration of Shenzhen Noted, I’m reposting “和谐深圳: building a harmonious society” an early post on what might be called “disorderly” Shenzhen. The accompanying pictures illustrate the underlying fears that have permeated Shenzhen’s development.

On a distressing note, 10 years after I first documented signs of anxiety throughout the emergent city, these generalized fears have left the unofficial sphere and have entered the official sphere of anti-terrorism campaigns and fear-based advertising for private taxi companies. Unfortunately, it seems that the anxiety produced by in-your-face inequality of ten years ago has been displaced onto the bodies of Chinese Muslims, who (in much of the propaganda) are represented as “generalized” Middle Eastern Muslims.

The anti-terrorism campaign warns the Chinese public that terrorists have no human feelings and ruthlessly destroy family life, which is described in Confucian rhetoric–a not so subtle reminder that the “Chinese” nation is Han. This impression is further heightened in an anime anti-terrorist campaign that explicitly associates terrorism with Islam and China’s Muslim province, Xinjiang. The Shenzhou taxi campaign plays upon fears of techy house invasions, showing film stars claiming that, “I fear” how technology allows strangers to know where one lives. The tie-in with the anti-terrorist campaign is familial well-being: because they have your address, these strangers can prey upon your children or wife. The Shenzhen add campaign also extends the anxiety of ten years ago: gates are no longer enough to keep predators away.

Shenzhen Noted

Yesterday, I was walking in one of the new sections of Houhai. On my left, behind the walls of an elite gated community, children frolicked in a recently completed swimming pool. On my right, migrant workers hung out at a corner kiosk of a construction site shantytown. The juxtaposition of these two spaces, common throughout Shenzhen, symbolizes the class structure that has enabled the construction of the city. On the one hand, urban residents (whether from other cities or long term Shenzhen residents) occupy the new buildings and spaces—upscale housing, high-rise offices, and shopping malls bulging with designer goods. On the other hand, rural migrants build these spaces, inhabiting temporary structures that vanish at the end of a project. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see children playing or women cooking in front of a row of construction site shanties. Unlike the enclosed lives of the gated community, shantytown lives…

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the overlooked ubiquity of bicycles in shenzhen

Celebrating 10 years of noting changes in the urban landscape. These pictures suggest how Shenzhen looked and moved at the cusp of its transition from concrete low rises to glass and steel skyscrapers. There’s even a picture from when Huanggang Road was a major shipping artery.

Shenzhen Noted

I have been collecting discarded objects and then photographing them in different sections of Shenzhen, the oldest and largest of China’s special economic zones. This process has (as yet) denied me photo-ops with a Guanyin statue, but helped me see things so common that they hadn’t previously registered as “Shenzhenese”. This bike tire examplifies how what gets overlooked is often the all-too-common (even by folks who define themselves through acts of documentation).

In the early eighties, just after the PRC had opened to the capitalist West, bicycles symbolized the differences between urban China and urban “us”. I remember magazine articles on Beijing and Shanghai that featured images of hundreds of Chinese citizens biking to (or from) work, school, the market. At the time, Shenzhen had just been established and rarely featured in these articles, except as an example of the extent to which China was changing. From its establishment, however…

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tangtou, baishizhou


tangtou old housing, new village

Baishizhou has the distinction of being Shenzhen’s “city that isn’t a city, village that isn’t a village (城不城,村不村).”

The first stop (bus or subway) after Windows of the World themepark, Baishizhou has come to refer to a 7.5 sq km sprawl of handshake buildings that was originally part of the “Shahe Overseas Farm (沙河华侨农场)”. This highly congested and irregularly built area is also the first stop for many new migrants to Shenzhen because of its central location, convenience, and lowest of the low priced housing.

Inquiring minds ask, “How did (one of) Shenzhen’s most beautifully landscaped high end residential, tourist and arts area (OCT) end up next to what is acknowledged to be one of the city’s largest slums?” Continue reading

shenzhen smog 2010.1.28

view from my window

several hours ago, a heavy smog descended on shenzhen. this smog irritates my throat and eyes, but i can’t identify a smell. at the time, several colleagues mentioned that it smelled like someone was burning something.

the ongoing diminishing of shenzhen’s air-quality has been a persistent theme in this blog. i can honestly say today is the worst day i’ve seen here. nevertheless, at work, most talked about the smog as if it were excessive, but “normal” as in “within expectations”. as i walked home, children were playing in huanggang park, people were chatting, and the traffic moved as usual.

does anyone else know what has / is happening? i tried surfing in chinese but haven’t seen anything. i did, however, come across a blog entry that classified shenzhen’s air quality as “relatively bad” and suggested that people limit their outdoor activities!

i also managed to come up with a timeline of worsening smog (灰霾) conditions in shenzhen:

2009 there were 115 smog days, apparently 39 fewer days than the 154 recorded in 2008.

2007 there were 158 smog days in shenzhen, but the city nevertheless got a “good” air quality rating;

2003 there were 131 smog days and the same article stated that the smog days have been increasing since the 1990s as there were only 8 hazy days in the 70s, and 58 in the 80s.

all this and suddenly the nytimes discovers that shenzhen is one of the top 31 places to visit in 2010. on the list, shenzhen is #20 and apparently getting “greener”! that said, the same article also managed to mention the nanshan kempinski without mentioning the houhai land reclamation area, so clearly the author’s focus was more the affordable luxuries of dongmen and the recent proliferation “legit” massage parlors than it was on environmental transformation. nor did the article mention that shenzhen is the capital of chinese theme parks. presumably shenzhen’s self promotion as a “chic” tourist city of “splendor and happiness” is finding a wider audience!

futures – yuanling 2

jijian kindergarten

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

even as yuanling’s factories are upgraded to retail storefronts, the old neighborhoods – especially the old courtyard residential areas – are being razed to make way for highrise developments.

watching the chickens feed in the courtyard of new yuanling village remind us (1) that shenzhen was imagined and built in a very different social economy and (2) that value is not simply a matter of upgrades, but nevertheless remains tied to how we imagine the future.

new yuanling village is not an actual village, but an example of the first generation of work unit courtyard residences in shenzhen. in the early 80s, homes here appear in some of the first corruption scandals as early cadres scrambled for homes, which they used as investments and rewards (in turn).

housing in yuanling is still some of the most expensive in the city because with each home comes one elementary and one middle school seat (学位). this is important because yuanling schools are ranked first provincial (省一级), a ranking that suggests students from yuanling do well in the national college entrance exam (高考).

although much of the old housing is rented out, those school seats are coveted and circulate not only with the sale of the house, but part of rental negotiations. not unexpectedly, many have bought in yuanling, but live elsewhere, simply so their children can go to school there.

in addition, the area has been approved for redevelopment, which means that within the next two years, all this will be razed and new housing built. homeowners in yuanling will be compensated with replacement housing (based on square footage conversions, but i’m not sure what precisely the terms are.)

housing and education are two of the great goods in shenzhen. indeed, many women will not marry unless they have a home; many parents spend time, energy, and money trying to provide for their child’s education. consequently, it is useful to think about what new yuanling village signified to early shenzhen residents because housing and education are sites where we actively and vigorously create the future.

yuanling looks battered and worn, but the shenzhen dreams of a house and providing for one’s only child still resonate. moreover, the importance of this future to shenzhen identity explains how corruption may have been built into the city. it is hard to imagine how communist cadres may have been reduced to scrambling for moldy bits of concrete and in retrospect, the object of their scrambling appears ridiculous. however, it is more than easy to understand how private hopes and dreams for their families’ future might have gotten entangled in what those cadres saw when they drew up blueprints, laid foundations, and built a post-mao, post cold war future at yuanling.

when i asked if there were any other benefits to buying a house in yuanling, the salesman looked at me somewhat confused – after all, is there anything more important than a new house (even if many years down the road) and a child’s education? – and offered lamely, “you could open a ground floor store.”

i like yuanling in its current incarnation. the streets are narrow, quiet, and clean, the buildings shaded by banyan trees, and the occasional palm tree straggles into the sky above working class residents. pictures, here.

greek with chinese characteristics – yuanling 1

this weekend, i walked yuanling (园岭), one of the first industrial and residential areas to be developed when shenzhen was officially special.

printing factories still operate in the shrinking industrial area park, however, those that have not been razed for upscale housing development have been and/or are being upgraded to storefront for warehouse like stores for ornate furniture and luxury bathrooms.

it sobers me to think that only ten years ago, this area was a vibrant industrial park, the realization of a particular understanding of modernization, when production and manufacturing were the at the core of shenzhen’s economic development strategy. suddenly and abruptly, individualized consumption has been enshrined as economic productivity in the (literal) wreckage of those past ambitions.

when i first came, shenzhen speed was defined in terms of accelerating 100 years of western modernization into a few decades. but all this instant upgrading has me wondering just how fast is an economic cycle anyway? and what comes next? restructuring and economic depression? pics of upgrades, here.

Don’t worry about eating Chinese food…

Fat Bird tries to out-absurd society – the 2009 Shennong Project being a case in point – but, alas society has once again outflanked Fat Bird…

The 2009 Shennong Project plays with the idea that food-phobias are out of control in China. In response to the Sanlu milk powder incident, Fat Bird imagined a world in which food-phobia was the first indication of an evolutionary transformation of humanity. Accordingly, the Fat Bird Institute has set up tests for those afraid of China food to discover if they are “elementals”, harbingers of the future.

However, two weeks before Fat Bird will premiere “Shennong”, the Nanshan District Government opened the first “放心食品节 (safe food product festival)” on Dec 30, 2008. The Chinese opens itself to all kinds of interpretation. Fangxin usually means “stop worrying” or “no need to worry” so the festival is explicitly a “don’t worry anymore about eating food products” festival. Sponsors include the 深圳食品行业协会 (Shenzhen Food Products Federation).

How does the irony slip past unnoticed?!

images from sitka

path leading to Salmon River Estuary

As promised, images of Sitka and the surrounding environs. Myths take root here.


invitation designed by Dawn Stetzel

Open House Event January 11th, 2009

Five artists have been at work this fall in the studios and surrounding community of the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. A culmination of their work will be on display January 11th during a Sitka Center Open House at the Lincoln City Cultural Center from 1 pm to 5 pm. The Open House will include an exhibition of completed artworks, conversations with the artists, and a short program of song and readings.

The artists include Matthew Bower, Louisa Conrad, Mary O’Donnell, Kim Stafford, and Dawn Stetzel. The full article is here.