When I first came to Shenzhen in 1995, the idea was to find a group of people who were willing to be interviewed, fill spiral notebooks with handwritten notes, and return to Rice to write-up said notes in 1996, or at the very latest, 1997 and then writing my way into an academic position. That didn’t happen. Instead, I stayed in Shenzhen until 1998, finished the dissertation in 1999, held a post-doc for one year, and then began the transition from trying to secure a tenure-track offer at a US university to figuring out what an American ex-pat might do in Shenzhen, which was itself transitioning from being a manufacturing hub into an innovation city. Continue reading
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.
The second station on the Chinese side of the Kowloon-Canton Railway, Buji was an important Hakka market town that during the early years of reform was a center of manufacturing. Today, Buji is a street office (办事处) with an estimated population of over one million. Most Buji families live in an urban village and their children attend minban (民办) schools. A minban school is owned and operated by private companies, filling educational needs that are not met by the public school system. Elite minbans tend to be international and position graduates for university abroad. However, the most common type of minban school in Shenzhen is the urban village minban, which has been set up to educate children who are ineligible for a public education. The most common reason for being ineligible for a public education are hukou related; often families are not long-term residents of the city, which means their children are only eligible for public education back home, or the child was born outside the family planning policy and the parents cannot afford the fines to send the child to public school.
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
The two-day event was called “Only Connect.” We emphasized the infrastructure that makes neighborhoods out of houses and buildings. Yes, every building had an electrical light, water tubes, sewage tubes and access to the main road. And yes It’s also true, every time that Handshake 302 holds an event at the P+V Gallery, the kids rock our world. Take a look at the smiles that creativity brings! More about Handshake 302 here and here.
Yesterday I participated in the 蓝海生态艺术巡游 (Make Our Seas Come BLUE) parade, which was organized by CULTaMAP‘s indomitable Tracy Lee. We marched from Statue Square to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum via Victoria Harbor. The march culminated a cross-border Hong Kong-Shenzhen pedagogical collaboration to draw attention to garbage in the oceans, children’s ability to speak to issues that will shape their future possibilities, and the responsibilities of their adults to facilitate uncomfortable conversations in safe environments. Continue reading
When I was young, Christmas was a special time that started just after Thanksgiving. Indeed, in the month before Christmas there was much work. We made lists of presents for our parents, siblings, and friends. We went Christmas tree shopping and then spent an evening decorating the tree. Each decoration had a story. Each year I would make an angel or Christmas mouse for the tree and my mother had special lights. We practiced singing carols and made cookies, delighting in reindeer and elf shaped cookies. We watched the same classic movies (“Miracle on 42nd Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life”) as well as the same TV specials (“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Frosty the Snowman.”) Several days before Christmas we went on vacation and if we were lucky and if it had snowed, we made snow people and snow angels, and then when we were cold and tired we had hot chocolate at a friend’s house. The night before Christmas we made a plate of refreshments for Santa Claus and even remembered to put out carrots for Rudolph. And then. On Christmas morning we woke up laughing to discover what presents Santa had left us and to feast and play all day. Even today, Christmas still sparkles in memory and I am happiest when I have a chance to go home and celebrate with family and friends. Continue reading