imported greenspace, clear skies, and sun

clear skies have returned and shenzhen shimmers, entices actually. when the horizon opens, walking settles the heart and has me thinking that we need sustainable worlds for no other reason than the joy they bring; smog discourages in all senses of the word.

yesterday, i wandered through some of the universiade greenspace/ coverage to prevent visitors from seeing nearby construction sites and noticed, once again, the extent to which the city and developers have taken to importing foliage to create beautiful spaces. the (malaysian, i believe – if you know please tell me) trees grow here. and yet. bringing this foliage requires uprooting other landscapes, burning fossil fuels, and (in houhai) filling in coastal waters with imported soil. moreover, these high end landscapes do not flourish without extensive care, so that this beauty remains entangled not only in unnecessary, but also unsustainable inequalities.

shenzhen is not the only city importing foliage in order to make a more perfect world. certainly los angeles and las vegas have set the global standard for transplanting eden. and perhaps that’s the point. in our rush to build a perfect world, we fail to realize we’re already there.

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wutong mountain

wutong mountain

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

Went to a wedding yesterday at the Wutong Restaurant (梧桐山酒楼) in Shatoujiao, Yantian District. The wedding itself was fun and I’m grateful for the opportunity it gave me to visit Shaotoujiao, one of the more interesting parts of the city.

Shatoujiao is famous because its the location of Chung Ying Street (中英街), which explicitly actualized the One Country, Two Systems policy with Chinese stores on the southern side of the street and British stores on the northern side. For the historically minded, you can also look at boundary stones from the March 16-18, 1899, when the boundary was marked at the end of the Second Opium War. Chung Ying Street is also one of Shenzhen’s 8 contemporary sights (a direct quotation of Xin’an County’s 8 classic sights). Continue reading

coastal thinking

this past weekend, i was in seattle visiting friends and revisiting my past. yes, the older i become, the greater the twists and turns of who i thought i was and who they thought i was and the distances between all that thinking. mahsheed reminded us that scientists (of the empirically experimental sort) contend that memory is 70% recreated and 30% actual content. however, little is known about how and why that particular ratio or how and why some information is shunted onto one side of the equation or even how recreated memory is plotted… yes, this is the basis of my anthropological musings.  i’ll see your “hmm” and raise you three.


caveat given, i’ll move onto thoughts inspired while walking in seward park.

moss on fern green

walking in seward park (as it was when i walked along the salmon river, oregon a year ago), the ferns, red cedars, and douglas furs viscerally reminded me that i was in a coastal ecosystem. mud cold water seeped into my shoes, pulsing bark tempted me to raise my eyes, and a great blue herron stilled my circumnavigation of washington lake.

in contrast, while walking in shenzhen, i find it difficult to remember that we inhabit an estuary. i walk through smog and landscaped greenspace, note new buildings and speculate about economic boomings of one sort or another. i frequently read about mudflat wetland protection, the deep bay oyster industry, marine pollution and mangroves. all this to say, shenzhen’s ecological status strikes me as an abstraction, a category of thinking rather than an experience immanent in the environment itself. thus, my mind invokes “estuarine ecology” as a critical standard by which to hypothesize what might have been and imagine what could be. 

the difference is where lived – right brain or on a path at dawn. now, what to make of it?

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

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.



As I have wandered the edges of Shenzhen and as those edges have shrunk to the narrow spaces between the city’s elegant tree-lined boulevards and some kind of wall, I have noticed how easy it is to stumble into impromptu latrines.

Lines that redefine the territory: The road, a sidewalk, and a dirt footpath, which followed the river behind the row of bushes and trees that shaded the sidewalk. This particular latrine is located at the Sungang Bridge over the Buji River.

Once upon a time, maybe as many as ten years ago, this walk was part of Shenzhen’s official greenspace. Indeed, old tile walkways still connect the river path to the sidewalk. Consequently, I also stumbled upon chipped bits of walking path and several benches that provided a view of the Buji River.

The speed at which Shenzhen changes is the city’s identity. A popular saying has it that “To see thirty years of Chinese history, visit Shenzhen; to see one hundred years of Chinese history, visit Shanghai; to see 1,000 years of Chinese history, visit Beijing; to see 2,000 years of Chinese history, visit Xi’an (想看三十年的中国,到深圳;想看一百年的中国,去上海;想看一千年的中国,去北京;想看两千年的中国,去西安).”

A friend recently mentioned a twist on this theme, “Shenzhen took ten years to construct a new city; twenty years to construct an old city; and thirty years to construct a garbage city (深圳以十年建立一座新城市;以二十年建立一座旧城市;以三十年建立一座垃圾城市).”


shenzhen university misty afternoon


Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

had one of those delicious afternoons when the beauty despite blossomed. more snaps of shenzhen university trees, here.

the gift of ruins

doubly noted

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

Friend Frank Meinshausen has stopped by on his ’round the world journey. We first met Frank four years ago, when he translated Hope (Chinese > German) for a staged reading at the Schaubuhne, Berlin.

Yesterday, we walked through Zhongshan Park, one of my favorite Shenzhen greenspaces.  At the center of the park are the ruins of the former Ming Dynasty city wall that once enclosed the County Seat of Xin’an County, the adminstrative predessor to Baoan County, which in turn predated Shenzhen Municipality.

So obscure and uncared for is the ruined wall that vines have overgrown the first stone marker and a second has been placed at the base of a tiled staircase, which rises sharply and ends as suddenly as it began. Sundry trails emerge from the park and disappear into the undergrowth, connecting the Ming Dynasty to the rising city of Shenzhen. We walked the narrow path, which traced the boundary of a world that has become as elusive as crumbling fistful of dry earth. We climbed the molding, vaguely imperial concrete viewing platform that abruptly interrupted our steps. We listened to birdsong and inhaled the fragrence of magnolia.

Further flights of romatic fancy, here.

莲花山:lianhua mountain park

with friends, i climbed to the top of lianhua mountain park, where deng xiaoping strides purposely into the future.

well, perhaps not toward the future. he is afterall standing in place. nevertheless it is fair to say that because the land beneath him continues to shift, he’s no longer where he started. deng now both overlooks and synthesizes the meaning of the environmentally conscious central axis, as well as the ever more expensive real estate of futian, including huaqiangbei, the rainbow glass buildings of the financial district, the huanggang checkpoint, and numerous gated communities.

it’s hard to know if this exactly is what he intendend when he approved the construction of shenzhen. it’s pretty obvious, however, that this is what current leaders say he meant. accordingly, lianhua park commermorates deng’s 1984 southern tour, when he proclaimed that shenzhen demonstrated the correctness of reform and opening. the next political step, of course, was not toward city hall, but toward the fourteen coastal cities, which began learning from shenzhen. importantly, the practices associated with learning (学习) in china include emulation. so that “learning from shenzhen (学习深圳)” directed leaders in other chinese cities to do what shenzhen had done: dismantle work units, bring in foreign capital, set up labor and housing markets, and build an international city.

sweating in the heat and humidity, we climbed past a kite flying field through the remnants of a lychee orchard and into a palm tree grove to arrive at deng’s monument. there, banyan trees and unbrellas protected most visitors from the sun, while a few others posed in front of deng and the engraved mural of deng xiaoping’s words, “the development and experiences of Shenzhen have proved the correctness of our policy on the establishment of special economic zones (深圳的发展和经验证明,我们建立经济特区的政策是正确的).” deng wrote and presented this inscription on January 26, 1984. at the pinnacle, the decision feels correct. it saturates my senses and suddenly the park, the views, and the easy pleasures of kite flying justify deepening reform. “everyone should have a nice park,” i think unreflexively.

as an early reform joke had it: deng xiaoping comes to a fork in the road. his driver asks, “what should we do.” deng answers, “signal left (toward socialism), but turn right (toward capitalism).”

and that’s the rub. i don’t know how seriously people take the deng statue and plaque, which celebrate a rather banal political message: brought to you by deng xiaoping and the ccp, reform and opening good! instead i worry that propaganda may be as sweet as an afternoon in the park. for the curious, a people’s daily article on the 1992 southern tour sketches the ideological importance of the 1984 southern tour with politically correct reverence.

blooming despite

Generally, walls of some kind not only separate construction sites from the street, but also provide a space for particular kinds of public discourse on and about Shenzhen. On these walls, development firms announce the future building, private eyes advertise their services, and the rare graffiti artist paints a picture. Construction teams tend the walls around important projects more carefully than they would the walls around lesser projects. Workers regularly touch up these walls, projecting an image of neat, orderly, and respectful construction. Guangdong plants, however, have little regard for edges and flourish even at concrete foundations. Please view these inadvertent blooms at: