of affordable housing and high-density schools

A great Shenzhen neighborhood brings together several generations and types of housing. There is usually an urban village or two, danwei housing that was built before 2000 (more or less), and a larger mall complex that brings in the subway. When these clusters of different building types are located within walking distance of each other, you end up with a thriving independent food scene, affordable housing for singletons and low-income families, and upscale spaces that provide air-conditioned comfort for a cup of coffee or a cram school.

Among 90s generation immigrants (who are twenty-something or just turned 30), Meilin has become popular because it not only provides a diversity of housing and shopping options, but also because it is centrally located; anyone who lives here is looking at relatively quick commutes to work. Nearby urban villages are also popular among low-income families, who can rent two-bedroom apartments for 3,000-4,000, which is expensive, but doable with two parents working and an elder who watches children.

The popularity of this kind of mixed housing neighborhoods means that Shenzhen doesn’t have enough elementary school places where most families live. Historically, Shenzhen has lacked school places relative to population, but that was managed through hukou. However, since the city has allowed the children of long-term residents to attend elementary and middle school, high-density schooling has increasingly become an issue in the city, especially in neighborhoods like Meilin, where low-income families live.

90s futian, or the xiaokang quilt of days gone by…

Not so long ago and not so far away, Futian was known as Shangbu and was considered the rural burbs of up and coming Shenzhen (which was mapped as Luohu-Shangbu). But then (somewhat deus ex machina) Deng Xiaoping appeared in 1992, promising that the experiments would continue. So, during the 1990s, the SEZ boomed and Shenzhen restructured. Old Futian (well, xiaokang Futian), emerged out of all this governmental restructuring and economic booming.

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Meilin: historic footnotes

Located between Lianhua Mountain and the ridge of low-lying mountains that once marked the second line, Meilin interests for several reasons.

First, Meilin completes the central axis in the same way that Hong Kong does – as an historic footnote. Meilin and Hong Kong are the implicit extensions of Shenzhen’s ideologically charged central axis, which announced the SEZ’s transition from an industrial manufacturing economy to a financial service and high-tech research and development economy. However, Meilin was built for functionaries in the 80s and 90s, and realizes the scale and type of residential area to which SZ once aspired. Likewise, Hong Kong was the orientation of SEZ globalization throughout the 80s and 90s, but like Meilin, it was globalization on a different scale. Shenzhen’s post axis global aims have long since reached beyond Hong Kong.

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Second, the integration of Shang Meilin and Xia Meilin New Villages is neat because handshake building scale was the scale of 80s and 90s neighborhoods. Continue reading

Discover Meilin

Halloween 2010 (yes, tomorrow Sunday Oct 31), from 7 to 10 pm, the nine Meilin coaster raiders will present their work at the Art De Viver Sculpture Academy No.8 Zhongkang Road, Shangmeilin / 福田区 上梅林中康路八号 雕塑家园圆筒. The event is bi-lingual and will include opportunities to discuss and think about what it means and how it feels to inhabit Shenzhen.

I will present, ¨If this is where we are, it must be how things are done¨ (detail above, introduction to other raiders, here.

Please join us.

what is a self introduction?

I want to talk about the cultural work of self introductions, a topic one would think I had actually given some thought to, but alas, no. However, yesterday, insight. And yes, long story short, I’ve been all too American in how I introduce myself for way too long…

This past weekend, I was in Meilin at the Art de Vivre Art Space (圆筒艺术空间) to participate in the workshop stage of the second Coaster Raid, a series of events organized to promote creative exploration of Shenzhen. During the workshop weekend, nine creative groups or individuals met to explore Meilin and come up with artistic interpretations of the space literally at Deng Xiaoping’s back. On October 31 at 19:00, we will reconvene to show our work to the public. The showing is free and open to the public and the riptide team  hope to encourage reflection on and debate about the city. They are particularly interested in generating fresh approaches to seeing, representing, and talking about Shenzhen.

Yesterday, to conclude the workshop weekend, we had a more or less formal presentation of our ideas, so that the discussion could be recorded. The format was simple: riptide organizers, Michael and Gigi asked participants four questions and participants responded. The first question was: Why did you come to the event?

The Chinese participants all indicated they had been invited by Feng Yu, the Meilin organizer of this Coaster Raid. Some even indicated that they had accepted precisely because they knew Feng Yu to be an interesting person and that anything he was involved in was bound to be interesting.   I said that I had come because I had been exploring Shenzhen for 15 years and was thrilled to have the chance to explore with a new group of friends.

As the introductions went on, it became clear (to me) that the Chinese participants were taking self introduction as a chance to delineate the relationships that had brought them to this moment and only then did they begin to describe their projects. Indeed, as far as identifying themselves within the group, I had a strong sense that for the Chinese participants the relationships that had brought them together were more important than their work. In this sense, the common thread that they had come “to play (玩)” makes perfect sense. In contrast, I assumed that I had been invited because of my work and accordingly, an introduction to my work was the point of the self introduction.

I’m wondering if the difference in emphasis, Chinese participants on relationship, American moi on work works to creates misunderstanding even before conversations begin. To my English speaking heart, the Chinese introductions sounded vague and somehow off the point. Similarly, I wonder how arrogant or self-absorbed my self introduction sounded to Mandarin speaking hearts. I asked, but was reassured that, “Your Chinese is excellent.” And me thinking, “Yeah, but my social skills. What about my social skills?”

So now, I’m thinking that it might be useful to listen attentively to self introductions because they elucidate how my interlocutor perceive the purpose and direction of our interactions and, more specifically, collaboration in Meilin. I’m wondering to what extent my Chinese colleagues understand their work to be a means of exploring and strengthening, sometimes testing our various relationships. Indeed, this way of thinking points to the idea that how well and hard someone works becomes an expression of care or respect. It also allows for the possibility that any meeting may blossom into long term and deep friendships and yes, most Chinese self introductions include a variation on the phrase “I hope we can all become friends.”

In contrast, I know that I’m a good collaborator because I come for the work, whether or not it leads to stronger relationships. Thus, at first Chinese glance, I must appear to be committed to relationships, friendly, and conscientious. However, I know that my relationships may come to appear instrumental because once a project is finished, its easy for me to move on to the next work organized set of relationships.

Hopefully, as I wander through Meilin alone and with companion participants, I will learn to balance my impulse to work for the work with an attention to the work of friendship.