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.
Visiting the Honghe Vineyard in Mi Le, Yunan, I am reminded how necessary a full sense life is; yes, it is beautiful here, but even more than visual, this is a beauty of open ears, nose, and mouth. Birds sing, flowers entice, spices and herbs tempt the tongue, and the breeze lightly touches open skin. Yet, in the middle of it all, my guide points to an “urban village.” The form has been generalized, something else that we have learned from Shenzhen and Guangzhou. Can there be meaningful rural life when urban consumption of the rural has pre-empted actual villages as the presumed mode of living, even here.
This past few days I’ve been in Changde, participating in the “Chance Encounter” Contemporary Arts Festival. Its the first of its kind in the city, and attempts to bridge between the city’s rich heritage of carpentry and stone-cutting with the capitalist juggernaut that has made its way to China’s so-called “third tier” cities.
After we left Tantou, we visited several other scenic spots in Kaihua. Beautifully other to Shenzhen’s clogged roads and noisy crowds, these scenes suggested that the gate to an other worldly adventure was just around the bend in the road or nestled snuggly behind a crumbling wall. And yet. Each time we spoke with local residents, they asserted, “There’s nothing here.” In turn, the visitors from Shenzhen responded that this beauty was enough, but the locals remained skeptical; beautiful enough to bring in tourists? Continue reading
This past week, I joined members of ATU on a research trip to Kaihua County, Zhejiang. ATU is a Shenzhen-based NGO, and their mission is to bring critical attention to architecture and urban planning practices. Most recently, they have decided to intervene in rural development in order to ameliorate the problems of bringing urban planning and its ideologies into rural areas. Continue reading