do you want to buy a house next to singapore?

Just saw this poster advertising the opportunity to purchase a house on a small Malaysian island next to Singapore. The houses are relatively large and the agent is conveniently located in Shenzhen. The appeal? One can “[R]eturn to Shenzhen ten years ago, and invest in the Special Zone of a Special Zone.”

Here’s the rub. I saw this in an apartment complex in Dalang, at least twenty minutes from the nearest subway station. Everyone wants to by a house, and even places as relatively remote as Dalang are no longer viable options for migrants, even if they have a job, and even if they have savings.

On my way from said subway station to the elevator where this advert was posted, the cabby explained that since Lift (didi) and Uber had come to Shenzhen, it was no longer profitable to drive a cab. He planned on going back home to Jiangxi. When I mentioned that it seemed more and more people were leaving the city, he agreed, saying “there noticeably less people on the street.”

more evidence that china and the usa really are the same country

Back in the day — and a good fifteen years ago it was — Shenzhen University gave me toilet paper and toothpaste,  economy sized bottles of shampoo and other necessities as part of my new year’s bonus. This year, they gave an impressively health conscious and self-consciously environmental package of whole grains, legumes, and two bottles of Spanish olive oil. In addition, they included a shopping cart that has a map of the university campus printed on its sack and two coffee cups. I used to think, “What the f—?” upon receiving a sleeve of 10 rolls of toilet paper. But now I’m happy to receive such plenty, especially because neither organic grains nor imported olive oil come cheap. Thus, it is perhaps worth noting that the economic conditions of the imagined university community have shifted into familiar territory. Shenzhen University teachers and staff imagine themselves to be and engage society as full on members of an enlightened, cosmopolitan middle class. And that’s point du jour:  our paths cross in the fantasy land of neoliberal desire because as a child of the Jersey suburbs, I still live there, no matter where my body might physically be located.

it’s not in the mail — hee!

The other day, the department secretary attempted to mail copies of Architectural Worlds and two packs of playing cards to a friend in Switzerland. The journal went through, however, the cards did not. The reason given was that it is illegal to send playing cards through the post because they are used for gambling. Who knew?

It is legal to print, transport, and sell playing cards in China. Indeed, there are decks designed specifically for collectors. But there are no decks of cards in Chinese post offices — except perhaps for those in the hands of postal workers who are relaxing over a game or two!

According to Item 37 of the Chinese Postal Code (第三十七条  任何单位和个人不得利用邮件寄递含有下列内容的物品) the list of seven types of materials that cannot be mailed are: (1) treasonous materials; (2) state secrets; (3) false information that contributes to social unrest; (4) materials that inflame inter-ethnic hatred; (5) propaganda on behalf of cults or superstitions; (6) smut, gambling, and terrorist materials, and (7) any other content that is not in compliance with Chinese law. The complete postal code, along with the list of items that cannot be shipped in the Chinese post  is online.

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!

chiwan 2009


Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

today was the 15th of the 10 month of the lunar calendar, so i did what all good girls do – went temple hopping. chiwan is one of the natural harbors that constitute the port of shenzhen. before reform, chiwan could only be reached by way of a boat launched from shekou, heading north up the pearl river. today, chiwan is easily accessible by the 226 or 355, but still retains something of a backwater feel. indeed, chiwan has the scruffy feel of a potentially hip artist colony, except for the lack of artists and the vanishing coastline.

that said, chiwan is fun because it also boasts some of the oldest sites in shenzhen – the tianhou temple (technically the oldest in the area. zheng he reputedly stopped here, and emperors from the ming and qing gifted stele to commemorate upgrades and rennovations (!) to the temple). chiwan is also site of the grave of the last song emperor – a child who was drown with and by a loyal follower so he would not be dishonored by the yuan. the little emperor’s tomb is maintained by the zhao family.

hop, hop.

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.

Another Walk in Shenzhen

Poet Steven Schroeder and I have collaborated to create A Walk in Shenzhen II. The original Walk took place four years ago, 2005.

shenzhen bay 27 dec 2009

today i walked from the poly center at coastal city to circumambulate the construction site of the shenzhen bay sports center. i have started the walk with a that was then moment in 2003, which is today the point where haide 3rd road opens into houhai landfill in front of the kempinski hotel (now open for business). i started the walk from that same position today. the differences between the first and second pictures is only 6 years – but in terms of the production of real estate and growing air pollution problem it feels a lifetime; certainly another world. visit gallery to take the walk.


this afternoon, i walked through shazui, the village below my 31st floor windows and was struck by the odors and and the shadows. even though the streets are relatively wide, the cement is old and dank, the slabs of meat intimidating, and the people weary. shazui is an older industrial zone and where there is still work, chemical smells permeate the rows of factories. another section of the village has been upgraded and sells handicrafts and rocks, for half a million rmb. these pictures of the street. will add pictures of the cultural turn later.

31st floor, 4th air conditioner (hot side)


Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

This weekend we moved from a 7th story walk up to a 31st floor apartment. Until this move, I tended to think of air conditioners as prosthetic reconfigurations of nature. Air is not enough, we need to cool it.

However, this move I viscerally realized that our comfort is not simply more precarious, but also more indifferent to the well being of others than I had thought.

We use split system air conditioners that separatecold and hot functions. The cold side, consisting of the expansion valve and the cold coil, is generally placed into an air handler and is mounted inside the house. The air handler blows air through the coil and routes the air throughout the room. The hot side, known as the condensing unit, lives outside the building. Plastic tubes, usually ducktaped together, connect the internal and external parts of the system. More details about how split system air conditioners work at HowStuffWorks.

We had three split system air conditioners removed from the 7th story for 330 rmb. There was an additional 50 rmb per system “heights” fee to because the workers could not reach the hot side from a window. Instead, they went to the top of the building, rappelled down the side of the building to the ledge where the air conditioner had been placed, detatched it, secured it with moldy ropes, lifted it to the top of the building, and then carried down to our apartment. Another group of workers carried two complete air conditioning systems (we gave the third air conditioner to a friend) and the rest of our possessions down seven flights of steps, put everything into a blue container truck, and brought them to our new apartment.

At the 31st floor apartment,there were already two split system air conditioners in place; we had two more installed. To install the hot side, a 19 year old youth squeezed out a narrow window, dropped to the air conditioner ledge, manuevered the unit into position, bolted it into place, and connected the plastic tubing, before hoisting himself into position to squeeze back through the window. The young man took about thirty minutes to complete the tasks. During this time, he was alone on the ledge, lashed to the building by another moldy rope. This time, we paid a flat installation rate because the ledge was accessible from the window.

Pictures of the installation, here.