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.

Confucious on the bus

At dinner, a friend tells the following story:

She was on a bus with her two year old son. Suddenly, she looked down to see him scurrying away. He had seen an empty seat and immediately darted over. This story was told with great pride because it demonstrated her son’s independence and ability-he knows what he wants, goes after it, and succeeds. The story was met with laughter and smiles-yes, an all round great kid.

My a-ha moment: my mother never told such stories about me and thus I continue to line up and wait for others even when this strategy for boarding buses has long proven ineffective.

Indeed, I sometimes fear that I all I ever do in China is un-learn everything I learned in kindergarten. According to Confucian wisdom: at thirty one establishes oneself, at forty no doubts, at fifty know the will of heaven, at sixty everything sounds good, and at seventy, follow one’s heart and make no mistakes (30而立,40而不惑,50而知天命,60而耳顺,70从心所欲而不逾矩). But what if one changed lives at thirty? Can one actually become established and start over at the same time? Or is everything delayed? Or more likely, do we never quite get it right and doubt at 40, wonder about the will of heaven at 50, still become annoyed by chatter at 60, and make all sorts of mistakes when we follow our hearts into our 70s?

Sigh. Because I also know how difficult it is to go home and get back on track to a retirement of effortless grace.

i’m just a symptom of the moral decay…

If I didn’t realize it in college, when I happily sang The Sinking Feeling by The The, I know it now – I’m just a symptom of the moral decay, that’s gnawing at the heart of the country…

My interlocutor explained that of the three ways to be unfilial, not having children was the worst (不孝有三,无后为大).

I laughed. He turned serious, “This is what’s wrong with foreigners. You have no sense of responsibility.”

I admitted that I didn’t want to raise a child and pointly asked, “Does China really need more people (中国真缺人吗)?”

He counterpointed that, “Every family needs their own (每个家庭都缺自己的).”

I laughed again.

He went on to explain that I had failed to continue my family line. Chinese abroad and at home have geneaologies that clearly mark generational differences. For thousands of years, each generation has followed the next. He himself had two children, three grandchildren, and hoped to hold a fourth.

I congratulated him on his happiness (幸福).

He nodded soberly and encouraged me to reconsider, “Maybe your mother-in-law can take care of the child and you can continue your carefree [and irresponsible] life.”

This truly is an argument I didn’t know I was in and can’t win anyway.

al fresco and imported greens

al fresco

Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

last night, we returned to a very old haunt–the nanyou food street, which used to be a thriving world of al fresco seafood, sichuan hot pot, and the odd miao restaurants. today, the street still bustles, but in a crumbling, obviously down-graded kind of way. it’s interesting to note that chains have moved in where independent restaurants used to be, while several spaces have been consolidated into larger restaurants, and rennovations were under way for another mega-restaurant.

for years, shenzhen has been actively upgrading its image by removing al fresco restaurants and other small, independent stores that used to spill onto the uneven sidewalks. all this grooming has resulted in neat, straight, clean streets that cut through beautifully tend and imported topiary–we are overwelmed by palm trees, where the restaurants and stores and kiosks used to be. the restaurants, of course, have (been) moved indoors, where air-conditioning, private rooms, and stylish chairs allow people to not only dine in comfort, but also eat in environments where open-toed high heals and business suits can be kept clean. after all, one of the downsides to al fresco dining is the grime that accumulates under the grill, between the tables, and in street gutters.

so, clear stratification under way in terms of unique dining experiences for those with money and increasingly mass produced for those with less. indeed, it is noticible that the al fresco restaurants continue to thrive in working class and older neighborhoods, while in more middle class neighborhoods (and those that have been subjected to beautification projects), the restaurants are all tucked away behind glass doors. unfortunately, for small restaurants, this layout is not comfortable. given the noise and proximity of fellow dinners in a successful chinese restaurant, big is better if you don’t have the sidewalk. thus, more fallout from the street-cleaning: larger, high capital restaurants do better in middle-class areas because they can provide a better dinning environment, while opportunities for low capital food entrepreneurs diminish.

yes, i am waxing nostalgic for old shenzhen, the shenzhen that friends once derided as “nothing more than a small town,” the shenzhen where al fresco dining was the norm, where workers and employees both jostled for tables under magnolia trees along uneven streets, and where cargo trucks rushed past, spewing carbon monoxide into our drinks.

exotic dubai


Originally uploaded by maryannodonnell

the dubai-shenzhen connection reaches new levels of irony on the houhai land reclamation area, where “exotic dubai” is now an architectural style to be bought and sold in a soon-to-be-completed trés upscale residential area.

“exotic” is one interpretation of 风情 , which when refering to gender usually refers to the spiritual aspect of a woman’s sex appeal e.g. 多指女性.风情是女人的韵味,与性感有联系,两者的不同之处是:风情来自於“神”而性感来自於 “形” . likewise, when refering to place 风情 usually connotes whatever it is that makes minority groups “attractive”. this new marketing strategy not only begs the question: what other city has turned a bay into a desert in less than 10 years? but also has inquiring minds wondering: are they building artificial seas in dubai?

on that note, does anyone know if “shenzhen” is now or has ever been used as an adjective to describe real estate elsewhere?