Friday, 1 September 2017

In my day this was all paddy fields you know.

One of my favourite night views the offices that have appeared recently

That's it. I've been in China far too long. Now in my sixth year, I have become one of those expats who lean back and yawn "Well, of course, when I got here this was all paddy fields you know. And there wasn't a Western Shop or Bar to be seen, and now look at it, Starbucks, KFC, McD's its all gone to pot."

But the fact of the matter is that here in the Eastern part of China, the industrial belt, Nanjing City is flexing its muscles and creeping outwards at an alarming rate swallowing up vast tracts of land as it throws up apartment blocks, shopping malls and factories at breakneck speed.

When I first arrived in China severely jet lagged after the 17-hour flight from the UK I badly needed my bed. But my jet lag keeps me up until about 5 in the morning which is when I fall into my bed and shut my eyes. The thump thump thump of the pile drivers in the vacant lot outside my window started at around 5:30 am. I was not amused. The following night the cement trucks were arriving until 2:30 in the morning. This went on for weeks.

This is what they were building

But looking out of that self-same window five years on the apartment block that arose there is now looking shabby and used. In fact, it looks more like a high-security prison such is the Chinese paranoia about burglars that everybody has huge chrome security cages over their windows. God knows what would happen in the event of a fire.

Note the bars on the windows it must be like living in a prison

Down the road are high rise office blocks and an International Hotel that have risen, seemingly overnight.  The bumpy old roads I used to negotiate on my electric scooter to the market at Longmeindadao have been smoothed out, and all the buildings knocked down. The roads are now bordered by shrubs and trees with paths meandering around the precision planted flower beds. Smart guards stand outside new apartment blocks and building set upon lakes that weren't there just a few months ago looking like posh spas or the offices of a National Security department. I can't tell because I'm too scared to try to get past the para-military uniformed gate guards.

Around the back of my school, there was a small community and as is the case in China every inch of spare ground was being used to grow vegetables. Until the diggers turned up. In China, the land is owned by the State. When the State want's it back, they take it. So with no short shrift, the small allotments were bulldozed away. The place was infilled with rubble and earth, and a small lake was created. Today as I drove past, the mature trees were being planted, and an army of gardeners was working on the landscaping.  It will all look very nice. But I wonder where the green fingered gardeners will get their greens from now on?

This was once a verdant field of vegetables
As the monster that is Nanjing City starts to devour Jiangning, the district I live in, so the State starts to tidy up the place and update the often shabby and dated facades of the local buildings.  The street I drive down to get to Herdinquio is about 2 kilometres long and is lined on both sides with scaffolding as the buildings get titivated in the newest styles. But underneath the slap, the same old same old will be carrying on. My guess is that the only people making money along this street are the girls in the pink curtained 'massage' parlours (thirteen in all, I counted them in, and I counted them out) as the army of workers look for somewhere local to 'relax' after a hard days scaffolding and sticking faux bricks to the front of the old shabby buildings. No doubt Grandma's patched and frayed red knickers will still be hanging out over the pavement dripping on unsuspecting heads as soon as the scaffolding is removed.

New frontage on formally shabby old building

Getting the treatment
Also upgrading services below the road. 

I do my shopping in the local Sugou supermarket and to get there it's about a 5k drive on my scooter. Shanggou Lu is a rough old street. My Chinese friend tells me it's just like China was when she was a girl 30 years ago. People live on the street. The barber is next to the hole in the wall noodle guy who is next to the guy who has wedged a large CNC lathe into a space the size of a one car garage. The metal swarf, stained blue by the heat, spills out of the doors in twisted ribbons. The smell of the coolant takes me back to my teenage years when I was an engineering apprentice. The rudimentary dentist surgery is open for all to see into that theatre of the macabre that plays every day in that cupboard sized space. You can get a shave and a haircut for five RMB from the old guy with the rickety barber's chair and the rickety hands holding the cutthroat. The live chicken shop is next to the farmer's hardware shop. The mobile phone dealers and the electric bike shops are a slash of 21st century life in a street where you can watch the blacksmith beating out an urgent new part - sparks flying from under his hammer or the woman washing her hair in a bowl while her little girl squats, and unconcerned, takes a pee in the street. The acidic aroma from the only public lavatory mingles with the garlic and chilli scents from the numerous restaurants and eateries that serve the residents.

But I think this fascinating street's number is up. As you leave the bumpy streets and the life lived raw the tarmac smooths out where once were potholes and ruts.Walls have been demolished, and the road widened. A new train line is coming just up the road. Shanggao Lu is now looking like an anachronism as modern China marches on. I think the place is now ripe for demolition. I have been documenting the fall of some communities in downtown Nanjing, but now it is happening in my back yard. I need to take my camera down there before the iron dragons get their teeth into this microcosm of Chinese street life.

Entering Shanggao Lu

The old community

The newly laid and extended road.

Last week you could not imaging this was a river - it was basically a stinking, fetid, tip.

The new railway line and new apartments. 

The paddy fields of Eastern China are disappearing as are the local communities as mammon takes it toll. Does the local community need three major shopping malls right next to each other all selling the same stuff because just up the road in Baija Hu that seems to be the norm and I do have to ask the question who buys the stuff on sale there? The Guardian newspaper reports that China will lose up to one-quarter of the GLOBAL cropland loss due to urbanisation. (

Whereas Chinese sustainability experts noted in 2016 'At a metropolitan scale, the Shanghai-Nanjing-Hangzhou (SNH) and Pearl River Delta (PRD) areas underwent high levels of agricultural land loss with a decrease of 6.12% (4728 km2 ) and 6.05% (2702 km2 ) of their total agricultural land areas, respectively' (Urban Expansion and Agricultural Land Loss in China: A Multiscale Perspective Kaifang Shi,  Yun Chen, Bailang Yu, Tingbao Xu, Linyi Li , Chang Huang , Rui Liu, Zuoqi Chen 1 and Jianping Wu.  Sustainability 2016, 8, 790).

The local government is certainly spending wads of cash in making the local environment beautiful. The local waterways now have winding footpaths that are being linked to create a network of paths. The lakes and rivers are being cleaned and landscaped. Grandads can now sit peacefully with their rods and contemplate the water lilies where once rotting rubbish and detritus once swam.

When I compare this to my experiences when I return to my hometown in the UK all I see are the dirty and decrepit streets. High Streets where nearly all of the shops are charity shops or Poundland. Local investment in the infrastructure is minimal. Britain in the time of austerity is a grim and gloomy place reminiscent of those old Movietone news stories from the 1950's.

I like China; I like living in the 21st Century, in a forward thinking country that excels (in my opinion) in creating a better, nicer, more social environment (after all this still is a Communist country at heart). But I worry about the loss of the paddy fields. I do wonder what the impact of losing the growing plots is on the locals. It's all very well for the place to look 'beautiful' which is a popular word here, but beautiful doesn't put rice in your belly.

Life is lived on the street.

I wonder what Jiangning will look like in the next five years? I hope to be here still to find out.

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