One Night in Beijing, Part Two

What got me thinking about the post that was "Part One" was a trip to a friend's home in Fatou. Most foreigners and even a lot of Chinese in Beijing have no idea about this part of the city, which is to the southeast (and part of the hugeness that is Chaoyang District) and just outside the 5th Ring Road. This area was heavily industrial and still is, though more and more people are slowly moving out to this part of the city. Many of the residents either work in the local factories or have been pushed out of the inner city, either literally (due to redevelopment) or figuratively (due to the high prices). But even this area is slowly getting redeveloped as the factories are closing down and apartments are going up. Younger people are moving out to this part of the city because of the cheaper rents and the general quiet, while still being a half hour or so from the much talked about CBD. Plus, with the subway expansion, there will even be stops out there.

This is not "The History of Fatou," but just one bit of experience in the "new" Beijing. A bad experience with a taxi driver involving a roundabout trip down the north and east part of 2nd Ring Road was further inspiration. Buildings that didn't exist or were only getting started in April were up and open to the public in November. Someone who has never been to Beijing looking out the window of that cab would have been amazed that this is what modern Beijing is, while someone who comes back after being away for a few months is shocked that this is what Beijing has turned into.

Most cities have areas that fall to gentrification and/or build up around the outskirts, whereas no part of Beijing, save the Forbidden City/Tiananmen and Zhongnanhai, are safe from the wrecking ball. You would expect an area like Fatou to undergo massive change as the search for cheap real estate goes on simultaneously with factory closings and new transport options opening. What you don't expect is to see these changes in central parts of the city like Dongsi and Qianmen.

These kind of changes, the things that shocked me when I first started noticing them in 1999, are simply par for the course today. A restaurant that used to be a great hotpot place suddenly turns into a coffee shop, if it stays an eatery at all. When amongst friends trying to pick a restaurant (unfortunately at that point, I wasn't aware of dianping) it made it almost impossible. Its a given that certain restaurants are going to be around, but many of them, especially the smaller, local places are often more likely to have closed down than to still be there. I

How do small neighborhood restaurants and shops suddenly turn into huge high rises? What is the impact on a huge populace that has to deal with these changes? This is something that people have come to expect in the West, but these are things that Chinese have only been facing for the past 15 years or so. Today its an amazing experience to take a bus or taxi ride from Fatou and the 5th Ring Road to Guomao and inside the 3rd Ring Road. What happens when its no longer such a surreal experience? And of course, by that time, those currently living in Fatou will be pushed further outside of the city.

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