Bicycles in China are not environmentally friendly (3) – An educational diversion

So far in episodes (1) and (2) I have shown you what is happening in the vicinity of Guangxi Qinzhou Free Trade Port Area from a purely factual aspect.

Today I want to step aside from all this though, because on a personal level I found our day trip to the region quite educational.

My experience of China is somewhat limited and I have been intrigued at the way the different styles of buildings (and the different “classes” of the occupants) intertwine and I had often wondered how it all came about, especially given the fact that a lot of the smaller, more incongruous buildings didn’t seem to be that much older than the larger properties surrounding them. By seeing this new development in its early stages the whole process becomes a lot clearer.

New building 1

New building 1

New building 2

New building 2

New building 3

New building 3

New building 4

New building 4


My take on this would be that one starts with two main groups of people; the displaced ex-farmers whose land has been taken for the purpose of building the new town, and the workmen who have arrived in the area to actually do all the building.

Both sets require accommodation for themselves and their families and so small properties start springing up all over the place. As the town begins to develop and starts to take on the structure that the planners envisaged the buildings become larger, apartment blocks and amenities begin to appear, and the whole thing starts to take shape.

By the time, say, ten years has passed you are now looking at a thriving (and rapidly expanding) community where all spare land is taken up with larger and larger developments. But the original properties are still there, they have just been overtaken by the development that they were a part of creating.

In countries where the communities have grown at a slower pace, and more organically, there is still a mixture of properties but modern developments are more likely to occur on “brown field” sites, and older additions are now of an age where they blend in more easily with their more elderly neighbours. What is happening in China is occurring at a much faster pace, hence the fact that the original properties in a developing area still look relatively new.

Looking around the outskirts of the new port development area one can clearly see this happening in great arcs that radiate from the direction of the port area. At the furthest edge the buildings are sparse and appear to be scattered fairly randomly about the landscape (as they probably are). Some, as in the first two pictures above, are built with the almost compulsory ground floor “shop” unit built in. See below. Then, as one progresses toward the centre, the (flat) roads begin to act like a form of horizontally laid scaffolding supporting the structure of the town itself.

Amenities begin to appear; the schools, libraries, hospitals, markets. These are all put in place before the main thrust of the building work turns to the larger apartment blocks and other housing. The closer one gets to the centre the more of these one finds.

Gradually, with the passing of time, each arc will creep further out from the centre so that each area will progress through the various stages until completion. In this particular case I think that means until it joins up with Qinzhou City itself.

To some, especially those of an architectural bent, this will all seem quite obvious. But to me it was quite enlightening to be able to witness it with my own eyes.

I love the way almost every building in China that faces a road and is not a shop or business in its own right, (except where the rich people live, up on the hill) has a shop or small business operating from its ground floor ! And they’re all open until late in the evening too.:smile:

It helps to create such a community spirit among people. Everywhere should do it. So many social problems would be alleviated if people could come together the way the Chinese do. After all, if you were to walk past forty small businesses on the way home from the bus stop every evening, and you knew all the people who worked in them, then that would be forty potential social interactions to brighten up your day.

Much better than just getting into the car, driving home, parking in your own garage and then shutting the door on the world.

As a further subtext to this, have another look at the picture of New Building 3 above.

The smaller building works taking place are still very much done using traditional, labour-intensive methods and with traditional, cheap materials. Notice the bamboo ‘Acro-Props’ ? Here is another example of them in use.

Bamboo 'Acro Props' - southern Guangxi - Dec 2009

Bamboo 'Acro Props' - southern Guangxi - Dec 2009

And if you think that’s quaint, try this little development in Yangmei, an historic town near Nanning that contains properties from the Ming and Qing dynasties, and where access for modern machinery is not good…

'Brick Lift' - Yangmei, Guangxi - Dec 2009

'Brick Lift' - Yangmei, Guangxi - Dec 2009

'Brick Lift' - Yangmei, Guangxi - Dec 2009

'Brick Lift' - Yangmei, Guangxi - Dec 2009

No doffing of the cap to Health and Safety Regulations here. No hard hats in case one of those bricks were to fall from the barrow going up in the middle of this picture…

Chinese builders at work - Yangmei, Guangxi - Dec 2009

Chinese builders at work - Yangmei, Guangxi - Dec 2009

And just to help ensure ‘jobs for all’, behind an old wall just out of shot there were at least four guys manually picking and carrying the bricks from where they had been delivered to. Not a pallet in sight !

Don’t you just love Communism ? 😉

More about the bicycles, mopeds and scooters in the next episode.

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