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在线翻译:
szdaily -> In depth
Street life in Baishizhou to be missed
    2017-October-31  08:53    Shenzhen Daily

Zhang Qian

zhqcindy@163.com

WALKING through the narrow and sun-slashed streets of Baishizhou, one of the largest and most renowned urban villages in Shenzhen, is like taking an adventure through a jungle of hundreds of various yet similar shops, restaurants and ramshackle buildings. But such is not for Nicolas Deladerriere, who has been living in and around the village for nearly a decade.

For Deladerriere, Baishizhou is more than a place where he can eat, drink and purchase his daily necessities. It’s a place where the French product designer walks to relax, is inspired by and absorbs the vibes of the unique street life.

The densely populated village, covering only an area of 0.6 square meters but housing nearly 140,000 people, is undergoing large-scale renovation projects for a cleaner and safer living environment.

Skyscrapers are planned to take place of some “hand-shake” buildings that are crammed so close to each other that there’s scarcely sunlight reaching any windows. Shopping malls will replace small shops, and well-designed hospitals and schools where people can enjoy a better quality of life will be built.

However, because of the planned renovations, the bustling and vibrant street life may fade to some extent. Shenzhen Daily interviewed three expats who have lived in the area for many years, started business in the village or conducted thorough research on the history of the village. One sentiment shared in common by all was that the distinct street life of the place is certainly going to be missed.

Little theaters

Deladerriere came to Shenzhen 11 years ago. He now works as a freelance product designer and is also a co-founder of Trouble Maker, a popular maker space in Shenzhen. After living in and around Baishizhou for nearly a decade, the French designer has strong attachments to Baishizhou.

“I really like the bustling scenes that happen in Baishizhou as you see people going about their life. Every shop is like a tiny theater of life, like a tiny postcard. You can watch their lives played out there, because they live their life in these type of spaces,” said Deladerriere at his apartment that towers over the urban village with a panoramic view of Baishizhou.

“They (the people living in Baishizhou) live their private lives in the public space. You can see a child doing his schoolwork, you can see people watching TV, watching the stock market or whatever, and I like this street when it’s alive.”

“I like the feeling that even when you come back at 3 o’clock in the morning, you will see someone doing something. You can see someone preparing tea eggs, banana leaves and breakfast for people waking up and leaving in the morning. Maybe it’s not easy for people who are working on it, but there is life,” said Deladerriere.

Deladerriere designed a variety of products including magnets, train models and paintings to depict the vibrant life in the village. His design of the “hand-shake” buildings was magnified and now hangs in one of Metro Line 9’s stations in Luohu District.

“In every building I make, I try to emulate a specific identity. For example, there is one building for green things, because lots of buildings have a garden on the rooftop. And there are dormitories that always look the same a bit. Every building has a different feel,” said the designer who wishes for the vibrant living style of Baishizhou to be preserved.

Hectic but unique

Joe Finkenbinder is the owner of a brewery located in a food street deep inside Baishizhou. The retired American soldier said his brewery was the first of its kind to produce and sell craft beer in Shenzhen. For him, Baishizhou was an ideal place to start a business. The affordable rent and invigorating atmosphere created by people from all around the country lured him.

“Rent price is very important for any business, particularly new businesses, and I knew I had to keep my expenses very low because at the time craft beer hadn’t been done yet in Shenzhen. I wasn’t certain if people were going to like it and I didn’t have a lot of money to gamble on that.”

“Baishizhou seemed like a very good place to start. So many Chinese people also start out at Baishizhou when they first come to Shenzhen. It’s like the natural place to go when you’re first trying to figure out what to do when you arrive here and how it’s going to work out for you,” said the brewer.

At the beginning of Finkenbinder’s craft beer business, most of his customers were expats living in Shenzhen and sometimes visitors from other countries that had heard about his brewery. Gradually, Finkenbinder’s brewery started to attract Chinese customers and now most of the people who come to drink at his establishment are Chinese.

“You may find yourself sitting next to a guy from Wuhan or a girl from Yunnan, you don’t know. They are from all over the country and they are all living in this area, or they start from this area before moving to somewhere else,” said Finkenbinder.

When asked about his plans in case the food street were to be renovated, Finkenbinder responded that he might have to close his brewery because he does not have the money to open another one at a higher rent. Most of the staff, including Joe himself, work for the brewery because they enjoy the culture there, not for making big money.

Finkenbinder worries that turning the village into a high-end leisure and residential area might undermine the vibe of the area and restrain its inherent creativity because in order to be creative, people must first venture to do something they hadn’t done before. With renovation comes worries about higher rent and living expenses, which will discourage people from daring to create new things and businesses. Creativity might wither, said Finkenbinder.

A place to link all

Mary Ann O’Donnell is a familiar name to many in Shenzhen. She is an American anthropologist who has conducted prolific research on the city’s history, especially urban villages, over the past two decades. If one were not meeting her in person, her fluent Chinese would never give away her identity as an expat.

O’Donnell sees Baishizhou as a place with the unique function of linking people from all over Shenzhen, Guangdong Province and even the nation. “I think Baishizhou is closely linked with the development of Shenzhen in many aspects,” said the anthropologist.

“Many had lived or are still living in the area. Even if people don’t live here, they come here to have food or to buy small and cheap things that are no longer available at large shopping malls.”

She analyzed that in Western cultures, city life refers mainly to street life, and urban villages in Shenzhen have a more vibrant street life when compared to commercial and residential areas. “Baishizhou serves the function of gathering resources and reallocating resources for many people,” said the scholar.

By sketching on a piece of paper, O’Donnell explained how the urban villages in Shenzhen came into being. The concept of the urban village was first raised around 2004 and 2005 when the architecture biennale exhibition took place in Shenzhen and people started to shed light on these particular urban spaces.

Urban villages are in fact relatively new villages that were built by the original natives who dwelled in local villages before Shenzhen was established as a metropolis. Since the 1980s, the natives of many old villages started to build higher buildings in their old villages and give them new names such as Guimiao New Village and Huanggang New Village. It was in 1992, when Shenzhen began to undergo the process of urbanization and floods of migrants rushed into the city, that the older buildings of the villages were then used to accommodate the newcomers with low rent and proximity to Luohu and Shekou, the first two developed areas in Shenzhen.

Urban villages are a unique product of urbanization in Shenzhen and play a key role in the city’s development, said O’Donnell. Now as the city continues to grow, the demand for better living environments crops up and many urban villages are going to be renovated.

The anthropologist hopes that the future plans of the urban villages could take their unique function to link all people into consideration. In O’Donnell’s eyes, the renovation of urban villages is a social scheme that should involve all social forces and wisdom.

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