Wednesday, December 01, 2010

First snow in London this winter

Yesterday I woke up with a pleasant surprise - the first snow this winter. It was the first one to have since moving to this neighbourhood, and the view from my flat towards the north was great. Trains were delayed but still running thankfully, but in the evening, no home-bound services. There were no trains this morning either from my station to central London. Buses and tubes were running, and I wasn't sure whether I should still feel relieved.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Hopewell Centre and Wanchai redevelopment in Hong Kong

When I was told to come to the Hopewell Centre for a meeting this afternoon, it did not ring a bell to me that this was the tower that housed the famous revolving bar/restaurant on the 62nd floor. The name sounded familiar from the moment I read it, but I suppose I must have completely forgotten about it until today. So, it took me nearly half an hour of wandering around Wanchai before finally identifying the 64-storey tower, which used to be the tallest tower in Hong Kong during the 1980s.
Hopewell Centre's name comes from the Hopewell Holdings Limited, a HK-listed property company, and the top floors of the Centre accommodate headquarters of this company. The CEO of the Hopewell Holdings, Sir Gordon Wu, is ranked the 38th richest person in Hong Kong earlier this year, according to the Forbes report on Hong Kong's Richest. The tower's revolving restaurant is a must-visit place for those who would like to have a bird's eye view of Hong Kong while enjoying a drink. It seems to have taken about one hour to make one full circle today. A pint of beer, Heineken, cost about 60 Hong Kong dollars, which was actually not too bad, given what I could take away as a memory in return. Sadly, my camera battery ran out early on, and these two pictures were what I could shoot. Another excuse to come back when I make my next visit to Hong Kong

As mentioned earlier, the Hopewell Centre used to be the tallest building in Hong Kong until the late 1980s. I remember coming to this tower with my parents and to the revolving restaurant (less often than going to the Victoria Peak though). I cannot clearly remember now, but I suppose the view from the restaurant must have been magnificent, as the tower looked down upon every building around it at the time.
On the other hand, the view from the ground level is very different. Thanks to my earlier confusion that led me to wander around Wanchai for nearly half an hour, I was able to have a closer view of latest redevelopment projects in this part of Wanchai. Several pockets of Wanchai's old district are now demolished, and construction workers are laying the foundation for reconstruction. While the bird’s eye view from the top of the Hopewell Centre projects Hong Kong's more global image, the Wanchai district within which the Hopewell Centre is located provides a rich life of Hong Kong’s ordinary residents. The district is home to not only many night clubs and bars, but also to street markets, vendors and specialized small firms, which are frequented by local Hong Kong residents. Visitors to Hong Kong tend to associate Hong Kong with luxury goods and duty-free shops, but what lie behind buildings, hidden from the view from main streets, are what truly enrich the time and space of Hong Kong.

These endogenous characteristics seem to face a great pressure of extinction due to a series of redevelopment proposed and implemented in this district. During my one-hour walk today, it was easy to find many sites of demolition and redevelopment. Interestingly, they were mostly bearing the name of the Hopewell Holdings Limited, strongly suggesting that the property firm is behind these projects. I haven't yet had a chance to find out the extent of the company's involvement in these projects or their ownership/finance structure. The scale of intrusion of these projects into people's life, however, is simply amazing and difficult to describe. Perhaps the on-going process here typifies what an urban renewal project means to local people in contemporary Hong Kong. It is difficult to argue against any kind of demolition and reconstruction when one observes the status of severe dilapidation of some of the old, poorly maintained buildings. However, when projects are largely promoted and designed by developers to meet the taste of the rich who have a very different notion of urban life, they become a serious threat to people who pursue their daily life under current use of space, which may not be the highest and best use of land from the perspective of developers. Hong Kong seen from above at the top of the Hopewell Centre is certainly different from that experienced on the ground.

(The bottom left picture above shows the round-shaped Hopewell Centre in the background)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hong Kong, The Peak and childhood memory

To me, Hong Kong is like my first love. It's a city where I used to live for some years when I was young. Although Hong Kong has changed substantially since then, it still retains areas that are associated with my childhood memory. For instance, whenever I approach Hong Kong University campus on Bonham Road, I am always relieved to find the old apartment block still standing. It may get demolished and reconstructed someday, but for the moment, it is still there and I am happy for it. When I approach the Star Ferry on the Kowloon side, I still walk by the shopping mall that used to house my favourite electronic games centre. The Hong Kong side Star Ferry pier  no longer retains its previous look, as the original one was demolished and relocated due to land reclamation. I think it was Hutchison House that used to have a bookshop where I used to buy my beloved SF novels such as those by Isaac Asimov and Arthur Clarke. At that time, it was one of the few English bookshop that sold SF novels from these authors. Asimov's robot series was my biggest collection item at the time.

Since mid-2000, I seem to come back to Hong Kong at least once a year. Somehow, I haven't had a chance to re-visit The Victoria Peak, and today, I finally made my way. My choice of transport was the Peak Tram, which always gave me the joy of riding in the old days. Today's tram is not the same as what it used be in the 1980s, but the steep track is not replaceable. The most disappointing part was the Peak Tower, which has become too commercial and does not retain the old shape and memory any more. In front of the Peak Tower stands the old tram. I am not completely sure, but I think this is the same model as the one I used to ride. It was kind of funny to see this on exhibition in this way, as if my childhood is fossilised in time together with the retirement of this tram.

It was already 6 pm when I arrived at the Peak, and it was getting dark. My main aim was to be able to take a short walk along the Peak Path, which was to some extent a ritual for me. My family visited the Victoria Peak frequently when we lived in Hong Kong. On Sundays, we often came here for a walk along the Peak Path, which took a little more than an hour to complete one round (or may be longer), and had late lunch before heading back home. The old Peak Tower used to have a nice restaurant that commanded a very nice view of Hong Kong.

While the Peak Tower and the surrounding area have changed substantially, it is relieving to find that the Peak Path is there without many changes. It is a lovely place, a good one for both couples and families. I suppose people have different preferences regarding which point of entry they would choose to start the journey. I think my family always used to take our walk in an anti-clockwise manner, enjoying the view of Hong Kong downtown first and then the remaining part of Hong Kong as we moved away from the Peak Tower. A bit difficult to explain, but you will see what I mean when you visit this place...

Luckily, before it got too dark, I was able to take a few pictures of Hong Kong island and Kowloon. Obviously, there are quite a few high-rises, which were constructed after I left Hong Kong, but the overall impression that Hong Kong presents has not changed until now. The high density of buildings is simply amazing and breathtaking. Due to the continuous land reclamation, the surface area of Hong Kong island and Kowloon seen in this picture must have increased accordingly. I must look up my old albums when I get a chance to visit Korea next time, and see if I can find any picture of 1980s Hong Kong.

I am leaving Hong Kong tomorrow, but I am sure I will be longing for my return.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

51 days before the Guangzhou Asian Games

Guangzhou is busy with the preparation for the Guangzhou Asian Games that will take place in November. Some people in Guangzhou say the timing is not good, as the opening of the Games is only a few days after the completion of the Shanghai Expo. In any case, lots of construction works and beautification projects are taking place all over Guangzhou, and the government of Guangzhou wants to finish the originally planned refurbishment and beautification projects in time for the opening of the Games.

The photos above show some of the scenes around the Guangzhou East Station where fast trains to Hong Kong depart from. Everywhere you go in Guangzhou nowadays, it is fairly easy to find these Games-related slogans and electronic count-down billboards.  The whole station area was in a mess yesterday when I went there to take my train to Hong Kong. Three weeks earlier when I first arrived in Guangzhou, it was even messier. I suppose the remaining 51 days would see more intense mobilisation of resources by the government to complete the beautification and major construction projects considered crucial for the city to make it presentable to Games visitors.

When a guest visits one's house, everyone would usually try to clean his/her house to make it presentable and comfortable for the guest. When a city engages with beautification and refurbishment, it becomes a whole different story, affecting far too many residents who may find quite a few projects absolutely unnecessary. The decision to decide the extent of the clean-up, beautification and refurbishment often rests with high-ranking officials, reflecting their own notion of what a city should look like.
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Monday, September 20, 2010

From Guangzhou to Hong Kong

My official schedule in Guangzhou is over as of tonight. Just came back from giving a guest lecture on Olympic Games and Mega-event Politics to the students at the School of Urban Planning and Geography. When I gave talk on the same topic to some students at the School of Government a few days ago, I did an impromptu survey on how many of the people in the lecture room were in favour and against having the Asian Games in Guangzhou. About 30% of the attendants said they were against it, and 15% in favour. Tonight, I did a similar survey, and about 15% said they were in favour of it, while 5% said they were against it. Well, it's difficult to know the full picture until one finds out what the silent mass really thought about the issue, but it was an interesting exercise. I wonder if there was any difference in the disciplinary approach that produced contrasting results...

I will be off to Hong Kong on Wednesday, the mid-autumn festival day when families get together in South Korea, and lantern festival takes place in Hong Kong. As was the case last year, again mid-autumn festival while being on the road...

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Police 'partol' car

Today, I had a walk around one of the study sites in Guangzhou. The area was completely empty of its residents, as the whole area is now being demolished. I will talk more about this at a later date, but for now, I could not resist my smile when I first saw this rather cute police car next to the demolition site, and even bigger smile when looking at the English word, 'partol'. A cute but unnecessary mistake for the police force...

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Guangzhou heat beats me

Somehow last time in Guangzhou was also in September. This time again, I am spending three weeks in this city. I must have forgotten about the heat and humidity - no, to be exact, the cool/cold London weather must have tainted my memory, and forged my thought that it was not too bad, and that I would survive.

Yes, I would survive eventually...but today, after having spent four hours outdoor under the sun, I could see myself loosing concentration. A student assistant of mine was telling me some interesting issues about his own hometown, and I could feel myself that I was only 50 percent focused, and eventually less than 10 percent. I had to apologise to him in the end, telling him my situation frankly, and our conversation continued again when we were in an air-conditioned taxi on our way back to the university. I must be better prepared from Any advice I can get would be appreciated.

p.s. I was checking the today's temperature on my Google gadget. No wonder I was sweltering in Guangzhou. I really look forward to going back to London.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

[Travel] "Mein Kampf" in Beijing

Belated posting this time. When I paid a visit to Wudaoying in Beijing (see my earlier posting below), I was having a quick rest (meaning that I had a bottle of cold beer...) at this cafe somewhere half way into Wudaoying hutong. It was a three-storey building, and from the owner, I was told that he had to tear the previous building down and reconstruct. The cafe was open first in December 2009, so I suppose it is one of the new breeds in this so-called 'next Nanluoguxiang'.

The owner rented this place from a local resident on a five-year rental deal. I am not sure if he'd require to return this building to its original shape upon the expiry of his lease period. I suppose that's not something to worry about at this stage... It was a cosy, small cafe, rather quiet during the day-time. There is a roof-top terrace, which has a fairly good view of the neighbourhood. Roof-top terrace seems to have become a popular addition to cafes and restaurants operating in hutong areas nowadays. Quite an interesting development, given that roof-top terrace structures were ordered to be removed in Nanluoguxiang back in 2008, for they were regarded as illegal structures.

The cafe had an interesting menu book, recycled from the Chinese version of Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (or My Struggle). Perhaps the idea of using a book in this way is not so new, but the selection of Mein Kampf in mainland China to be recycled in this way was rather amusing. I haven't had a chance to ask the owner why he selected this. Perhaps I should next time when I'm there. I wonder if Mao Zedong's little red book or Das KapItal would get to be used in this way sometime in the future. I suppose the latter has a higher possibility than the former, given the direction of China's development at present.

Monday, September 06, 2010

"Which country is China's best friend?"

While driving in a taxi to go to the Guangzhou Book Center on Sunday, I had an interesting chat with the taxi driver. Having heard that I am a South Korean, he was obviously making some jokes and teasing me with various questions. One of the questions, after a brief exchange of views about the South Korean navy vessel that sunk recently,  was why South Korea does not attack North Korea to reunify the peninsula. Below is a simplified version of what went on between us two:

Driver: Why doesn't South Korea attack North Korea?
Me: Why do you say that?
Driver: To re-unify the peninsula.
Me: That would result in many deaths.
Driver: That doesn't matter, if the countries are re-unified [some sort of human costs to be accepted].
Me: What would you say if the United States attacked China and many people died?
Driver: That would not matter. There are so many people in China anyway.
Me: What if your brothers and sisters died?
Driver: Oh, then, it's not good.

Obviously, this line of argument, while very much simplified, tends to dominate some of the international relations discourses with regard to the Korean peninsula, often led by right-wing conservatives that do not seem to mind the use of military power.

Another discussion then followed about which country was the best friend of China. To my question, the driver said that North and South Korea were the best friends, though I would reckon he said this after having known that I was South Korean. Then, he asked what I thought, and I replied, "the USA would be the best friend of China at the moment". This reply seemed to have been something he didn't expect to hear. After pondering on this for a few seconds, he asked, "what do you do?"

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Hong Kong's army of cranes

Due to some complicated (but not so complicated) reasons, I had to come to Guangzhou via Hong Kong. On my way from Kowloon airport express train station to Hung Hom station where I could take my train to Guangzhou, I happened to catch this amazing sight - an army of cranes. In May 2009 when I made my last visit to Hong Kong, this did not exist. Now, the whole site is full of cranes, and initially, I was wondering if this place was some sort of new parking space for cranes. But then, the sign post on the fence was reading "West Kowloon Terminus".

[Photos taken on 1 September 2010]

This was in fact the site to build the underground Hong Kong terminus of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, located at this part of Kowloon. The MTR web site provides a summary of this project, which turns out to be quite useful: Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link

The Hong Kong section of this express rail link will be 26 kilometers long, and will be entirely underground. For mountainous Kowloon geography, this is really going to be costly in terms of construction costs. Expected to be completed in 2015, it will take less than 50 minutes to reach Guangzhou from Hong Kong (much less than two hours by train at the moment), and long haul services to Beijing will only take 10 hours. The funding comes from the government. When all these cranes disappear and the terminus opens its service, Hong Kong will surely be much more integrated with mainland China. The army of cranes indeed shows how much the government is committed to this project.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Listen to these frogs(?) at Sun Yat-sen University

It was raining heavily in Guangzhou. Really heavy rainfall, which continued almost 24 hours. Then, all of sudden, it stopped at around 8 am today. As I was walking towards the School of Urban Planning and Geography to be part of a workshop, I came to notice this very funny sound. Some people were gathering around the area, also finding the sound amusing. I couldn't help recording it. I think they were frogs, but they could also be toads? If you look carefully, you will find quite a few of them in the first picture. The second picture is a zoomed-in version.

Photos and recording all taken just before 9 a.m. at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, China

Friday, September 03, 2010

Unwelcome guests to my room

In Guangzhou, I am staying at Sun Yat-sen University's guesthouse. The university campus is a beautiful one with a green space along the central axis and trees lining the main street. While the scenery is quite pleasing, summer in southern China cannot be discussed without the presence of all sorts of small species. Upon my arrival, a dead tropical cockroach was lying on the floor of my bedroom, which worried me a lot - one cockroach in sight usually denotes at least several dozen more somewhere in hidden places. So far, no more cockroaches spotted but I cannot rest assured...

Then, before going to bed, a giant spider-like creature crawling up the wall in the hallway next to the entrance door. I had no idea where it came from. Apparently it had only six legs, and if fully stretched, could be more than 15 cm long. It was moving quite quick.

Then, today, it was raining all day long, and on my way out, I spotted a giant snail, whose shell was as big as a child's fist. From head to tail, it would have been about 15 cm long. It was crawling up the staircase.

Finally, a lizard that was spotted just now. It was moving fast on the floor in the hallway. This was a tiny one, so not threatening. Rather cute actually.

I wonder I am going to see tomorrow. No more in my flat please...

Anyway, my greater concern now is that I have to make a presentation at a workshop tomorrow, and I have early symptoms of cold. Still to make some changes to my slide. Would it be wiser to sleep and rest first and wake up early to complete the work? Time to decide...

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Shanghai Bund and Pudong in 2010: Shanghai's Past and Future

The rise of Shanghai has been subject to academic scrutiny during last few decades. The study of Shanghai and other major coastal cities provides an window to understand China's past, present and future, but sometimes, misdirects observers to believe that Shanghai (and a few other major coastal cities such as Guangzhou) represents China's urbanism. As one of leading cities, what Shanghai does sets an example for other inland cities that admire Shanghai's re-emergence as a world city. In this regard, understanding Shanghai's urbanism is an interesting and necessary endeavour. On the other hand, it is necessary to understand China's inland cities experience a differing degree of exposure and possession of economic, political and geographical assets (both existing and expected) that would influence the particular trajectory of their growth. Shanghai's rise may not be something that can be easily replicated by other inland cities.

Shanghai Liujiazui (top) and Bund (bottom) (c) Hyun Shin 2010 
The view of Shanghai Pudong (top picture, left) from the Bund would probably represent the present and future of Shanghai. The dense cluster of modern high-rise office buildings with some additional commercial luxury condominiums may represent the kind of wealth and power that Shanghai as well as China as a whole would like to achieve on the globe. On the other hand, the view of the Bund from Pudong's riverside promenade represents Shanghai's past and present. The Bund is already a densely built area, but as seen in this picture (bottom picture, left), the hinterland of the Bund experiences denser, commercial development. The historic buildings along the Bund that date back to the early 20th century would probably remain conserved, possible to be dwarfed by taller buildings behind themn. These historic buildings would probably stay for much longer than any other historic buildings, as I would assume they represent the time and space of Shanghai's early period of 'globalisation' (though reactive to imperial intervention), which the municipal government would like to highlight in its pursuit to make Shanghai a 'world city'. But, Shanghai still has a long way to go. It aspires to become a world financial centre, but still, most international investment banking firms for instance are based in Hong Kong. A couple of them including the Goldman Sachs have a licence to operate in mainland China, but are based in Beijing where face-to-face contact with the central state officials would be much easier.

Shanghai's (and indeed China's) pride of socio-economic transformation and the rising confidence in their future can be seen from the flags that now wave on top of every historic building along the Bund (see the picture below). I cannot remember if these flags were there back in 2001 or 2003 when I last visited Shanghai, and am not sure if there are regulations that dictate these buildings to fly national flags in this manner. In any case, the view of red national flags with five stars along the Bund shows that for China, capitalism or socialism may no longer matter as long as it puts China at the centre of the world.

Shanghai Bund (c) Hyun Shin 2010
Then, how would one make of China's socialist history in a few decades to come? The lonely statue that stands next to the Bund promenade (see the picture below) is typical of socialist realism, which may no longer be a fashion among the post-80s generation in particular. Shanghai's future and past may become as wide as the width of the sea that lies between the Bund and Pudong. Bridges and tunnels are constructed to link them with each other. It would be interesting to see how stable and solid these bridges and tunnels are going to be in the near future.

Shanghai Bund (c) Hyun Shin 2010

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Urbanism in Shanghai - its representation

Well, not much to say here except for sharing this picture that I took. Signs of Expo with its symbols and slogans are found everywhere you go in Shanghai, but one slogan caught my eyes. Unfortunately, this picture that I took while travelling on metro is the only one available, so let me write down in full below what the two lines say just above the hand-grip:

Better City, Better Life

When you just read the English phrase, it does not particularly strike you as such, but when it is written together with its Chinese version, there is a big difference. The Chinese version can be literally translated as "City makes life better", which may mean a very different thing than what the English version says. To me, this sounds as if Shanghai is proclaiming the next phase of China's emerging urbanism - 'Long live the city!' Quite a few interesting thoughts come to me, but this is not the space to expand on this.
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Shanghai World Expo 2010

A day visit to Shanghai Expo on 27 August. Together with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, I'd imagine the memory of Shanghai Expo is going to be something that the city is going to keep for some more years, if not decades. It has been publicized for many months now that many pictures of national pavilions set up on the site would probably be available with a simple google search. I had to make this visit to have a look at it myself, and as is always the case with this kind of event, I have to admit the visit was not that exciting.

Fortunately, the four days in Shanghai this time were cloudy with some breeze, so it was relieving that the kind of heat and humidity that I experienced back in 2003 did not exist. A friend of mine in Shanghai told me that one week ago, the weather was deadly hot, so I suppose I was quite lucky. But, this meant that all the worries about visitors suffering from heat wave were real (see a news article, 'Shanghai Expo braces for heat wave'). Even the cooler weather that I experienced still made me sweat while walking around the site. I have to say there were not much to see, unless you are 'really' interested in those fancy-looking pavilions, which are going to be demolished fairly soon, once the Expo nears its conclusion. Visitors would have to enter each pavilion if they are to have any unique experience, but then, the huge number of local Chinese people visiting the site meant that non-VIP visitors were to normally wait in a very long queue for quite some time.
To prevent people from being hit adversely by the unbearable heat while waiting in queues, the Expo organisers seemed to have come up with a rather unusual measure - a cool, moisturised air blow that switches on every few minutes (see the picture below). At first, I was caught unexpected when this first struck me while walking past another queue. It looked like some sort of hot-air disinfectant that I used to see during my childhood, but then, I quickly realised what it really was. Yet, it somehow does not make me feel comfortable, and I'd prefer not to be exposed to this...

All in all, vising Expo appears to be something of a must for tourists who can afford to travel to Shanghai. Daily counts show that more than 300,000 people visit Expo everyday. But then, given the long queue one has to stand in order to get into each pavilion, I wonder how many pavilions each visitor could actually manage. I would probably not recommend Expo to be your main purpose of visiting Shanghai.

Some small facts. One piece of Belgian waffle is sold at 40 yuan outside the Belgian pavilion. Not a realistic price for normal Chinese tourists. Also, the metro service between Madang Street station and the Expo site is free of charge. I am not sure if any other countries would be as generous... Well, I have not visited many pavilions, hence not many pictures of them. Just a couple of them below...



Inside Belgian Pavilion (I was lucky to get a VIP pass...)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Drum Tower and Bell Tower area in Beijing facing redevelopment

The heritage conservation area surrounding Beijing's Drum and Bell Tower is another place that I try to make a repeated visit whenever I am in Beijing. The first time I was here was back in 2002 when Shishahai was at its very early stage of becoming an entertainment zone. It was still tranquil back then. In the summer of 2004, when I was back in Beijing to organise a workshop, I was told that some academics and heritage conservationists including journalists were busy with writing a petition letter to stop the imminent demolition along Jiu Gulou Dajie as part of its expansion. Since then, I remember coming across with occasional news reports about whether or not this area with a high concentration of dilapidated courtyard houses would be subject to demolition and redevelopment.

Drum Tower

Bell Tower
Earlier this year, I received an announcement from the Beijing Cultural Heritage Conservation Center that it was to host a forum 'Saving Gulou' on the planned demolition of this neighbourhood. It was cancelled eventually due to government intervention. The Center's web site states:

"Despite Gulou's cultural importance, multiple sources have indicated that a 5 billion RMB budget has been allocated to convert 12.5 hectares of the Drum and Bell Tower area into a 'Beijing Time Cultural City' - putting the neighbourhood in serious danger. Such a massive scale development will include large infrastructures like public squares and a museum. As a result, there will be extensive evictions, demolition, and construction in this ancient area, and gone will be the traditional courtyards, hutongs, and local residents."

Until today, it seems that the district government has kept quiet not to reveal the actual detailed plans regarding the neighbourhood redevelopment, which makes the future very uncertain for every party involved including local residents. While the immediate surrounding area north of Drum and Bell Tower remains intact, the southern parts of Drum Tower East Street and Drum Tower West Street show a visible trace of demolition already taking place. Zhongtao Hutong, closer to the northern section of the 2nd ring road, is also going through demolition.

Demolition: South of Drum Tower West Street
Demolition: South of Drum Tower East Street

Since the early 2000s, Beijing has been experimenting with various conservation strategies. So far, it seems like there are two distinctive models: Nanluoguxiang (or perhaps Shishahai) model and Qianmen model. The former involves gradual upgrading of facilities and dwellings as well as selective demolition and reconstruction. Courtyards in relatively good conditions get traded as they nowadays attract high-end investors (mainly overseas Chinese so far). The Qianmen model involves a complete make-over (some refer to it as 'fake-over') of an entire area by means of demolition and reconstruction, though a number of people would disapprove what has become of Qianmen nowadays. A senior editor at China Daily told me that the district government wanted to re-create the kind of architecture and streetscape from the 1930s and 1940s when Qianmen was at its heyday commercially, and hence took the building prints from those days to rebuild all the new buildings. Obviously, the array of these buildings create a strange atmosphere as if you are in a film shooting scene. The same senior editor mentioned earlier was correct to point out that there was no longer the kind of interaction between these shops on 'new' Qianmen and local Beijing residents, which used to create the unique and vibrant environment in the old days. Most shops that now exist along Qianmen Street are hardly affordable by ordinary Beijingers, and those with buying power are unlikely to come to this street to do shopping due to the touristic environment. After all, for the newly rich in Beijing, there are far more attractive places than Qianmen to do shopping. On the other hand, many tourists would find it expensive to shop here. It would be interesting how the shops survive here.

Qianmen: View South

Going back to the potential redevelopment of Drum and Bell Tower areas, it would be very important for the government (especially the district government in this case) to realise the importance of the interaction in order to keep the soul of this place. Otherwise, it will create another 'ghost' town.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

China's Population Census to start soon

Mainland China has been conducting the national population census every 10 years since 1990, and there will be another this year, starting on the 1st November. It is said that 
census-takers will visit each household (see China's 6th national census to start on Nov. 1). While walking around in Beijing, it was interesting to see how important this census taking exercise would be. Posters and written notices were displayed around the city to alert the imminent census-taking. The pictures on the left show some of the posters on a wall next to the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) in Beijing. 'Harmonious society' continues to receive the main emphasis. It is also interesting to notice that in the first picture, while the Chinese statement reads "Population census constructs world city", its English equivalent underneath has no reference to the 'world city'.

For China, the importance of accurate data including census is needless to say, and I am sure many academics around the world who study China using census data would be eager to wait for its release.

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[Travel] Wudaoying Hutong, the next Nanluoguxiang?

Nanluoguxiang in Dongcheng District of Beijing is now known as a culture district, promoted by the district government as a showcase for heritage conservation and tourist attraction. While many hutongs in Beijing's inner city areas have disappeared due to demolition and reconstruction-oriented urban renewal strategies, some hutongs have been selectively experiencing revalorisation through upgrading (if interested in this topic, see my paper, 'Urban Conservation and Revalorisation of Dilapidated Historic Quarters: the case of Nanluoguxiang in Beijing'). Nanluoguxiang has been one best example, with its heavy concentration of traditional Beijing residential dwellings known as hutong and its long history that goes back to the 13th century.

This time in Beijing, I came to notice a newspaper article that talks about the rise of Wudaoying Hutong as the next Nanluoguxiang. The hutong is located west of the Lama Temple (Yonghegong), and I'd assume the area is also part of the designated heritage conservation area. The hutong connects Yonghegong with Andingmen, and is a relatively quiet place. I took a walk along the hutong, and it does experience some infiltration of commercial/cultural activities, which would probably resemble the early phase of Nanluoguxiang.


Interestingly, there were posters here and there as seen below, announcing a cultural festival starting on the 27th August, which I had to miss. From a discussion with a young restauranteur, the festival is a joint collaboration between and the Wudaoying Chamber of Commerce (the chairperson of this chamber is one of the residents there). Again, this organisational structure and the marketing strategy resemble what took place in Nanluoguxiang several years ago.*

* Added on 7 September: I had a meeting with the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center, and was informed that the festival was actually organised in a top-down manner, initiated by the local district government. So, it was not that bottom-up after all...

So far, gradual upgrading and selective demolition and reconstruction of individual buildings seem to be the norm of renewal in this neighbourhood. It is yet to see whether or not this place would experience Qianmen-style wholelsale demolition and reconstruction known as 'fake-over' (a term used by Beijing-based English newspaper The Global Times). There is a worrying sign however. The temple-side entry point is already experiencing a similar 'fake-over', and it may always be possible that this will extend beyond this point. This is a place that I would definitely come back and pay attention to in the next few years.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Beijing Xinzhongjie neighbourhood - Demolition begins

Every time I come to Beijing, I try to make a repeated visit to some selected places in order to see what's been changed. In a way, it is a semi-academic exercise, almost a ritual, in order for me to grasp the speed of Beijing's socio-spatial changes. After all, Beijing is a city that condenses its development trajectory many folds.

One such place is called Xinzhongjie, located near Worker's Stadium in Dongcheng District. This is an area that I studied several years ago. If any reader is interested, some of the findings can be found in my article, Residential Redevelopment and Entrepreneurial Local State. Part of this neighbourhood was redeveloped several years ago, now accommodating Yangguang Dushi (or Sun City), a high-rise commercial housing estate. Upon completion of the first phase redevelopment, there were rumors that the remaining part of this neighbourhood would experience redevelopment fairly soon, but somehow, the work has not taken place until recently. When I came to see this area last year March, the area stayed exactly the same as what I had seen back in 2003.

The neighbourhood now depicts a marked difference. It is quite visible and evident that demolition is now taking place, and the low-rise buildings that used to accommodate small businesses appear to have become the first target. It is very probable that the local authority took years to sort out the fragmented property rights of these small businesses, which may involve numerous rounds of negotiations with various work-units and business owners regarding compensation measures. It seems like these negotiations have now reached conclusion. Most residential dwellings remain intact as of now, but I would expect that they would be subject to demolition quite soon. One last remaining pingfang (one-storey dwelling) neighbourhood in this part of Beijing will soon disappear. It would be interesting to find out what becomes of this neighbourhood and the fate of the original residents.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

[Travel] The Old Bookworm, Beijing

An interesting plae that I happened to find by chance. It is located on Sanlitun South Street, diagonally opposite the new Sanlitun Village complex. It is fairly spacious and has a large collection of China-related 'English' books, and apparently hosts book talks, which is something that I also find quite new in Beijing. It seems quite popular among expats and local Chinese younger generation. The venue is open until 2 am. It also operates a roof terrace bar, but it opens till 12 midnight and is also recommended when it does not rain.

It certainly has a different feeling when compared with all those noisy bars on Sanlitun North Street, which has also become 'orderly' - no longer appealing to me at least. It serves Western food and the quality seesms acceptable. And most importantly for travellers, it provides wireless internet connection. Apparently, all the cafes that I've been to so far in Beijing this time had wireless internet provision. Quite a big 'progress'.

Update (as of 3 September 2012)
The venue's web site:
Address: Building 4, Nan Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing 100027, P.R. China
How to get there:

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[Travel] Beijing Sanlitun - Fancy new development emerging

Beijing has changed again. This time in Beijing, the new development on Sanlitun North Street (known as 'Sanlitun Bar Street') came to me as a surprise. Sanlitun Village is something completely new to me, and it is apparently very bustling, full of luxury shops, bars, restaurants and cafe that aim at the new 'middle-class' in Beijing. Beijing's Apple Store is also based here. The whole complex is quite visible from distance, and it has an inner courtyard space with fountain areas as well as roof-top terrace that accommodates fancy bars. It certainly is a new type of development that Beijing has not seen before, and I am wondering who is behind this development. Perhaps another Hong Kong-originated capital?

Right next to the complex situates another new development site of Sanlitun SOHO, and the name makes it clear who the developer is (correct me if I'm wrong). It is another huge complex of seemingly mix-use, and does stand out in this whole area. I am not quite sure but in my memory, the area used to be a low-rise hutong-like area, which accommodated some small bars (less fancy but cozier than those bars on the main Sanlitun Bar Street), but it seems to have been all demolished fairly recently.

Obviously, this part of Beijing is a prime site, and it is not so surprising that this area is going through this type of development. Perhaps it has come too late from the government and developers' perspective. What is interesting is that these new development projects are making the previous development obsolete in style. Those residential and commercial buildings built in the 1980s and 1990s (or even in the early 2000s) appear to be outdated when they are juxtaposed with the new development. We will see what new development is going to be triggered in the near future.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Standing on one's own feet

From a very good friend of mine, referring to an "old Indian text the Bhagwad Gita many years ago": "one should fight for the truth and what one believes is just even if it means fighting against those closest to you. Our close ties often make this fight very painful and difficult; but at the end, we have to stand up for our values and beliefs... esp. when we know they are the right ones and true." I am grateful to have a friend like him. Thanks a million.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

남여성비 불균형 - '집안의 대는 남자만 잇는다'(?)는 말의 폭력

iPhone 대신 iPod으로 아쉬움을 달래는 요즘 새로 깐 어플 중 The World Factbook이라는 것을 살펴 보았다. 한국 관련 자료를 찾아보니 15세 이상 64세 이상 국민의 남여성비는 1.04: 1 이지만, 15세 미만은 1.1: 1. 취학아동의 남학생 비율이 상대적으로 높다는 얘기를 들은지 오래되었는데, 1.1: 1은 오히려 적게 나온 느낌이다.

남아 선호가 어제 오늘 얘기만은 아닌데, 이게 한반도 역사 전체로 보면 또 얼마 안된 얘기. 흔한 말로, '가문'의 대를 잇기 위해서, '집안'의 대를 잇기 위해서 남자아이가 있어야 한다는데, 이 역시 얼마나 어폐가 있고, 여아에게 폭력적인 말인가. 여자아이 역시 부모의 피를 받고 태어났으니, 그 역시 한 집안의 대를 잇는 것은 같은 일. 가계도를 그려 보면 '출가'한 여자아이는 지워버리던, 족보에 올리지도 않았던 그 이상한, 작위적 전통을 이젠 폐기 처분해야 하지 않을까? 호적등본 대신 가족관계증명부로 옮겨 간 것이 그 첫걸음이 되었던 듯.

Monday, March 15, 2010

일본내 조선학교 등 외국인학교의 고교무상화 배제 시정을 요청하는 서명운동 진행

일본에서 급히 도움 요청이 왔기에 전달해 드립니다. 이미 매스컴에서 접하셨겠지만 일본의 고교무상화 정책이 추진 과정에서 조선학교 등 외국인학교를 배제하려 한답니다. 참여 하고픈 분은 아래 요청하신 사항을 담아 msk_univ@yahoogroups.jp로 보내시길 바랍니다. 3월 16일까지 서명을 모아 발송하신다고 하니 이미 시일이 지났다 하더라도 이러한 운동에 참여하는 일본 교원들이 계시다는 것은 든든한 일입니다. 한국/일본 지식인 사회의 협력의 한 예를 보여주는 것 같습니다.

한국은 언제 고교무상화 정책에 대한 공론화가 이루어질까요? 초등학교 무상급식도 반대가 심한 나라에서, 이재오 같은 사람은 하늘에서 돈이 떨어지냐고 하는데, 4대강에 퍼붓는 돈 만 가져오면 될 일 아니겠습니까?....



아래와 같이 대학 교원의 찬동을 모집하고 있습니다. 또한 학생의 경우에는 지도교관에게 전송해 주시기 바랍니다.
■상세한 내용은 아래 참조.

■메시지의 다이제스트

(아래 전송 환영)
「고교무상화」를 위한 취학지원대상에서 조선학교를 제외하지 않도록 요구하는 대학교원의 요청서를 작성하였습니다.
요청서를 읽어보신 후 찬동하시는 분들은 315일까지 아래의 요령에 따라 메일로 송신해 주십시요.
(사안의 긴급성으로 인해 기일안에 도착한 분을 16日(火)에는 제출하고자 합니다. 짧은 기간입니다만 양해해 주시길 바랍니다.
메일 송신처:
*제출하시는 서명에는 이름과 소속대학만을 기입합니다. 직위(교수, 부교수, 비상근강사 등)는 데이터의 객관성을 담보하기 위한 것일 뿐이므로 기입하지 않으셔도 됩니다. 이미 다른 단체를 통해 몇 가지 성명이 발표되었습니다만, 이번 서명 제안은 어디까지나 「대학교원으로서」의 입장에 있는 분들께 부탁드립니다. 이 경우 「대학교원」이란 널리 「대학의 교육연구에 관게된 자」로서 상근, 비상근, 유기고용 등의 구별에 준하지 않습니다. 물론 국적과 거주지도 묻지 않습니다.
*메시지를 기입하신 경우, 정부에 제출함과 더불어 보도기관에 공개할 수 있으므로 양해해주시길 바랍니다. 물론 기입하지 않으셔도 괜찮습니다.
*최신 정보는 아래 블로그에서 갱신 예정입니다. 요청서의 PDF파일도 아래에서 다운로드할 수 있습니다.
理大臣 鳩山由紀夫
文部科大臣 川端達夫
閣官房長官 平野博文

「고교무상화」조치를 조선학교에 적용할 것을 요청하는 대학교원의 요청서
「공립고등학교와 관련된 수업료의 불징수 및 교등학교 등 취학지원금의 지급에 관한 법률」안(이하, 「고교무상화」법안)이 국회에서 심의되는 상황 속에서 하토야마 내각이 조선학교 고급부(이하, 조선고급학교)를 그 적용대상에서 제외하는 방침을 확정했다는 내용이 보도되고 있습니다. 우리는 대학의 교원으로서 교육연구와 관련된 자의 입장에서 조선고급학교늘 적용 대상에서 제외하는 것에 반대합니다.
현재 적지않은 조선학교 출신자가 국사립대학에서 배우고 있습니다. 우리는 대학의 「국제화」라는 관점에서 조선학교 출신자를 포함하여 다양한 민족적문화적 배경을 갖은 이들이 상호 대화할 수 있는 공간을 창조하는 것이야말로 대학인의 책무라고 생각합니다. 2월말에는 국제연합인종차별철폐위원회에서 조선학교의 제외는 인권보호의 관점에서도 문제라는 견해가 표명되었습니다만,「아동의 권리조약」(1994년 일본비준)에서 「민족적, 종교적, 혹은 언어상의 소수자, 또는 주민이 존재하는 국가에 있어서는 해당 소수자 또는 선주민에 속하는 아동은 자신의 집단 외의 구성원과 더불어 자신의 문화를 향수하고, 자신의 종교를 믿고 실천하며, 또한 자신의 언어를 사용할 권리가 부정되어서는 안된다」(제30조)라고 규정하고 있는 것을 상기할 필요가 있습니다. 우리는 교육의 이념은 「아동의 권리조약」과「인종차별철폐조약」에서 제시된 보편적인 인권에 기초하여야 한다고 생각합니다.
고교무상화의 대상에서 조선학교를 제외한다고 하면 이미 공립학교사립학교와 비교하여 커다란 경제적 부담을 강요받고 있는 조선학교의 관계자에게 더욱 큰 핸디켑을 부과하는 것이 됩니다. 나아가 고교무상화의 재원을 특정부양공제의 압축을 통해 확보하게 되면 조선학교 학생의 보호자에게 있어서는 오히려 부담을 가중시키는 것이 됩니다. 개개인의 출신과 신조와 무관하게 다양ㅎㄴ 루트에서 고등교육에 접근할 수 있는 기회가 일본사회에 존재하는 모든 젊은이들에게 동ㄷ하게 보장되어야 한다고 우리는 생각합니다.
조선고급학교의 제외안이 「납치」문제와 조선학교를 결부시키는 발상에서 나온 것은 분명합니다. 외교 루트가 없으니 교육내용을 확인할 수 없다는 기준은 조선학교의 배제라는 방침을 다른 용어로 표현한 것에 지나지 않습니다. 또한 정부가 제3자평가 조직을 설치하여 조선고급학교의 교육내용이 「고교 과정에 준하는 과정」인지 여부를 판단한다는 보도도 있습니다만, 이미 다수의 국립대학이 고등학교 전수과정(修課程)의 기준(수료에 필요한 총단위시간수 2590단위시간 이상, 보통교과의 총단위시간수 420단위시간 이상)을 준용하여 조선학교의 입학자격을 인정하여 문부과학성도 이를 인정해 온 이상, 이 문제는 이미 해결이 완료된 문제입니다. , 이번 정부안은 외교상에서 해결되어야 할 사항을 교육문제에 부당하게 바꿔치기를 한 것에 지나지 않습니다.
뿐만아니라 우리는 조선고급학교의 배제가 오늘날 일본의 배타주의적인 풍조의 연장에 있다는 것을 우려하고 있습니다. 최근 재일조선인에 대해 공공연하게 차별적인 언동을 일삼는 움직임이 표면화하고 있습니다. 요 얼마전에는 수 명의 그룹이 쿄토의 조선초급학교에 밀어닥쳐 「일본에서 조선학교를 때려서 내쫒아라!」라는 등의 폭언을 일삼는 사건이 발생했습니다. 조선학교 제외를 주장하는 일본정부 및 정치가의 자세는 이러한 배타주의적폭력적인 행위를 뒷받치고 있는 것이라고도 할 수 있으며, 하토야마 수상이 소신표명 연설에서 언급한 「우애」의 정신을 스스로 포기하는 것에 다름아닌 것입니다.
우리는 하토야마 유기오 내각총리대신 및 카와바타 타츠오 문부과학대신, 히라노 히로후미 내각 관방장관에 대해 고교무상화제도에 대해 조선고급학교를 포함한 모든 외국인 학교를 대상으로 하는 제도가 되도록 강력하게 요청합니다.

제안자(3月13日現在. 아이우에오 순서)