To anyone who’s ever spent any time in Beijing, or even just read the introduction to the Beijing Lonely Planet, the government’s steady demolition of the city’s remaining Hutongs 胡同, or traditional residential alleyways, is not new. For years the city has been tearing down the old neighborhoods, holdovers from the days before the start of market reforms and rapid economic growth, in order to make room for new construction. However, the yesterday was the first time all year that I personally had seen evidence of the policy. Every weekend I ride the subway to Xizhimen 西直门 and walk to the apartment complex where 博哥’s roommate’s aunt and her family live and tutor her nine-year-old daughter in English. Each week I pass by a couple of small hutongs right outside the B exit of the subway stop. The small huddle of gray-brick one-story dwellings, strung with clothing lines and saturated with the smell of the adjacent public toilet, stands out in sharp contrast to the surrounding skyscrapers. I have walked by this little neighborhood once a week for months, but now this week was startled to see the slate-gray walls emblazoned in sloppy white paint with a single large stenciled character Chai 拆, marking the building for scheduled demolition.
In theory, all of the people forcibly evicted by this type of demolition job are compensated with the money to buy an apartment among the many low-cost housing projects farther from the center of the city. My understanding, though, is that few receive what can really be described as fair compensation–even if the monetary compensation is enough to buy a new apartment, people are uprooted from their livelihoods and offered little assistance in finding new ones.
On a less depressing note, several weeks ago, also on the way to tutor English, I for the first time saw a man swimming in the brown-brackish canal along the canal that runs parallel to Xizhimen North street 西直门大街. I’m still trying to figure out why anyone would want to swim in that water and felt like I just had to share.