Friday, December 04, 2009

There goes the neighbourhood.... 1), 2), 3) and 4)

It seems there's never any good news from Nanluoguxiang. Since this little street (barely 15 minutes' walk away from where I live) is home to a number of my favourite bars and restaurants, suggestions of imminent disruption and change are most unwelcome to me. But that's all we ever seem to get.

1) Well, the emergence of Nanluoguxiang in its present form was itself a kind of cultural vandalism, and not something I felt very comfortable with at first. As the street got prettied up over the last three or four years, and progressively taken over by coffee shops and boutiques, almost all the old traditional businesses (the impressively dilapidated tofu factory in the middle of the street is the last survivor, I think), xiaomaibu and hole-in-the-wall restaurants were driven away. We lost our Kebab Queen, a favourite Muslim hangout; and many more besides. However, now that we've got used to the transformation, we're starting to feel a certain affection for the place again. The widening and repaving of the street has given it an appealing atmosphere, ideal for summer evening strolls (if only they would properly pedestrianize it, that is!). And amongst the crop of new bars to open down there are two of my great favourites, Salud and 12 Square Metres.

2) Then they decided to build a new subway station down at the south end of the street. Most of the bottom block has been demolished, not just on NLG itself, but all along Dianmen Dongdajie, to facilitate the construction of a new east-west line. So, we face two years or so of dust, noise and eyesore. And then a further massive influx of yuppies and tourists (as if we don't have enough already!!). At present, the construction site stops just short of my dear 12 Square Metres (making it the first bar on the street, if you're coming up from the Qing gate at the southern end). However, there are worrying rumours that the original plans for the subway station are being expanded and that the next block north might go as well. (I haven't seen the 'latest' version of the projected Beijing subway map; the planners seem to change their minds every few months, and a number of radically different maps are in circulation on the Internet. However, one rumour I've heard is that Nanluoguxiang South is going to be a double station, with two new lines intersecting there. If that's so, it almost certainly will displace 12 Square Metres. And you'd think that, logically [not that logic ever seems to have much to do with the way they do things in China!] the other new line would run more-or-less north-south - which might wipe out, or at least cause serious disruption to, a large part of the street and/or its surrounding hutongs.)

3) Two or three months ago I was walking down Nanluoguxiang from the north end (where I live) towards 12 Square Metres and was shocked to discover yet more demolition in progress at the bottom of the street. For a heart-stopping moment I thought that the threatened expansion of the subway station works was going ahead, and that my best beloved bar had been chai'd with no notice at all. In fact, it was just the landlord of the restaurant next door hatching a half-baked scheme to rebuild his property with a second storey to try to earn a higher rent. He probably did this without permission, and work on the proposed new structure seems to have been suspended. Being sandwiched between two piles of rubble doesn't exactly enhance the appeal of my favourite bar (unless you go for that Sarajevo chic; some people do, I suppose); but we soldier on as best we can.

4) And now, the worst news of all: according to a worrying article in the English-language state newspaper China Daily last week, the dingbats in the local government who "manage" the Nanluoguxiang area are dissatisfied with the area's development and have conceived a brand new plan for it. (Almost everyone else seems very happy with the way things are now: landlords are making out like bandits; proprietors of businesses are mostly making enough money to satisfy their bandit landlords; and the area has become a prime destination for both tourists and locals. But, like I said, these CCP goons who run the show are complete dingbats. Or, as my good friend The British Cowboy would have it, assclowns.)

This plan involves limiting the number of bars and restaurants ("Because fun is BAD, m'kay??"), trying to flush the small, "family-run" businesses out of the area (because these guys don't make any real money; or, more to the point, they don't pay very much tax!), and ploughing a supposed 13,000,000 RMB into redeveloping the place as a "culture-themed" street. I suppose they envision something like Shanghai's tackily fake-Imperial nightlife zone, Xintiandi. And I'm quite sure that at least half of that 13 million will wind up in the pockets of the arseholes who dreamt this scheme up.

There goes the neighbourhood, indeed.

If the China Daily piece can be believed, this 'master plan' is supposed to come to fruition by 2011 - which presumably means that the purging of the street as we know it now will begin some time next year. Unless someone has the sense to quash this ludicrous proposal (and you figure, once it's been trumpeted in the state-run media, it's got the green light), we could be living through the last few months of Nanluoguxiang as we know it.

Depressing times.

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