Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alas, poor Wudaoying!

We appear to be going through a particularly severe, over-the-top phase of pavement relaying here in Beijing. Sidewalks all over town have been partly or wholly ripped up, particularly in the Sanlitun bar district, making it irksome to travel far on foot. And, as happened at the outset of the global financial crisis 4 years ago, this work seems to be proceeding agonisingly slowly, has perhaps been abandoned for a while in midstream. It is especially galling that in so many places the workmen have laid out rows of loose bricks on the sand, presumably in preparation for the next phase of laying pavement; these are irregularly spaced and often very wobbly - an appalling trip-and-fall hazard. It's better to avoid these stretches of dug-up sidewalk altogether, and just take your chances walking in the road.

However, Sanlitun's got it easy compared to poor old Wudaoying Hutong at the moment. I hadn't visited this up-and-coming little bar-and-restaurant strip since I got back to Beijing a month ago, so was going to take a stroll along it to see what was new on my way into Sanlitun yesterday. I was soon forced back by all the half-arsed "construction" that is currently rendering the west end of the street completely impassable. I walked along the 2nd Ringroad instead, and checked out the eastern entrance to the street off Yonghegong Dajie: that was blocked as well. The works, whatever they are, seem to stretch along the entire length of this narrow street.

But it's really not at all clear what work is supposed to be under way. There are lots of bricks, lots of sand, and lots of workmen, arranged in clumps or piles or stacks all along the street; but no obvious productive activity. There are no signs I could see that the road is being resurfaced, or that walls are being rebuilt, or whatever. All that seems to have happened is that lots of sand - and, intermittently, lots of water - has been spread over every square inch of the road surface, reducing it to a muddy mess. Of course, this is discouraging any foot traffic. But the ubiquity of the piles of building materials, and the numerous wheelbarrows and sand-sieves and so on ranged along the street, and the gaggles of workmen mooching about doing nothing in the middle of the road, make the street equally unappealing for the attempted passage of motor vehicles. Businesses down there must have almost zero custom at the moment.

One might almost suspect that it's just a 'protection' scam by someone in the local government: an unnecessary and endlessly protracted "road improvement" scheme kills all the local tenants' business; hints are then dropped that a "community contribution", a "voluntary payment" to the "civic maintenance" fund may help to bring these works to a speedier conclusion. In China, this is all too plausible a possibility.

I can't imagine what else it could be!

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