Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Great Wall of China

No, I'm not talking about one of the 7 wonders of the world, but it's still a wonder to me.

Allow me to explain.
The West gate of my university leads to a small street, on both sides of which, there are shops and little restaurants. The Chinese called in "Snack street" while we Indians prefer the name "Food market". It really does have a strong market feel to it especially during rush hour when the street is basically clogged with students of all shapes and sizes.
Yesterday, a friend and I decided to have an early dinner and walked to the West gate. Instead of the familiar worn out iron gate, we saw a new, fresh brick wall! Once we managed to fix our gaping jaws back in place, we tried staring at the small Chinese notice board in front of the wall hoping that some part of this mystery might be solved. Neither of us were too knowledgeable in the area of Chinese reading comprehension and so I was really glad when my Chinese friend Johnson showed up. He told us that the University had decided that the food market was too dirty for the students. We wanted to find out more and so Johnson took us on his bike out through the North gate, around the campus and dropped us off at the other end of snack street.
We talked to some people and this is what we found out.
All shops along the street had been ordered to pack up and leave by the 20th of April. [They had three weeks notice] To make sure they did, the student access to the place had been blocked off by a neat wall on the 14th. The street was going to be "beautified" and "developed" with new shops coming up and would reopen on 30th June. The present rent they had to pay for putting up their food shacks was 400 yuan. They had no idea how much the new rent would be. Even other establishments not in the immediate path of this "beautification" were considering closing down for 3 months because the wall would restrict student access. Half the shops have already closed down while the others are waiting to see how many people would still take the trouble to visit snack street in the post-wall era.

Again, there are many things I learned from this.
One, the Chinese are fast builders. That wall just took one afternoon to build. I can already imagine how some Chinese student had gone down to one of the Internet cafes by snack street in the morning and when he came back that evening he found a tall wall blocking his path. Talk about rapidly changing skylines...
Two, China can never fail to surprise me. I come from a place where anything can trigger strikes. People just take to the streets, create a scene and we students get holidays. The only laws passed without much trouble are the ones supporting salary hikes. No one can take anything away from you unless you let them. And even then, there are others who can't stand it. I know there is a lot lacking in that situation and there are quite a lot of problems, but it's a crazy free world. And in no way can I understand the blind subservient obedience of these people! They probably run whole families with that one shop and now they they cannot run their little shops for 3 months with no idea about what will happen after that. Yes I can see the development. There will be new beautiful shops with licenses, things will be cleaner and look a lot better... no wonder China is developing so quickly. They don't care who they have to step on. Why should they? The person being stepped on doesn't care either.

Or maybe they cannot do anything even if they cared.

Or maybe I just cannot understand because I'm an Indian.

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