Thursday, July 12, 2007

Blue metal sheets

The bright blue corrugated metal partitions you could see in that last post are one of the distinctive features of life in Beijing in recent years. Almost every building site is ringed around with them. And there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of major building sites in this city at any one time.

It wasn't always so ubiquitous. I think the first time I saw it was a few years ago, when they demolished my favourite - narrow, slummy, charming - street here (Jiugulou Dajie - Old Drum Tower Avenue, the place where I lived when I first came to Beijing) as part of a massive pre-Olympic road-widening and modernization programme. At first, the piecemeal demolition of the buildings along the street (much of it carried out by the owners themselves, as they meticulously gutted their homes and businesses of any materials of value) went on in full view. Then someone remembered that the Olympic torch was going to pass along this route (I can't now recall why the heck the torch was here 4 years early, but it was), and realised that dozens upon dozens of derelict, "bombed out" houses might not make the right impression on TV. And so, pretty much overnight, the blue metal sheeting sprang up along the entire length of the street.

Trouble was, it still didn't really obscure the view of stark, skeletal, half-ruined dwellings behind them - some of which were two or three storeys tall (the hutongs are traditionally built on a single storey, but some slightly more modern dwellings had become interspersed with them). So, along much of the street, another layer of metal sheets was added, to double the height of the screen. This was slightly more effective.

The stark blue-painted metal, though, was still rather ugly, rather conspicuous - rather too obviously hinting at the desolation it was attempting to conceal. So...... on the evening before the torch came through, hundreds of workers showed up to paint the metal wall the same unobtrusive pale gray colour as the surrounding hutongs.

It may just have worked. I didn't see the TV coverage, but I imagine that if the cameras focused tightly on the runner carrying the torch, the background would have just been a continuous blur anyway..... and doubtless there were large, well-marshalled crowds lining the route..... so, three-quarters of a mile of continuous metal wall may have gone unnoticed.

This little anecdote sums up the good & bad of China for me, especially in regard to the government. Foresight: next to zero. Instinct to always opt for the cheapest, crappiest, most short-term 'fix' for any problem: overwhelming. Ability to get things done on impossibly short timeframes: quite frightening. Last-minute-ism: a way of life.

5 comments:

Tulsa said...

Now that is a cool china observation.

Mary said...
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Mary said...
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Mary said...

That's really cool.But I thought trouble was, it still didn't really obscure the view of stark, skeletal, half-ruined dwellings behind them - some of which were two or three storeys tall (the hutongs are traditionally built on a single storey, but some slightly more modern dwellings had become interspersed with them).

Perforated metal sheets

Froog said...

Wow! Corrugated metal sheeting SPAM!!

At least 'Mary' had the decency to delete her earlier "just leave a link" contributions and came back to write a comment.

It's a funny old world!