Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beyond the Fourth

Last night I went to an NFL promotional event in a big new expat bar far out on the east side of town. I mean far out. Beyond the 4th Ringroad. I find it difficult to conceive of such a thing.

I remember heading out along that road at the end of my first year here, going to a hotpot restaurant out in the sticks that was owned by the parents of one of my students: once we got beyond Chaoyang Park, it was pretty much all open countryside. Now, it is all gleaming new tower blocks.

When I arrived here in 2002, the 5th Ringroad was still under construction. Apart from in the University district to the north-west, built-up areas were sparse outside the 4th Ringroad, and there were still even a few undeveloped patches of land here and there between the 3rd and 4th Rings. Now, there is uninterrupted conurbation well beyond the 4th, and, in most quadrants, beyond the 5th as well. I am told that the 6th Ringroad (unimaginably far from the centre) is now completed, or very nearly so; and plans are already afoot for a 7th, and perhaps an 8th. The population of the city has been growing at around 500,000 a year every year since I got here (and that's the official figure, which might be a little on the conservative side), which means something like a 40% increase in total over that period. The expat population is essentially uncountable, but I would guess that it has at least trebled. The effective geographical extent of the city has, I would say, approximately doubled in just over 5 years.

Mind-blowing! The pace of change here baffles the comprehension, leaves us reeling.

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