Long Wang Miao Zheng Jie (龙王庙正街) | Gengjia Alley (耿家巷) | Qiujia Temple (邱家祠堂)
The houses at Long Wang Miao Zheng Jie. Photo by Michal Pachniewski.
When plans to turn Shujingfang into a new/old street were announced, a hush settled over the central city: The Last Old Street would soon be gone.
Shuijingfang might be older, but it wasn't the last. Those who have a penchant for hanging (or residing) around the Xinnanmen Bus Station knew: cross the street and head down Wangjiaba, and you'll stumble into a collection of shanty houses.
Less than a block south of the bustling Chunxi Lu pedestrian street, a block east of shopping center Yanshi Kou, and a block west of what will soon be the city's financial center, the buildings' most striking feature is their location. One stunned reporter called the area a "time warp."
The cluster of houses are on Long Wang Miao Zheng Jie, enclosed in narrow, concrete-walled alleys on a small plot of land bordered on one side by the Hongxing Lu thoroughfare and an alley lined with meat, vegetable, and tofu stands on another. All around it, contemporary city life runs on—chain stores ringing up goods, honking cabs rushing through the streets, modern hotpot restaurants boiling vats of oil. The area is full of wet markets, fruit vendors, and snack shops. Old-timers hang out, smoking, drinking, and chatting.
Around 200 households exist in the courtyard.
Residents recall a time when their view wasn't blocked by towering new apartment buildings or construction projects, when they could wash their clothes in the river among the carp that swam there, among willows gently swaying in the breeze. A temple that had been constructed in the 16th century gave the area its name—the Dragon King Temple. But in the last century, the temple was destroyed to make space for air-raid tunnels; the river was blocked, the willows felled.
They mourn the loss of past times; nor have they been able to reap the benefits of the development that has been going on all around their corner of the city, stopping always, it seems, at their doorstep.
Inside the buildings, the paint-covered wood is rotting. Water drips through leaks in the wood, constantly tapping into a bowl and in worst cases flooding the homes. Some of the dwellings are a mere 20 square meters, with kitchens crammed into passageways, and shared toilets a good walk away. Other households, lacking cooking facilities inside their rooms, cook right in the courtyard.
Private plumbing wasn't common when these buildings were constructed, so they made do with a shared toilet and common drainage pipes that were never upgraded.
Like many of her neighbors, 79-year-old Liu Shunhua was born here and never once moved homes. "When my daughter was young, I heard they were going to reconstruct this area. Now she's over 40 years old, and nothing's changed," she told a reporter before pointing to the wardrobe in her room. "Look, I even have to put an umbrella over my closet so that the rain water doesn't get in."
She didn't get any sleep this Spring Festival because she was terrified a stray firework would set her house on fire.
Area representative Chen Jiequan was startled by the existence of the alley when he first saw it. "I never imagined there'd be such buildings in the city center," he said. For the past three years, he's raised the issue of reconstructing the buildings in the area during the People's Congress, seeking funding for reconstruction projects in the area.
But no company wanted the undertaking, citing high construction costs and low return on investment.
Eventually, the residents decided to organize themselves, dividing funding costs among themselves and electing a committee of nine people to conduct surveys, do research, and make decisions. Notices were posted on the walls stating that the environment and all facilities therein were not fit for living in and that if 90 percent of residents approved, relocation and reconstruction would go ahead.
Suddenly, sentimental reports about the area started appearing in local newspapers. The stories recounted residents' memories of decades past and described in great detail the design minutiae of the structures. Once an ignored pocket of old, decrepit buildings in the city center, Long Wang Miao abruptly became the focus of countless camera lenses.
Nobody wanted to see the buildings simply razed; then again, nobody wants to live in them, either.
How could the area be updated but its heritage still preserved? At one point, linking the area, or even relocating buildings, to the nearby Daci Historical Preservation Area, was considered. Nobody wanted to see the green-tile-roof brick and bamboo buildings disappear, much less the Qiujia Temple, the city center's last standing ancestral hall and the most famous building in the courtyard.
An old courtyard on Long Wang Miao Zheng Jie. Photo by Michal Pachniewski.
Built nearly a century-and-a-half ago, its decorative jet-black wooden pillars, elaborately carved window lattices, green roof tiles, and limestone paving set it apart from the other shanty houses in the neighborhood. In years past, it would be a bustling center of activity on Tomb-Sweeping Day, the go-to place for those remembering deceased ancestors.
But those days are over, and much of the area's intangible history is already lost. Even the descendants of Qiu Zongcheng are not very clear about their family's past. Qiu was part of a Hakka clan who moved from Fujian to Sichuan during the reign of the second Qing Dynasty emperor Kang Xi. Four of his children constructed the ancestral hall and remained in Sichuan, moving to nearby cities. But today, only two of the people living at Long Wang Miao bear the Qiu surname.
For now, the committee is still discussing and deciding how to proceed on the reconstruction project. One resident who was interviewed said that she hoped the street's traditional charm and leisurely ambience would be kept intact—so that the area would represent Chengdu "even more than Kuanzhai Alley does."
Lan Kwai Fong | Hong Kong's Place to Be Seen Comes to Chengdu
Lan Kwai Fong glows pink in front of the Shangri-la Hotel towers at night. Photo by Michal Pachniewski.
One of the most anticipated openings in recent years (its five-month delay only added to the suspense), Lan Kwai Fong's soft opening saw a turnout of confused city residents tottering around a mostly-empty shopping center in search of free food or drinks—or even something to simply see. In Hong Kong, Lan Kwai Fong has long been known as the place to be at night. The city's hip party-goers and visitors assemble there for dining, wining, and dancing into the wee hours of the night. So it was with some excitement that Chengdu received the news that it would be home to the second Lan Kwai Fong, right next to the Shangri-la. Well. That location, with its proximity to residential areas, virtually guarantees there won't be a whole lot of partying going on, unless it's of the very quiet variety, and, between the huge build-up, the huge queue that seemed to serve the sole purpose of shrouding the event in exclusivity, and the huge, ugly building that stands empty save for a Starbucks (woohoo) and a restaurant so non-noteworthy we don't remember anything about it, the Lan Kwai Fong soft opening was a total flop in our minds. Combine all that with the totally childish welcome speech in which Allan Zeman, the 61-year-old entrepreneurial whiz behind the LKF brand, asked his "friends" to come on stage and then chanted "kiss, kiss, kiss" until Hong Kong pop starlet Coco Lee gave a most grudging peck on the cheek to the chubby, middle-aged white guy standing next to her, at which point sparklers burst and rained confetti on all the guests, and we were out of there.
The Panda Mall | One Word: Huge
The Panda Mall. Photo by Dan Sandoval.
There's not much about Chengdu that's stunningly huge. Yet. But just wait for the Panda Mall's arrival. A slow-moving giant, the project was launched in 1993, and a skeleton of a building has been sitting on the site, just north of the Chengdu Stadium, for years upon years. But now things are moving, and when it's completed, the Panda Mall promises to be the biggest mall in western China and one of the country's 10 largest shopping areas. We can't even begin to describe it, so here's a delightful sentence from their promotional materials (italics ours): "As a multi-purpose, all-function shopping mall, Panda Mall undertakes not a pure shopping paradise role, but it is even more a real mall for consumption, letting consumers indulge in shopping pleasure... ." If that doesn't give you enough of an idea, perhaps we can let the numbers speak for themselves: 2,000 car parking spaces | 20,000 bicycle parking spaces | 143 elevators | 300,000 square meters in the first phase of construction | 200,000 additional square meters in the second phase | 14,000 projected number of chain stores housed inside | 40,000 department stores | 20,000 entertainment venues | 300,000 daily customer capacity
Well, it might be dwarfed by the Dubai Mall, the Philippines' SM Megamall, and certainly Dongguan's South China Mall, but it should still be big enough to sell the essentials for life in Chengdu. For more: click here
North Industrial-Turned-Art Spaces
Former factory building in the northeast. Phto by Leo Chen.
The area around the Industrial Museum (Jianshe Lu, off the Second Ring Road in the city's northeast) is another area that property developers have focused on. With the SM Mall, Ito Yokado, and a number of other high-end retail and residential complexes springing up in the past few years, the region is well on the path to becoming a fully blown commercial hub. But alongside the shopping comes culture, as well, in the form of art and creative spaces that are appearing in some of the buildings, including the 733 Space, the 82 Gallery, and the Circle Live Pub.
Text by Jane Voodikon. This article originally appeared in CHENGDOO citylife Magazine, issue 33, "What's Going on in Chengdu."