Playing the Waiting Game
|The indelible mark of change
Xu, a young-looking 55 year old, was wearing a smart red coat with matching mittens. She greeted me with a cheery hello,
as if she knew me. After checking behind me to make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else, I responded equally
warmly. “Are you cold?” she asked. “Only my legs,” I replied.
“Do you live around here?” I asked.
“All my life; and my parents before me; and my grandparents before them.”
After a spot of mental arithmetic, I worked out that Ms Xu’s family had been here for at least a hundred years.
“This place will soon be gone, so make sure you take lots of photos,”
she said, glancing at the white-painted chai character behind her, which was ringed by a thick
white circle for emphasis. Chai, meaning “demolish”, was painted
on every building – at least the ones that hadn’t already been hit with a sledgehammer.
“Thanks,” I said, “I will.” “Where
will you go to?”
“No idea,” she said, “Nobody knows.”
you have to move?”
“No idea, nobody knows.”
“In the spring?”
“Perhaps,” she said.
“Before the Olympic games?”
gave this question a little more thought:
|Another "hutong", or lane, marked for demolition
“Probably,” she said, “but it depends.”
“Depends on what?”
“An agreement of course. An agreement
with the authorities. They want us to go soon. But they haven’t told us where we will go, so we haven’t signed anything.”
The scale of the “Catch 22” impasse became clear when she told me that the authorities have told the community
that they can’t tell them where they will go until they have signed something to the effect that they are happy to go.
“How will it be sorted,” I asked.
“We will be happy to go as long as we get an apartment that’s a good size and is not
too far away. And, of course, the cash settlement on top of
that has to be reasonable.”
I asked her how many people would be affected by the move.
“There are more than a thousand people still living here,” she
hope we can all move to the same place, but it’s hard to say if that will be possible.”
“Are you a reporter,” she asked.
“No, I’m not. I’m doing some research for a book I am
planning to write about China; about Chinese young people in particular.”
“Why are you talking to me then,” she joked, revealing a bright white smile.
“Because you look so young, of course!” “Are there many other young people here?”
“Of course, but they are all inside, it’s far too cold today.”
I thanked Ms Xu for her time, and continued walking up the hutong, into the face
of the bitingly cold northerly wind.
|"This place will soon be gone, so make sure you take lots of photos."