Foreign travellers and expats in China become quickly familiar with three things : rubbles, signs of fast-pace transformation and the unexpected.
The first time I arrived in Jianshui (建水), the main city of southern Yunnan’s Honghe prefecture (红河州), I did not expect to discover a beautiful ancient town – a bustling, busy and noisy neighbourhood hidden behind the soulless concrete buildings and newly built large avenues.
On a more recent trip to Jianshui, on the main avenue leading to the Chaoyang Gate (朝阳楼), which marks the entrance to the old town, I saw something that has become a very familiar sight in China : a hastily built brick wall covered with billboards depicting 3-D images of the urban re-development.
Whether the people I photographed passing in front of these billboards would be able to afford housing in the new urban re-development is another story. I do have doubts.
Beyond these walls, I found a very predictable landscape : a pile of rubble, and a few ‘nail-houses’ or 钉子户 in Chinese – a new idiom in the Chinese language that describe these homeowners who refuse to leave in front of the scheduled demolition of their neighbourhood, mainly because they refuse the financial compensation (usually deemed to low) from the property developers.
Parts of the development around the Xiao Gui lake (小桂湖) near the Chaoyang gate was already complete. From across the lake, it appeared to me as a colourful, Disneyland-ish and unreal commercial area built for a movie set.
This new under-construction part of Jianshui looked disconnected with the reality of the old streets.