Castles in the Air

“This used to be the village I visited every summer,” said one of my coworkers, glancing at the concrete road spotted with orange-suited construction workers from Sichuan.

Now he comes here every day, though the place has metamorphosed from a village to a software park. These parks dot the twenty kilometers of highway between Dalian and the smaller town of Lushun, where software companies’ names are carved in large shrub characters on the hillsides.

The buildings themselves are amalgams of eighteenth-century European sensibilities and modern materials – one company building has concrete turrets, and a housing project named Provence has fountains and an enormous parking lot. These are outsourcing castles – they house huge numbers of software engineers who work cheaply for large, often foreign, computer companies.

Outsourcers they may be, but this is meant to be more than a grim industrial park. The particular spot this man and I were in is being developed as a complex with a park, villas, and office space. These kinds of developments are an attempt to shape China’s rapid urbanization into something innovative and, hopefully, beautiful.

Portraits of Deng Xiaoping, the man who opened the door to capitalism, grace the reception centre. The villas across the street, with blue-and-white construction worker shanties beside them, fulfil Deng’s prediction that some would get rich first in the new China.

No one, however, actually lives here yet, and the question over whether people will actually make this place their home is doubtful. Despite plenty of crowing in English-language media about China’s imminent bust, no one I have met in Dalian agrees that the real estate market is in trouble. My roommates, colleagues, bosses, all look to real estate as a safe investment and an ideal place to make their careers. This may be boom-time complacency, but many people I speak to tell me that they have been reassured by recent government regulations that discourage speculation – as of this year, people will only be permitted to own three separate residences. In any case there is plenty of this particular investment to be had here in the software park valley.

So even though 90% of the new villas have been purchased, whether this will remain an investment ghost town or a real-life village is anyone’s guess.


2 thoughts on “Castles in the Air

  1. I love this blog!! You are definitely bringing China to life for me, and I’m already looking forward to my visit later on this year (as long as you don’t make me eat bugs on sticks!). xo L

    • I was at dinner the other day and a plate of cicadas appeared at the table (a gift from the restaurant owner).
      The foreigners at the table saw this as a test of our Chineseness and immediately ate the bugs…in case you were wondering they were not delicious…
      However the Chinese people at our table felt no such pressure and absolutely refused to try them. From then on I have felt no pressure to eat bugs. Thank goodness.

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