Sunday, 17 December 2017

The Effects of Pushing out "Low-End Population"

Migrant workers gathering their things and getting ready to leave Beijing
Last night I met up with a friend from Beijing who's visiting Hong Kong and we caught up since we last met up.

I asked him about the evictions of the migrant workers and he shook his head, sad at the turn of events.

Following a fire in Beijing's Daxing district that killed 19 people, the local government has used the tragedy as an excuse to get rid of the "low-end population", though this campaign has been happening for the past year.

Parts of Sanlitun have been completely demolished
When I was in Beijing in April, the back streets of Sanlitun, where many expats hung out and used to buy cheap DVDs, or have manicures and pedicures, massages and buy cheap clothing and food, were being torn down.

"Beijingers are happy the streets are cleaned up and feel that the city is now becoming more international like London and New York," my friend said, adding he didn't like Beijing anymore because these colourful aspects of the city were now fast disappearing.

In other words, Beijing is gentrifying.

He told me about a small restaurant across the street from where he lived. It wasn't really a restaurant -- a kind of shack -- where they sold all kinds of food, from jianbing or a savoury pancake, to fried chicken wings, noodles and char-grilled lamb skewers called chuar.

It was run by a bunch of young guys from Henan. While my friend described them as a bit on the tough side, perhaps dealing in things other than food, they were nice people, who he got to know as acquaintances. He'd stop by after work for a beer, or pick up a snack for his wife to bring back home, and have a quick friendly chat. They were also open until 5am.

But now they were gone and he didn't know where they went. More importantly he didn't know where to get his snacks and drinks now.

Some people are hardly given much notice to leave
The small cigarette and liquor shops that supposedly sold items that were collected by senior government officials as "gifts" and sold for cheap are also gone. The last time I was there, the closet-sized sex shops had also disappeared.

Not all expats have the same view as my friend who is from the UK and has lived in Beijing for many years. These foreigners like seeing migrant workers gone and the streets are now cleaner, or getting rid of businesses that didn't fit in the neighbourhood, like the aforementioned shack selling food and perhaps were noisy late into the night.

Nevertheless these were businesses that were convenient, cheap and useful for many residents, and what are left behind are empty stalls, or areas that have been completely demolished, leaving no trace of their previous existence.

However my friend has the last laugh -- expats are complaining it's hard to find an ayi (a maid) these days. Gee, I wonder why?

He says his ayi may leave next year if she too is pressured, but doesn't know where to go. She doesn't want to go back to Anhui province, and do what? She has lived in Beijing for over a decade and makes good money cleaning people's flats.

The Beijing government may think it's doing a good thing getting rid of the "low-end population", but really it's shooting itself in the foot. These migrant workers keep the city going. They were the ones who built all the new buildings and infrastructure, but you deny their children education because they don't have hukou or a residence permit, and now you force them to leave because you consider them an eyesore?

How is that equality in the so-called socialist People's Republic of China?

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