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Another piece of the past


 empty room – 水井坊 Shuijingfang District

Another slice of the historic 水井坊 Shuijingfang district of Chengdu is about to be relegated to oblivion, pushed like yesterday’s trash into the dustbin of memory, where most of the city’s past already lies.

The modern tourist/shopping complex that’s pushing the single-family dwellings and old lanes aside is actually quite attractive – stark, minimalist, faced with warm stone, its angles catching the sun (when it shines). How much better it would be, though, if there were a context in which to view all this modernity – not just springing fully-formed from the ground, glittering and new, but growing naturally from a sense of continuity. The contrast of old and new is not to be, however: in the high-speed, winner-take-all, opportunistic and predatory economy known as “modernization,” high land value and potential profits sweep aside all claims for historical continuity.

Something drew me to this area last weekend, just after visiting the DaCiSi temple area where one of my favorite old lanes had just disappeared. The narrow lane that snakes along close to the Funan River, one side of which has been marked by high construction walls for some time, was now sporting a series of red banners and eviction notices for local residents. There were several photographers in evidence, capturing the details of this ages-old enclave before it is leveled.

High-contrast: new buildings are actually projecting over the ancient space of the old lane. There was a platoon of young men with official-looking ID badges around their necks, cheerfully supervising the moving-out process.

Three arches: the woman who lives at the end of this lane began chatting to me, while pointing at the towering Shangri-La Hotel just behind, making it clear that her home would soon be part of a new development. Through the brick arch on the right, I visited an abandoned home。

Looking like its inhabitants had just stepped out, leaving the art prints on the walls and the dusty furniture, the rooms had an empty and melancholy feel. To the right was a bedroom, a canopy bed with its sheets in disarray looking like someone had just gotten up. The room looks small, but is two stories high, with lightweight plaster walls between timber framing.