Fourth of July is all about BBQ’s, blistering heat, and fireworks. When you’re in China, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.
Like Alex mentioned, Jerry very kindly offered to take us out for dinner to celebrate our national holiday. Let’s just say the Obama’s are a talented family-his half brother’s BBQ was incredible! Jerry and his wife Nancy took us out with another married CAUPD couple (apparently love blooms over Comprehensive Plans). Between the 6 of us there was enough food to feed the Continental Congress (rimshot!). Grilled oysters, chicken liver, green onions, potato, fish, lamb, eggplant, and a host of other grilled items I either couldn’t identify or can’t remember in my current food coma.
Beyond the food, the conversation quickly turned to planning topics-starting with the location we were eating in. Shenzhen is a young city, but that doesn’t mean the city hasn’t seen its share of transition. Early on (read: 1980’s) this area was a resort community & amusement park for visiting Hong Kong residents. Shenzhen is a city with a lot of kitsch and the Honey Lake/Xiangmihu area is no exception. A huge castle, an “original copy” of ancient Chinese architecture, and an (inoperable) roller coaster over the lake are still defining characteristics of this area.
When the area fell on hard times, pieces of the resort were sold off and turned into gravel parking lots and used car dealerships. Slowly as the area around Xiangmihu grew, the old resort started seeing a number of temporary uses crop up . Most being little restaurants on short term leases filling in the spaces along the “old” castle wall, or turning parking lots into outdoor seating for restaurants.
Today this area feels like a full blown food festival busting at the seams. It was full of folks getting together with friends and colleagues over dinner in these temporary restaurants, enjoying the time of day when it was finally comfortable to sit outside. Jerry mentioned that sometime soon the area will need to have a plan for redevelopment-the land is centrally located and might be seen as too valuable to continue on with some temporary uses and car lots. However, its centrality and prominence within the city make it an important place for residents and so he thought that any plan that came along would be a challenging one to craft.
It’s wonderful to be able to get tidbits of a young city’s history from the residents themselves. This is a city in transition and I sense it is working to find ways to incorporate a shared Chinese culture while maintaining the distinct elements all the “immigrants” coming to live, work, and build Shenzhen bring with them. Food seems to be one important way of holding onto these cultural identities. For all it’s oddities and eccentricities I hope some of the kitsch remains behind and elements of this uniquely Shenzhen space live on in any future planning effort. Shenzhen has more than it’s share of air-conditioned malls, food courts, and international bar streets, while this area feels like a place locals can go and enjoy a smorgasbord of food from all corners of China…and the BBQ of a U.S./Kenya citizen.
Mark Obama Ndesandjo, owner of Cabin BBQ, wrote a nice little piece about Shenzhen culture and development here.