Zhanjiang is in the midst of a Five Year Economic Development Zone makeover. Last year it was given FYEDZ status and big changes have been happening. The big picture projects are centered around a major expansion of the port. It is a very underutilized deep water port which is the closest port China has to all points south, including the Middle East. This means oil. The refining capacity is being increased. Rail lines are coming, including high speed trains. There is a new airport in the works. Buildings are going up at a dizzying pace. Lots of money is being poured into the place, much of it actually going into projects after satisfying the greed of those who control the projects. Schools are being built. Roads are being improved. Bus and ferry stations are being replaced. This is pretty impressive stuff.
There is also a big effort to improve Zhanjiang's image. Zhanjiang has no image, per se. It is an unknown backwater of 7 million souls. Most people here are just a generation or two removed from rural life. It is kind of a mega village. The people are mostly what the urbanites here snidely refer to as "countryside people". They litter, they spit, they pee in the bushes. In general they are lacking in social graces. Many are small entrepreneurs. They have fruit carts. They sell vegetables on tarps on the sidewalks. They run businesses out or closet sized shops that spill out onto the sidewalks. They have unlicensed cafes that spill out onto the sidewalks. The sidewalks are crowded, with wares, tables, stinky tofu stands, meat, produce, motorbikes, and people. It has its charms, and is a centuries old tradition here.
The people in charge of Zhanjiang's new image are changing all this. Early this year, trash bins went up on my street about every 20 meters or so. A couple of months ago, our favorite barbecue place, an awesome enterprise that was rolled out across the street every night, was shut down. Then businesses started closing--unlicensed, I suppose. Then all the food stands, fruit carts, and street vendors disappeared. All the retailers that used to spill out onto the sidewalks have all their wares crammed into their too small shops. These shops were for all practical purposes, night storage places. Even the old guys who used to set up their card tables and play cards on the sidewalks are gone. Sidewalks are clear and walking is a cinch. It's boring, and it has ruined the livelihoods of countless people. Some economic plan!