Nanjing forges ahead
For several years when compared to the modernisation of other cities, very little ever seemed to change in Nanjing. But suddenly, in spring 2006, several major projects had been completed, which were not apparent when I was last there in autumn 2004. The first main stretch of the underground railway from one end of the city to the other is now up and running. The trains work like dirigible tubes, without any obvious compartments, so that access is quick and easy. The tickets are replaced by tokens which operate by touch and which are kept by the machines at the exits. At Xin Jie Kou in the centre of Nanjing, one exit to the underground comes right up into the middle of a major superstore.
Nanjing like several other major cities has its own Olympic stadium, which has just been completed. The idea is to allow some overspill from the main games in Beijing, but also to take the sports facilities in China to a new level. It is all tasteful, practical and modern and also allows for a wide range of sporting activities.
Just as suddenly, after seeming to have been forgotten after the major fire of about eight years ago, the main railway station has also been completed in record time. It is in the style of a modern airport. And are the porters' barrows really gold-plated as they seem to be? Gone is the hit and miss queuing system for taxis. It as been replaced by an efficient, organised one where waiting is minimal.
In a previous article, 'Nanjing in Autumn', I mentioned the delights of the 'Heart of Yangtse Island'. Even in such a place, seemingly stuck in the past, there have been improvements rather than large-scale modernisation. The ramshackle planks connecting houses over the drainage channels to the roads are being replaced by tasteful concrete and stone bridges. Major work is underway on the water purification system causing numerous temporary diversions. The island also boasts its 'first hotel-the Xin Jiang'. Now that a new ferry terminal bus station has been completed on the mainland, commuting to and from the island is feasible because the journey to central Nanjing only takes about half an hour.
Open-air stage at the Eastern Park, Nanjing
The island is very fertile and productive producing vegetables and grapes for wine-making. The people are most friendly and helpful. Every ferry is loaded with three-wheeled bicycles and barrows taking produce directly to the markets of Nanjing. It is entertaining to watch the riders race down the ferry ramp to get up enough speed to go up the steep incline from the ferry and to see how they help each other.
In the previous article, I mentioned the shantytowns and no-go areas that flanked the shore parallel to the island. In less than eighteen months. These have all gone and have been replaced by an eight-lane highway. The riverbank is being converted into parks and gardens. Large high-rise buildings are springing up in this area. Just across the new highway, a new and unusual park is being created.
The Chinese proudly boast how their ships navigated the globe before Columbus; their archaeologists have unearthed the original yards here, where these 'treasure ships with billows' were built. Curiously the main early navigator was not Chinese but a Muslim from the coast of India. His other journeys are documented here. The yards consisted of three long basins, dug out, so that they could be flooded to allow the ships into the river. At this point they would have been shielded from the strong currents on the main river by the island.
The park takes the form of a museum and gardens with exhibits and model ships in the main buildings. There are working lock gates in the Jiangsu style. A video display tells of the history and development of these yards. There are bronze statues showing the labours of original skilled workers in the yards, all set in carefully designed gardens which have unusual paving in the form of sea shells and also patios engraved with sketches of the old ships. The city authorities have been quietly working to improve the infrastructure for several years to allow these new projects to come to fruition so quickly.
© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2006, reprinted from SACU's China Eye magazine Issue 11, 2006
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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