Monday, December 30, 2013

Toyota Puts on a Show at a Mall in Changsha

On November 17, I visited the new Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, China. While there, I saw a promotion for the Toyota Vios, which Wikipedia describes as "a four-door subcompact sedan manufactured by Toyota Motor Corporation primarily for emerging markets in the Asia Pacific region". In an article published November 7, reported:
The new Toyota Vios has been launched on the China car market. Price starts at 69.800 yuan and ends at 112.800 yuan. The new Toyota Vios debuted on the Shanghai Auto Show in April, it is the cheapest Toyota branded sedan available on the Chinese auto market, competing head to head with cars like the Volkswagen Jetta and the Citroen C-Elysee...

The new Vios is an important car for Toyota in China. The old Vios was very unpopular because it was considered too small and underpowered compared to the competition. The new Vios is larger than the old one, but the engines seem rather old and underpowered.
Although the content, size, extravagance, etc. vary, I've seen numerous promotions like the one at Kaifu Wanda Plaza elsewhere in China. For now I will refrain commenting about this common form of marketing in China, but to provide an example of how companies are trying to connect with consumers in China and to add some more color to the earlier post about Kaifu Wanda Plaza I will share a few photos and a video of the Vios promotion.

It included a variety of performances. For example, a pair of foreign men with guitars:

two men playing guitar in front of a video display

And four women with modern-looking violins and a string bass:

four women in white dresses playing electric clear violins

There were also enthusiastic emcees, a fashion show, videos, and young women wearing dresses and tiaras (also appearing in the earlier post here) who appeared to mostly stand around and occasionally provide assistance:

three young women wearing dresses

I don't know how many cars sales resulted from the promotion, but at least it drew a crowd:

a performance at a promotion for the Toyota Vios at Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha

For more, below is a video of one performance. I was interested in capturing audience behavior as well, so it's from a distance and not the greatest for fully appreciating the performance. I will not be providing a review of the performance (including commenting on the fog machines) other than to say, like the promotion as a whole, it reminded me of others I have seen in China.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A New Shopping Experience in Changsha

The site of the future Changsha IFS is still a huge pit, but if you're looking for somewhere new (and not cheap) to shop now, about a 15 minute walk away and next to the Xiang River is a site in a very different stage of development. I remember walking through narrow alleys in the area during my first visit to Changsha 4-5 years ago. At the time there were many buildings marked for demolition. Now they are gone, and in their place is Kaifu Wanda Plaza. Its towers appear on the far left side in the night scene I shared here. It opened at the end of September, and according to the developer, Wanda Group:
The plaza is Changsha's most complete and high level urban commercial complex project. The project has a total construction area of 1.03 million square meters and is comprised of a commercial center, a pedestrian promenade, a luxury five star hotel, business hotel, office buildings and luxury residences. Big name brands from China and overseas have been brought in as tenants including Wanda IMAX, Superstar KTV, Gome Electronics, etc. The plaza's design, layout, construction quality and overall environment will ensure it becomes a key shopping destination for the city of Changsha.

The plaza's opening is expected to change Changsha's landscape by upgrading the overall grade of the city as a destination for doing business and for consumers.

Changsha Kaifu Wanda Plaza will bring nearly 10,000 new jobs to the area and provide a steady flow of tax revenue to the local government.
Other tenants I saw when I visited last month included foreign brands such as Adidas Kids, Baskin Robbins, Bose, Calvin Klein, Haagen Daz, Lego, and Nautica. With the exception of an area on the first floor, the main building appeared to be mostly occupied, and on a Monday evening there were lines of people waiting to get a table at many of the restaurants on the top floor. The outdoor "pedestrian promenade" surrounding the main building seems to still be getting up to speed and appeared to be at least half vacant. It will be interesting to see what it's like in another year.

Of course, while there I took a few photos, and I'll share some below. They were taken on a Monday afternoon & evening. To make a comparison with other shopping environments, see last year's post about the MixC--Shenzhen's largest shopping mall--or last month's post about an outdoor antique market.

large screen surrounding entrance to Kaifu Wanda Plaze in Changsha displaying video of a female singer
This front entrance is surrounded by a huge video display.

inside of Kaifu Wanda Plaza in Changsha, China
A view from the 4th floor

A view from the 3rd floor

A water fountain that can spell Chinese characters wraps around the back of a set of elevators.

A large video screen next to another set of elevators

Looking up at Wanda Plaza's towers

Crab hats are part of the fashion for staff at Seahood.

A long line for Tiny Pie

McDonald's staff were entertaining this group of kids.

One of the yet-to-open stores

A movie theater on the 5th floor

A variety of luxury cars are on display, including this Bentley GT V8, at a ground floor store.

One entrance to the outdoor pedestrian street

Still more work to complete before Zoo Coffee opens

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Big Pit in Changsha

When I visited Beizheng Street in Changsha, Hunan province, last month, I saw much had changed from a year ago due to the demolition of numerous buildings. About 10-15 minutes away on foot there is another place where I noticed significant change. Here is a photo of the construction site last year:

Construction site for the Changsha International Financial Square (IFS) in 2012
October, 2012

I wasn't sure what I'd find upon returning last month. Would there be a partially built structure? No, even better, there was a bigger pit.

Construction site for the Changsha International Financial Square (IFS) in 2013 is a much deeper pit
November, 2013

And they were hard at work in the pit, even around midnight.

Construction site for the Changsha International Financial Square (IFS) in 2013 at night
November, 2013

According to a government website, in October the pit reached a depth of 35 meters. It looks like it could serve as an aquarium for whales, but Hong Kong developer Wharf Holdings is instead using the site to build the Changsha International Financial Square (IFS). As described by Wharf Holdings:
Changsha IFS will comprise an iconic 452-metre tower, the tallest landmark in Hunan, and another tower in 315 metres in height atop a retail podium, offering upscale retail, Grade A offices and a five-star sky hotel with a total GFA of 725,000 square metres. It is ideally located in the prime area of Jiefang Road in Furong District and the mega-sized retail podium of 230,000 square metres, larger than the retail malls at Chengdu IFS and Harbour City in Hong Kong, will be among the largest in Changsha and Central China to capture the growing consumption demand in the region. Construction is underway with full completion in 2016.
The validity of the "tallest landmark in Hunan" claim depends on whether Sky City, which has received much more media attention and would be the world's tallest, is ever built. As of August, the developers for Sky City had not secured all the necessary approvals, and I am not aware of any significant change since then. Perhaps the delay is related to the developer's claims it can be built in 90 days (not counting time for prefabrication). The Changsha IFS will take quite a bit longer to build. In the meantime, Wharf Holdings will open the Chongqing IFS in 2015, the Wuxi IFS in 2014, and the Chengdu IFS next month.

Beizheng Street and the Changsha IFS construction site are both examples of how Changsha is undergoing significant change. In a later post, I will share another example that is also within walking distance. However, it differs in that its transformation is nearly complete.

Friday, December 20, 2013

In Memory of Changsha's Beizheng Street

Last month as I walked past and through the remnants of many demolished buildings around Beizheng Street in Changsha, Hunan province, I considered China's large number of forced evictions and the constant change so easily found in its rapidly developing cities. In the previous two posts I shared photos of what I saw around Beizheng Street and made several direct comparisons to what I saw there last year. In many ways, the area was similar to other demolished neighborhoods I have seen in China. But one scene included something remarkable I had not seen before--a creation arising from the rubble itself.

men constructing a reddish brick sculpture while two other men photograph it

For about 10 minutes I watched several people working on the brick sculpture. I then headed off to explore more of the neighborhood knowing I would pass by again before leaving.

When I returned, they were putting on the finishing touches. Boldly standing out was the Chinese word "记忆" (jìyì) which translates to "memory".

men applying a whitish paint to a sculpture of the Chinese word "记忆"

I soon met with several of the artists who created the sculpture.

Chinese artist in glasses with the "记忆" sculpture in the background

two Chinese artists, one holding a camera, with the "记忆" sculpture in the background

While I was there, many people passed by without stopping, but some paused for a few moments to look at the new sight. A few curious schoolgirls took a close look and were invited to be photographed with two of the artists.

two artists and 3 young girls posing for a photo in front of the sculpture of "记忆".

All of the artists had grown up around Beizheng Street and now worked in the advertising industry in Guangzhou, about 8 hours away from Changsha by car. They had returned to build the sculpture, which symbolized all that would be left of the Beizheng Street they had known. When I asked one artist how he now felt looking at his old neighborhood he replied, "Angry."

New structures will rise in the future, but how many of them will retain something of the old Beizheng Street? I imagined the sculpture remaining, maybe in a small park, as one small sign of the past. That's probably just a fantasy though. Like much else which could recently be found at Beizheng Street, the "memory" itself may already only be a memory. The artists guessed it would last for at most 3 weeks, perhaps a fitting existence. Regardless, what matters most is not whether their sculpture remains standing. What matters is that they built it at all.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Three Scenes One Year Ago and Today at Beizheng Street in Changsha

In two posts I shared photos of scenes from last year and of more recent scenes around Changsha's Beizheng Street--a neighborhood long marked for destruction and where one local man told me people had not been compensated enough by the government for their homes. So many buildings have been demolished during the past year that I could have taken photos from the same location this year and last year without noticing it, but there are at least three scenes where I can make a direct comparison.

One scene includes a Padaria New Mario--a bakery store chain with a number of locations in Changsha:

Padaria New Mario at Beizheng Street in Changsha
October, 2012

An empty Padaria New Mario at Beizheng Street in Changsha
November, 2013

Last year the bakery remained open for business. Last month the building was empty except for rubble. Other changes in the scene can be found as well.

On the other side of the street, a building notable for its traditional-style architecture also remained, although part of a row of buildings behind it did not:

traditional style building at Beizheng Street in Changsha
October, 2012

traditional style building at Beizheng Street in Changsha
November, 2013

The clothes hanging on the third level suggest at least part of the building was still in use.

The above comparisons were easy to make since they included recognizable buildings which remained. The same can't be said for the final scene.

While walking around Beizheng Street, I recalled a winding narrow alley where I had chatted with some people last year:

adults watching two boys, one in an electric toy car, in a small alley near Beizheng Street in Changsha
October, 2012

I wondered whether I could find the same location. After relying on my navigation skills and walking through a lot of rubble, I found it:

a narrow alley through the remaining rubble of demolished buildings near Beizheng Street in Changsha
November, 2013

Of all the scenes it stands out the most to me, partly because it touched on a brief personal experience, partly because the change is dramatic, and partly because it implies much more has changed than just buildings.

I don't know whether the people I met there last year ever returned to see what had become of the alley, but I did speak with some other people who returned to see their old neighborhood. And I probably would have never met them had it not been for how they decided to express themselves. I will say and show more about their art in an upcoming post.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Remnants of a Disappearing Neighborhood in Changsha, China

After discussing an increase in forced evictions in China last year, I shared some relevant scenes from a neighborhood:
... around Beizheng Street (北正街) which is close to a popular and rapidly developing shopping district in central Changsha. When I first visited Changsha over 3 years ago I noticed a number of similar buildings in other areas marked for demolition with a red 拆 (chāi) inside a circle. Now, it appears the preferred symbol is a red "征" (zhēng) inside a circle. 拆 roughly means "demolished" and 征 roughly means "acquisition".
Although there were already some emptied or demolished buildings at the time, signs of everyday life could still be found. Here is one of the photos from the earlier post:

two young women walking by food items for sale at Beizheng Street in Changhsa

Several weeks ago I returned to Beizheng Street. Not surprisingly, much had changed in a year. Before, Changsha's local culture could easily be found. Now, many scenes could be easily confused with those of numerous other neighborhoods across China also being demolished.

Below is a set of photos from my recent visit displayed in the order they were taken. Some show remaining buildings, including what in China are called "nail houses"--individual homes left standing alone, often due to residents who don't want to leave or who are holding out for more money. Some show Changsha's newer buildings in the background. Some show people collecting scraps from the demolished buildings. Some show people simply passing through. Some show the decreasing examples of the everyday life of people who still live or work there. Many show the remnants of demolished buildings.

And they all show just a single point in time as the area continues to change.

narrow pathway through rubble at Beizheng Street in Changsha

woman walking by the rubble of demolished buildings near Beizheng Street in Changsha

man riding by demolished buildings on Beizheng Street in Changsha

"nail house" at Beizheng Street in Changsha

men using shovels at Beizheng Street in Changsha

woman and boy at Beizheng Street in Changsha

pathway between rubble leading away from Beizheng Street in Changsha

woman knitting outside and others play mahjong inside at Beizheng Street in Changsha

man squatting down in front of demolished buildings at Beizheng Street in Changsha

red banner reading "打好攻坚战,腾空地铁口" hung on a remaining building at Beizheng Street in Changsha

women standing and a dog sitting outside some remaining buildings at Beizheng Street in Changsha

a chair sitting next to rubble near Beizheng Street in Changsha

buildings at Beizheng Street in Changsha

two older women walking by some remaining buildings at Beizheng Street in Changsha

older man with a cane walking on Beizheng Street in Changsha

women with babies in strollers at Beizheng Street in Changsha

man sitting in front of a motel sign at Beizheng Street in Changsha

man with a two-wheeled wooden wheelbarrow collecting scraps from the demolished buildings at Beizheng Street in Changsha

man and two women riding on a motorbike at Beizheng Street in Changsha

young woman walking with her arm on a young man's shoulder at Beizheng Street in Changsha

man resting while sitting on a tricycle cart parked next to demolished buildings at Beizheng Street in Changsha

two women walking by rubble near Beizheng Street in Changsha

woman riding a bicycle past demolished buildings and a modern tall building in the background

a view from a small hill of Beizheng Street with tall buildings being built in the background

For a comparison, scenes from last year can be found here, and an earlier set of scenes when Beizheng Street was in full form 5 years ago can be found in a post by Sheng Yong (盛勇) here. In a later post, I will share a few photos where I can make direct comparisons with scenes from last year (perhaps sharp-eyed readers might be able to find examples in the above photos as well). In another post, I will share something I did not expect to find which expresses the feelings of a few people who used to live there.