Ever wonder what is happening just outside the walls of your gated compound? Where all those workers on their bikes head to, at the end of their day? Where the taxi drivers go, when their shift is over? The communities that exist just beyond the boundary of the Shunyi villa compounds, has always fascinated me. Some of my running routes take me alongside these local communities, at the weekends we enjoy strolling around Beijing’s hutongs, and we love to visit places that are yet to be over-run with tourists. But I had never truly explored what was right on my doorstep, and I wanted to find out more about the communities that exist beyond the walls.
I recently joined a group of expats on a Shunyi Walking Tour. The tour was to take us through a village called Fei Jia Cun. Just 100 meters from the Western Academy of Beijing, live thousands of migrants from rural China. These individuals are making a living out of the large expat community that has built up since the first villa compounds were developed 20 years ago, across what is now known as the central villa district.
Ayi’s, family drivers, taxi drivers, and the cashiers at stores such as DDs Supermarket and Jenny Lou, have together built this village, and created their very own community. With restaurants, wet markets, spas, repair shops, laundry services, tailors, and bakeries. A school had been developed for the children of the migrant workers. Although it has now closed down, another larger school is already being built. There is an orchard where the locals grow fruit and vegetables, to sell in the wet market, and a rather organized recycling facility is in place.
As we walked along the muddy roads, the atmosphere was buzzing, with people busy working, looking after their young children, or simply sitting and chatting with one another. At times I felt a little self-conscious, like I was intruding on their daily life. But they couldn’t have been more polite, acknowledging all of us with a smile and a hello.
It is all too easy to see the poor conditions that exist throughout the village. The garbage that can’t be recycled or reused is dumped into the river. There is now an extensive build-up of rotting waste, which brings with it the associated stench, health, and environmental risks of pollution of the water course. The village has no sewerage system, so the communal toilets are basically holes in the ground. The living accommodation is basic brick, cement and cinderblock shacks, lacking any kind of heating systems, and door and windows that barely fit their frames. I can only imagine how tough living conditions must be during the harsh Beijing winters and sweltering summers. Some of the young women earn their living in the village’s red light district.
One of the surprises was finding a furniture and home-ware store, right in the middle of the tour. With wooden furniture, lamps, soft furnishings, and a range of crockery and vases, such a contrast to the life going on outside the beautifully carved wooden doors. Alongside the showroom, is the production factory, hopefully providing employment for some of the villagers.
This migrant community lives with uncertainty, at any time the authorities could move them on. These are the workers that have built modern Beijing, but their own communities are still subject to the whims of development. If you want to see a little bit of what life is really like for migrant communities in Beijing, then I recommend this tour, you will certainly experience another side of Shunyi.
If you are interested in doing the Shunyi Walking Tour, or other tours across Beijing, contact (138 1104 4827, firstname.lastname@example.org)
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos: Sally Wilson