Saturday, February 05, 2011

underground world hints at China's coming crisis

Telegraph | To understand how far ordinary Chinese have been priced out of their country's property market, you need to look not upwards at the Beijing's shimmering high-rise skyline, but down, far below the bustling streets where nearly 20m people live and work.

There, in the city's vast network of unused air defence bunkers, as many as a million people live in small, windowless rooms that rent for £30 to £50 a month, which is as much as many of the city's army of migrant labourers can afford.

In a Beijing suburb, beneath one of the thousands of faceless residential tower blocks that have carpeted the city's peripheries in a decade-long building frenzy, one of Beijing's "bomb shelter hoteliers", as they are known, agrees to show us his wares.

Passing under a green sign proclaiming "Air Defence Basement", Mr Zhao leads us down two flights of stairs to the network of corridors and rooms that were designed to offer sanctuary in the event of war or disaster.

"We have two sizes of room," he says, stepping past heaps of clutter belonging to residents, most of whom work in the nearby cloth wholesale market. "The small ones [6ft by 9ft] are 300 yuan [£30] the big ones [15ft by 6ft] are 500 yuan."

Beijing is estimated to have 30 square miles of tunnels and basements, some constructed after the Sino-Soviet split of 1969, when Mao's China feared a Soviet missile strike, and many more constructed since to act as more modern emergency refuges.

The fact Mr Zhao can easily rent out 150 such rooms, with the connivance of the city's Civil Defence Bureau with whom he has signed a five-year contract and invested nearly £150,000, is testament to China's massive unfulfilled demand for affordable housing.

"Some 80pc of our tenants are girls working in the wholesale market and the rest are peddlers selling vegetables or running sidewalk snack booths," he adds. "There are dozens of similar air defence basement projects in residential communities. In this area, they say 100,000 live underground."

Checking out the price of property above ground it is not difficult to see why. To buy a small flat (860 sq ft) in the tower block above – a typically grim, grey concrete affair – currently costs more than £200,000. In a city where the average monthly salary is 4,000 yuan, the average person would take 50 years to buy such an apartment, assuming they saved every penny they earned.

At the market, Xiao Wang, a sales girl who is one of the basement dwellers, says she lives in a small basement room with a friend. They have no kitchen and only the use of a stinking public toilet upstairs.

1 comments:

CNu said...

That splains the absence of PROC visitations on my user map. I only block a handful of individual IP addresses, not entire blocks, and none from the PROC at this time.

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