慾望一座城市 – Lust and the city – English

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The entire city is one big construction site. Ruts and juts dot the streets while holes perforate sidewalks; particulates suspend in mid-air masses, just vaguely visible. And at every street corner, with every blink of the eye, construction rages on like wildfire. Apertures spanning 100 meters, both lengthways and laterally, lie at the heart of Beijing’s Central Business District. They look like craters made yesternight from a violent UFO departure, yawning skyward, poised to gulp down any glittery structure that might fall in from above.

The city grows.

And it swells, ceaselessly.

Like a child that cannot stay 8 years old forever, neither can cities willfully remain two centuries behind. With every passing generation we desire to reinvent ourselves, our dreams slowly take form as space succumbs to concrete coagulations. A city transforms along with its inhabitants needs; it changes, waxes, and wanes – it expands. Sometimes kinks in the road are pulled true; or low-rising houses capitulate to high-rising edifices; or green-lined canals are jettisoned, reclaimed, and finally ribboned into dreary ring road systems. Other times old pieces of community property are revamped into new, vintage shopping centers; or barren farmland metamorphose into airports. What was once perfectly unimportant – expressways, airports, office buildings, subways, shopping malls – has become lifeblood. Now we are in an arms race to accommodate the framework that modern appetite demands.

We are willing to sacrifice green space, and walking space, but the lift that hurtles you to the 70th floor in ten seconds cannot be done without. We can no longer imagine life bereft of shopping malls, but we get on just fine without Vitamin C. The imbalance of modern existence is boldly stamped on the blueprints of cities. Our lives lack a solid foundation; we breathe synthetic air and build fitness rooms to keep our figures in check. All the while we are too lazy to take the stairs, or even the crosswalk. Leave the house, hail a taxi, come back in, hit the couch: The city patiently enables our every desire.

We want speed and convenience, we want mobility and safety, we want to isolate the bacteria in our natural environment. Our fix is to create an environment that we can control – so we expand.

Cerulean waters gently lap in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor – now ever so slightly atrophied – where shirt-and-tie rat racers have long since supplanted the rugged seamen of yore. The harbor’s once functioning sea route is a dead end – shopping center revenue has eclipsed the amount in management fees due its moored vessels. In one night, inland roads and terra firma are overwhelmed. Besides, it is high time to take coastal waters – forever stewing in pretention – down a peg or two. Hong Kong, as far as local children can remember, always had the metro, skyscrapers, a Prada flagship store, and wafts of ginger milk pudding. The azure colors of sea have drained away, the squawks of gulls no longer resound. Naturally, none of this seems out of the ordinary to them. They have no need for a harbor in which to anchor some trawler, as their forefathers did; all they need now is a shiny new parking lot to park some Porsche.

The sea is no longer a dependent for the city; swimming pools, computers, mobile phones, and Adidas, however, are. Hong Kong is built upon human craving; you can fill up a harbor with earth, but you cannot fulfill the appetite of man.

‘Hong Kong’ need not be a ‘harbor’ at all, and people will live on all the same.

Cities are locked on the tracks of time, ever trundling forward; mankind’s lust is ever pushing them from behind. Cities that preserve themselves in a museum-like state cannot stay afloat; after all, ‘what good would that be?’ you ask.

People create a city with their own lives in mind. If a city serves its people, should the people not also serve their city in return? In order to preserve the hutong aura of Beijing, people ought not have their own hot water, bathroom, or any privacy. Or are people now entitled to personal living space? And to live in modern apartments in which you can log onto the internet, take showers, and watch DVDs?

The crux of the matter is not the where craving ends, because that is an utterly futile and affected discourse. A satisfactory insight, if any, may be found in life’s aesthetic preferences. Unconsciously and incessantly, each generation lusts after an ideal city. Consequentially we deforest ancient banyans in favor of erecting expressways; we move mountains into the sea – perhaps swallowing an entire harbor in the process – in favor of enabling a little more space for one more store hawking the latest Western fashion: our new reality begs prudent deliberation.

Because desire is simple, but happiness is complex.

(ELLE Magazine, Taipei)

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Source : China Times

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact [email protected]