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White elephant

China has surpassed everyone else to become one of the largest economies in the world. On its way it is said to have built the equivalent of Rome, every two months, in the past decade. In the shadow of the economic growth, lives have been changed forever.


I was born and raised in Dhaka, a city where there are too many people and not enough buildings but here, in Chenggong, I was in a place that was quite the opposite. There are rows and rows of beautiful modern buildings, far superior to any building I see in my city and yet no one to live there. Chenggong is one of China’s many ghost cities. It is also the largest. Almost 100,000 apartments are there in Chenggong, almost all of which remain empty.

I had expected a city with empty streets and empty buildings. But what caught my attention as I stepped out of the subway station were these beautiful old buildings, half demolished and abandoned. As I traipsed around the ruins I found out there were lives that were uprooted from there. The place was filled with memories, old teddy bears, school yearbooks, posters of movie-stars on the wall and abandoned gods, among other things. It felt like a place destroyed by war or calamity.These half demolished old villages, however, were in small pockets of an otherwise urban area. The main city, most of the very few inhabitants were students or maintenance workers. Some luxury villas were occupied by retired officers. The maintenance workers were mostly old inhabitants of the villages that were destroyed. They were uprooted from their villages and placed in the new city by the government. They had no choice over that matter. Some were ecstatic, others devastated.

If one looks at Chenggong one would see more than an economic story of how China is a “bubble economy”. It was a reconstruction of a way of life. There were some who had to sacrifice for others who enjoyed the benefits.The ghost city of Chenggong is built on the ground of demolished homes. In order to build this city, villages were demolished, people were forced to sell their lands and leave their homes. The old way of life was destroyed. It is built for the sake of the future. But almost all the hundreds of thousands apartments remain empty.

However the cost of this rapid urbanization cannot only be measured in economic terms. Lives of many are being affected as their homes are being destroyed and they are forced to relocate. Some of them become unemployed with no land to farm on and some even become homeless. It is a big sacrifice.
But what is the end result of this sacrifice? This destruction of the self in order to be the best at standards set by someone else? What has it all lead to? It’s waste, the byproduct of aspiration.   

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