Developments designed after European villages are being built in China. There is one at the CMC, a planned medical research city hungry to attract foreign business.
“What is that doing in China?” I asked myself as I entered China Medical City on the outskirts of Taizhou. It wasn’t the massive complex of biomedical facilities that looked out of place in the landscape but the giant, European style clock tower that was rising into the air. I stopped in my tracks and took another looked: there was an entire residential area sprawling out before me that was a complete replica of an old English village conspicuously placed in the middle of rural China.
The oddity was called Oriental Windsor County — a name which perhaps says it all. I walked into the main square, drawn in by the mismatched scene of new Chinese style high-rises flanking a quaint little European style village. There was a church with a very prominent steeple on the west side of the square, there was a bar called Treasure Island that advertised international beers on the north side, and in the center was the focal point of the development: the giant clock tower.
The entire ground surface of the wannabe hamlet was paved with intricately laid stone tiles. The streets meandered in a curvy, askance, circular pattern with overzealous fountains of European warriors and bare-breasted maidens erupting from the center of each intersection. The buildings were constructed entirely of large ivory colored bricks that rose up two floors before being capped by steep triangular roofs. Some of them even had proper balconies and there were murals on a few of the walls advertising ’40s era Western movies. Bright, red, London style phone booths were scattered around the complex — apparently so the army of security guards that patrolled the place 24/7 could have a place to take shelter in the cold and rain.
The Oriental Windsor County development did not look like an imitation of an old British hamlet, it looked like a parody of one. The place was a twisted rendition of a British downtown area blown out of proportion and erected far out of geographical context with modern building materials. But I could not help but to feel that the place more closely resembled a Disneyland than anything approaching Britain. Occidentalism is rampant in the literati and upper classes sectors of Chinese society, and this masterpiece called Oriental Windsor County was something out of a Europhile’s fantasy.
The place was also deserted.
Though half of the development appeared to have been completely built and ready to go, other parts were still getting the finishing touches laid onto them. It was clear that this village was built for future use, yet another “If you build it they will come” Chinese scenario.
The Oriental Windsor County development was inside a much larger development called China Medical City (CMC). Again, the name says it all: China is building an entirely new city founded solely on medical and bio-tech research. In 2006, a 30 square kilometer area was cleared and designated to be the location for the gargantuan bio-medical cluster. Today, there are dozens of post-apocalyptic style blank faced research labs with names like National New Drug Innovation Base, Data Center, and Guodan Biological stamped on their exteriors like packing labels — but most of the area remains flattened fields of dirt and shrubs.
The key to the success of this incredibly ambitious project is to attract foreign business and entice them to relocate here, and one of the major problems with this has proved to be the fact that not many highly skilled foreigners are standing in line to go live in a partially built city out in the Middle of Nowhere, China.
“If CMC has an Achilles’ heel it is that Taizhou is not nearly as cosmopolitan as Shanghai or even Hangzhou,” ran an article on Cornell University’s website. The story continued by stating that, “recruiting and retaining talent will be a challenge . . . Epitomics, for instance, moved a team of 15 employees from Hangzhou to CMC, but only five have stayed.”
Enter Oriental Windsor County. I initially wondered why China would make such an architecturally incongruous creation, but the reasoning was perhaps simple: if Western people like living in Western style towns in their own countries why wouldn’t they like doing so in China? It sounds ridiculous — who wants to go all the way to China to live in a brick and mortar stereotype of their homeland? — but when pitted against the alternative it doesn’t seem too bad after all. All around the Oriental Windsor development were towering high rise apartment blocks. It is not my impression that there are many Westerners lining up to live in one of these monstrosities.
As I walked around the CMC and the Oriental Windsor complex it was challenging to find anyone who lived there to talk with. The place seemed intermittently populated at best, virtually deserted at worst. Granted, it was daytime and most of the residents were probably at work, but the fact still remained that this place did not yet have a pulse. There were only construction workers walking to and fro, and only a few shops even balked at being in operation.
I went into a Starbucks and ordered a coffee. While I waited I began talking with the young woman behind the counter.
“My company sent me here,” she told me.
“What, Starbucks?” I exclaimed, unable to check an exasperated laugh.
She nodded in the affirmative, and then explained how she was relocated from her home city of Qingdao in Shandong province to the CMC. Apparently, in China, even multinational coffee shops ship their employees around the country. But I had to admit that there didn’t seem to be much of a local talent pool to hire here — surrounding the intentional city was miles and miles of nowhere.
“So you live in a Western style house?” I changed the Starbucks girl.
She nodded, and then laughed when I told her that I thought they were interesting.
“Do you like living here?” I asked.
“It is very quiet here,” she responded, “so sometimes I like it. But often I hate it. Every time I want to go do something like shopping I have to go all the way into the city, and I don’t have a car. There is nothing here.”
“What is there to do for fun?” I asked, not believing that this place was devoid of everything.
“There is a restaurant, some places to go shopping, a bar, Starbucks, and nothing.”
It was true, this place may as well have been called China Medical Island for how connected it seems to the outside world. It is billed as being in Taizhou City, but it’s not — there’s at least 10km of rural China between. But it is my impression that the intention here is for the CMC not to serve as a satellite of an existing city, but to be a new city in its own right. The plan is that the place will have its own government, hospitals, multiple medical schools, and whatever else that could be desired in a biotech utopia.
“You should go to the bar,” the Starbucks girl urged. “It is owned by a French man and an American man, and it is . . . interesting.”
The bar was called Treasure Island, and it went all out with the pirate theme. I had previously walked in there, but it had yet to properly open for the night. In and of itself, this bar was an oddity in an odd place. It was full of mannequins dressed up as pirates, treasure chests and canons galore. It was also well set up and, like the CMC itself, appeared ready to house loads of people.
“Everybody here goes there every night,” the barista spoke from the other side of the counter. “There are many guys there, and some girls too.”
“There are not that many people who live here, right?” I asked.
She said that this was true, but that some big foreign bio-med company was moving in soon, so more people were on the way. I could not help but to feel that this was the kind of rumor which keeps this place going.
“Is it expensive to live here?” I asked.
The Starbucks girls laughed and said no, then added that she pays 1,000 RMB ($160) per month in rent.
I had mistaken this strange little occidental impostor to have been an expensive upper class development, but the reality was that the apartments were priced to fill — something that did not seem to be happening.
I said goodbye to the barista and I was walking out the door she had a joke for me, “Goodbye and enjoy all of the Chinese medicine.”
As of now, that and a pirate bar is about all there is to this place.
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