Break into the Kowloon Walled City of Wuhan — Hua An Li 

Post-Pandemic City Observation 01

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The first time I heard of Hua’anli, I thought it was an old Hankow Lifen (traditional residential buildings in Wuhan) like Kunhouli and Taixingli. As a matter of fact, Hua’anli is the most densely populated urban village in Wuhan, with over 2,000 private houses in only 1.08 square kilometers. At its peak, the number of residents reached 100,000, mostly migrant workers who are “Hankow drifters”. It is also known as Wuhan’s version of the Kowloon Walled City of Hong Kong.
 
At the end of the film “The Wild Goose Lake”, the scene of Liu Aiai who is hiding in a textile workshop from Zhou Zenong being sexually assaulted by Mr.Yan on a coin-operated self-service washing machine is set in Hua’anli. 
Although it is only one kilometer from Hankow Railway Station,
many Wuhan locals have never heard of it. 
On a muggy August afternoon, I broke into this walled area.
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第一次听说华安里,我以为它和坤厚里、泰兴里一样,是汉口的老里份。实际上,华安里是武汉人口密度最大的城中村,1.08平方公里挤着2000多栋私房,巅峰时有10万居民,大多是外来务工的「汉漂」。这里也被称为武汉版「九龙城寨」。
电影《南方车站的聚会》最末,刘爱爱躲避周泽农,逃到纺织车间,在投币式公共洗衣机上遭遇闫哥性侵,就在华安里取景。
 
虽然离汉口火车站仅一公里,许多武汉本地人却从未听说过它。
八月一个闷热的下午,我闯入了这座围城。
Individual Project, Rapid Response,
2020, Project Duration: 3 days, 

Documentary Photography, Site Writing,

Post-pandemic City Observation Project

Urban Village. 

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两条铁轨将华安里与城市割裂,只有两个涵洞可以进出。

通道笼罩着幽幽绿光,我就像捕鱼为业的武陵人,被夹缝中的光线吸引。

只不过涵洞那头连接的世界,并不是桃花源。

Two railway tracks cut Hua’anli apart from the city, with only two culverts for access.

The passage is enveloped in a faint and mysterious green light,
which is shimmering in the crevices,
leaving me curious like the fisherman of Wuling (*who was drawn by the peach blossom land*)
Yet the world at the other end of the culverts is not the Peach Blossom Land.
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黑色电线交缠成一捆,粗壮如巨蟒,在头顶 Z字 形游走。

华安里的外卖小哥从不上楼送餐,只在街头小卖部或快炒店“碰头”

——听起来像黑市交易。

 

“太复杂了,哪能搞清门牌号。”

Black wires intertwine into a bundle that looks as thick as pythons,

and wander in a ‘zigzag’ pattern overhead.

The delivery boys at Hua’anli never go into the buildings to find the exact doors, but only “meet” with their clients at street kiosks or fast-food shops

— which sounds like a black-market transaction.

 

“It’s too complicated to figure out the door numbers.”

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华安里曾有很多服装厂,近几年大多迁到了汉口北。

一位外卖小哥在博客里写文回忆,去年他去华安里送餐,

在菜市场楼上发现了一家服装厂,大楼外面不挂牌,

不走进去根本看不出来。

There were once many garment factories in Hua’anli,

most of which have moved to North of Hankow in recent years.

A delivery boy posted a blog recalling how he went to Hu’anli to deliver food and discovered a garment factory above the vegetable market.

There was no sign outside the building,

so you couldn’t even tell until you walked in.

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华安里原本叫复兴五村,老居民也记不清哪年开始改的口。

如今人口比巅峰时期的10万少了一半。

据一则治安整治的新闻,目前还有3万余务工人员居住于华安里。

Hua’anli was originally called Five Villages of Fuxing, 

and then the name was changed in a year even the old residents can’t remember.

 

The population now is less than half of its peak of 100,000.

According to a news report on security regulation,

more than 30,000 migrant workers now still live in Hua’anli.

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天南海北的口音回荡在街巷。

当一群人讲着难懂的方言,开心地扎堆聊天,很可能是来武汉打工的同乡。

而讲武汉话的大概率是手握几十间房的本地房东。

You can hear people from across the country talking with various accents.

When a group of people gather together and chat happily in an incomprehensible dialect,

it is highly likely they are fellow-townsman who all migrate to Wuhan to work.

 

If the group are speaking Wuhan dialects,

there is a big chance that are local landlords who own dozens of houses.

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澡堂、十元快剪、投币式公用洗衣机……华安里保留着消失已久的生活方式。

小卖部门口堆放着一袋袋啤酒空瓶,是喝完后还回的。

Bathhouses, ten-yuan fast haircuts, coin-operated self-service washing machines ...

the long-extinct lifestyles anywhere else have been retained in Hua’anli.

 

Bags of empty beer bottles are returned, being stacked in front of the kiosks.

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许多外来汉飘,在华安里过着两点一线的生活。

白天打工,晚上回出租屋。

“有个住的地方就行,高楼大厦大商场,和我没关系。”

Many migrant Hanko drifters in Hua’anli live a life travelling between two points – work and home. They work during the day and go back to their rented houses at night.

“A place to live is all I need,

while the high-rise buildings and the fancy shopping malls have nothing to do with me.”

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01.
Walking into Hua’anli, my friend and I felt quite uneasy in an area with close-set police offices and cameras. There was rumor saying that in the past fugitives liked to hide here. The iconic sign at the intersection “Welcome to Hua’anli Community” were eye-catching with its large-size characters, next to which in small print it reads: You have entered an all-domain electronically monitored community where crimes will be cracked down upon.
The bare-chested man on an electric bike slowed down and stopped suddenly in front of us, said to us in a hurry, “need to rent a room?”, and then whizzed past us when he didn’t get any response. My friend, who “broke into the walled community” with me, silently stuffed our camera into our backpack to keep a low profile. In my head, I was picturing the scene of gangsters smashing a camera in anger. 
Entering the community from Evergreen 2nd Road, you would find that the road was flanked by a hundred-metre-long stretch of stalls under a canopy. Fruits and vegetables were cheaper here than elsewhere in Wuhan, and the stallholders were laid back resting in their deck chairs. But when they saw someone approaching, they would straighten up to promote their watermelons. My friend and I gradually become more relaxed, feeling that Hua’anli was not as scary as expected. It was much like visiting a farmers’ market when we were kids, an experience that we were quite familiar with.
At the end of the market, there were people queuing in front of Zhengxin Chicken Steak, the only one that could be called a ‘brand’ shop. On the left and right to the shop were divided by a fork road, leading to the two culverts respectively.
A friend of mine whose family is in the garment business recalls his experience during a high school summer vacation ten years ago, when he went to a garment factory for fabric in Hua’anli and rode his electric bike through the culvert for numerous times, feeling that ‘half of his life was gone’. The slope underneath the train tracks was very steep, while the dark and damp culvert dripped water of an unknown source. He said, “We didn’t even know it was called Hua’anli, as we all called it the place down the lane next to the Evergreen Park.
It is said that long lines of cars trying to pass through the culverts have to wait for dozens of minutes during peak commuting hours, which is quite a spectacular scene.
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走进华安里,在密集的警务室和摄像头下,我和朋友仍然忐忑。有传言,早年逃犯们都喜欢窝藏在此。「华安里社区欢迎您」路口招牌大字醒目,旁边小字写着:您已进入全电子监控社区,打击违法犯罪。

 

骑电动车的赤膊男人,减速急停,慌忙丢下一句「租房吗」,见我们不回应又风一般呼啸而过。和我一同“闯寨”的朋友默默把相机塞进背包,低调做人。脑子里全是社会大哥怒砸相机的景象。

 

从常青二路进入,道路两侧是百米长的大棚摊贩。这里的水果蔬菜比武汉别处便宜,摊主漫不经心瘫在躺椅,见有人,直起身子推销自家西瓜。我和朋友的神经逐渐松弛,华安里没想象中可怕,倒像回到小时候逛农贸市集,生出几分亲切熟悉。

 

市集尽头的正新鸡排店一直有人排队,它是这里唯一能称上「品牌」的店。

鸡排店左右分出两条岔路,通向左右两个涵洞。

 

一位家里做服装生意的朋友回忆起十年前高中暑假,去华安里的服装厂跑面料,无数次骑电动车经过涵洞,形容「半条命没了」。斜坡很陡,头顶是火车轨,阴暗潮湿的洞穴滴着来路不明的水:「我们都不晓得那里叫华安里,都叫常青公园旁边那条巷子里面。」

 

据说,上下班高峰,排队的车要在涵洞堵上几十分钟,异常壮观。

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You have to pass through the culvert to see the real Hua’anli.
There is little vegetation here. The buildings are so close to each other that you can shake hands with your neighbor in the next building standing by the window. That’s why they are called “handshaking buildings”. The cramped space is squeezed to the limit, and when it cannot sprawl horizontally, it grows vertically. Looking from above, Hua’anli looks like a blue water drop, with the color blue being the roofs of the lately built container houses.
Many of the walls here have been painted with the color of fresh mint green, perhaps because of the lack of greenery. If they weren’t fully covered by ad leaflets, they would probably be online trending walls of Wuhan. Housekeeper urgently wanted, 100-yuan single room for rent, Missing elderly, Magical shot curing all STDs... the most basic surviving needs overlap on the ad leaflets stuck to the poles and walls, peeling off gradually and being covered with new ones.
“Need to rent a room? “ This was the question we were asked for three or four times along our way. When we were about to walk through Hua’anli, an Ayi (middled-aged woman) came up close to us. “My room is right next to this one, and it has an independent bathroom.” She looked nice, and I was quite curious about what would a room with a rent of only 300 yuan like, so I decided to go with her to have a look.
Ayi pulled out a bunch of keys and felt her way up the dimly lit staircase. We came to the third floor, pushed open a door and was greeted by the damp air and musty smell.
The room, which was bigger than expected, had a bed, a wardrobe and other simple furniture, a spacious pass way, an electric water heater in the bathroom, cigarette burns on the floor left by the previous tenant, and a layer of oil and then a layer of dust above the surface of everything, as if it was impossible to rinse them off.
Ayi’s family was on Yindun Road near the railway station, but she usually lived in Hua’anli, taking care of her houses. She said that the electricity, water and security here were better than before, and the rent was really cheap. I couldn’t stand the pungent musty smell after staying there for one minute and left the room.
I went down to the ground floor and saw a half-buried garment factory with a familiar sewing machine across the street. It looked quite similar to the set of the film “The Wild Goose Lake”. When Ayi heard my friend and I talking curiously about the film, she got excited suddenly and said, “Are you talking about the film starring Hu Ge? It was set here!“”
She asked me how to whatch the film and if I could send a link to her. She displayed a mild sense of pride when she mentioned the summer of 2018 when the road below her house was closed and she spent her night leaning over the window watching Hu Ge. She invited me to the vacant shop on the ground floor to cool down in front of an electric fan, rolled out the bamboo mat for summer, greeted her guests, and began chatting with us idly.
In 2002, she bought two plots of land from the village with more than 30,000 yuan, which covered an area of more than 200 square meters, on which she built two private houses, with five floors in one house and four units on each floor. All of them had been rent except for three rooms. The rental prices for houses in Hua’anli was the highest in 2014, when a single room could be rented for 600 yuan. The price now was only 300 yuan, and getting lower and lower, because many people had left, “at least one third of them after the outbreak of the Covid-19.”
There were many garment factories in Hua’anli before, most of which had workshops, warehouses and accommodation in one building, which posed great fire hazard. The buildings were blackened into a dark and dusky color by the steams that were used to iron garments and the smoke from the furnaces. People lived nearby were afraid to open their windows. Nowadays, most of the garment factories had moved to the North of Hankow. From the corners and facades of the buildings branched out a few thin exhaust pipes, exhausting steams from a small number of garment factories that had not moved.
There had long been rumors of the demolition of Hua’anli, but nothing had been decided yet. Ayi seems promised, “the Subway Line 12 is decided to be constructed very soon, so the demolition is only a matter of time.”
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穿过涵洞,才是真正的华安里。
这里几乎看不到任何绿植,楼与楼贴得极近,站在窗边能与隔壁楼握手,被叫做「握手楼」。有限的空间被无限压榨,地面上盖不出新楼,就纵向开拓。从上空俯瞰华安里,像一颗蓝色水滴,蓝色是加盖的板房屋顶。
也许是绿化匮乏,这里的许多墙壁都粉刷成小清新薄荷绿,如果没有糊满小广告,大概会是武汉热门的网红打卡墙。保洁员急招、百元单间出租、寻找走失老人、性病一针灵……生存最根本的欲求在电线杆和墙壁上相互交叠,一点点剥落,又覆盖上新的。
「租房不?」,我们一路被问了三四次。快要走穿华安里时,一位阿姨凑了上来,「我的房就在这旁边,独立卫浴」。见她面善,也好奇300元一个月的房子长什么样,我决定随她看看。
阿姨掏出一串钥匙,摸进昏暗的楼梯。上三楼,推开门,潮气霉味扑面而来。
房间比想象中大,放下床、衣柜等简易家具,还有宽敞的过道,卫生间有电热水器,地板有上个租客留下的烟头烫痕,整间屋子蒙着一层油再加一层灰,仿佛无论如何都擦不干净。
阿姨家在火车站银墩路,自己平时住华安里,守房子。她说这里的水电、治安,各方面比以前好,而且房租是真便宜。我忍不了刺鼻的霉味,呆了一分钟,退了出来。
下到一楼,对面是一间半掩的服装厂,缝纫机床眼熟,像南方车站的取景地。听见我和朋友交头接耳,阿姨突然兴奋:「是不是胡歌那个电影?就是我们这取的景!」
阿姨问我电影哪里能看,能不能发给她。提起2018年夏天家楼下封路,晚上趴在窗户看胡歌,神色有些小自豪。她邀请我去一楼空置的铺面吹电扇,铺开竹凉席,招呼坐,拉起家常。
02年,她花三万多元从村里买了两块地,一共200多平,自己盖了两栋私房,五层楼,每层四户,现在还剩三间没租出去。14年,华安里的房子最好租,单间可以租到 600 元,现在只能租 300,阿姨说,人越来越少,「疫情后我感觉又少了 1/3。」
华安里曾有很多服装厂,大都是车间、仓库、住宿在同一建筑内,有消防隐患。厂里烧蒸汽烫服装,锅炉排烟把楼房熏的黢黑,人在家里不敢开窗。如今,大多数服装厂迁到汉口北。楼房的墙角和外立面,偶尔支棱出几根细细的排气管,吐着蒸汽,那是一小部分没搬走的服装作坊。
华安里拆迁的传闻一直不断,至今没定数。阿姨信誓旦旦,「地铁12号线都定了,拆迁只是迟早。」
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03.
On our way back from Hua’anli, our mobile phones went dead, and we lost our navigation.
We drove into a blind alley, where we met an older lady who passed by and whispered to us “the exit is in that way” as she struggled forward holding two large bags in her hands, showing us to follow her.
In big cities, very few people offer to give directions to the lost, as people have to mind their own steps, paying little attention to the difficulties encountered by those around them. 
I came into Hua’anli with my personal bias, feeling intimidated by rumors of gangsters and outlaws, afraid of meeting “the rude and unreasonable people” living here. As a matter of fact, people living here enjoy a very simple life. The neighbors are close to each other; the female street cleaners can enjoy the cool in the shops and chat with the owners, resembling countryside scenes in the distant past of China[1]
The residents here are generally tolerant of our camera, except for the community workers who are relatively more vigilant. The first day of shooting went smoothly, but when we went back the next day, people with red armbands took us to the office for inquiry and two men ‘escorted’ us out of Hua’anli. 
So unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to take photos of the long line of cars waiting to pass through the culverts at the evening rush hour, and Hua’anli after nightfall.
In the evening, I sent a link to a pirated copy of “The Wild Goose Lake” to the Ayi who showed me the house. She finished watching the film and asked me on WeChat, “was Hua’anli that bad?”
Ayi seemed to be a bit disappointed at the film, perhaps because she felt that Hua’anli was uglified in the film.
She said, “It’s not that bad here, and it is definitely not a gangland.”
- The End.
​——
[1]Xiaotong, F., Hamilton, G., & Zheng, W. (1992). From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pn6km]
03.
离开华安里时手机断电,失去导航,我们进了一条断头路。一位大姐路过,小声嘀咕「往那边走出去」,她提着两个大袋子,很吃力地径直往前,示意我们跟着她。
城市里几乎不会有人主动指路,人们只关心自己脚下的步伐,很少留心身边人是否面露难色。
带着偏见走进华安里,惶恐于黑帮逃犯的传闻,害怕城中村民风刁蛮,实际上,这里的人很淳朴。街坊们彼此亲近,扫地大妈坐在商店里乘凉,和老板聊天,好像回到了久远的乡土中国
对于相机镜头,普通居民很包容,社区工作人员比较戒备。第一天拍摄顺利,第二天再去,红袖章把我们带到了办公室,两个男人「护送」我们出华安里,还拍下照片发到微信群,禁止进入社区拍照。
所以很遗憾,没记录下晚高峰的涵洞排队,以及入夜后的华安里。
晚上,我把《南方车站的聚会》的盗版链接发给带我看房的阿姨。她看完电影,在微信上问我:有这么差吗?
阿姨似乎对片子有些失望,或许是觉得,丑化了华安里。
她说,「这里没有那么差,也没有那些黑社会。」
- 终。

 Thoughts & Research on Urban Village in China 

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Special fire motorcycle for Urban Village

​城中村专用消防车🚒

For the narrow road in Urban Village, the flexible and small motorcycle has a huge advantage,

make up for the shortage of traditional fire trucks that lack of flexibility for their large style. 

Fire sprinkler

消防喷淋

One solution to the lack of public space for firefighting tools

Wisdom by common resident.

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Handshaking  buildings & Cantilever structure

握手楼 与 建筑出挑

Nantou historic town Renovation Project

南头古城改造项目

 How to determine the age of a building in China based on the facade? 

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Tiles - 1990s to early 2000s

Cement - 1980↕️

Bungalow, or mix structure - 1970↕️ or before

 How much does it cost to build a house in urban village?