This is the habitat of the founders of Shenzhen, the first generation of die-hard communist engineers, architects, doctors and teachers. They built an isolated dwelling to cope with the wilderness outside. Compared to the established metropolises of Shanghai and Beijing, this must have felt like a concrete village isolated by a vast nothingness that fuelled their ambitious determination to prove and produce two decades ago.

Nowadays, the urban initiators gave a glimmer of real village life in their small forgotten estate between the theme parks issued by National Tourism Administration. Even Window of the World, a park of miniaturised replicas of global attractions and Folk Cultural Village, a hodgepodge of amusing tribal quirks that could be caricaturised for tourist amusement could not disturb its neighbours’ tranquillity. The newly installed municipal exercise equipment was a beloved playground for the adults. One wanted to linger here, in the privacy of a public seclusion.

A communist comradery was encapsulated in these towers. The distinct air of community wafted with the damp misty diesel from a distance but any outside noises were drowned out by a sudden excitement as a game of mahjiang became a debate of morality and a heated discussion of the codes of neighbourliness.

“Comply with the Population Planning (single child policy) and save the environment”

These were the people who lived for the greater good. Having constructed the current one-child cosmopolitan of Shenzhen, they became the retired ghosts with a billion bitter stories untold. The distant, digestible captions of the nearby theme parks became somewhat more family friendly in comparison.

My wondering soon attracted a military escort, confirming that earlier politicians still lived here. This really is where it all started! Now, it’s died down in retirement to find itself in the commercial in the eye of the tornado of a city they’d always wished for. A time lapse appeared from the different paces of lives around the district.

Extra security was really unnecessary considering that elderly ladies formed a gossip network of the best neighbourhood watch I’d ever witnessed. No CCTV camera would ever match this league of sprawled character identification with in-built lie detection. They understood their land value and were on the defence in case any developers had second thoughts. Besides, a common enemy was always made better social outings than daily bickering.

I interviewed the institute regarding their opinions about changes to their proud city as they sat guarding their local herbalist. The pharmacist that was so central to their experience of their ‘home’ was renowned for its flagship store in Beijing when it used to serve the Emperor. It’s a given that none of these retirees are were born locals. Their shared history lived solely in the past 20 years, in lives of youthful hues given for an empirical vision.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

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