Seen in London somewhere on the way to Peckham, from the back seat of an Uber with Onyx on the way to Take This, For It Is My Body. We voted it our Preferred Travel Partner.
One of my favourite means of getting around Guangzhou since I first got over my terror of speeding death under a plastic helmet is motorbike taxis. Illegal, unregistered, cheap, friendly and always knowing the strangest and fastest shortcuts across town, I always found them more friendly than the vast majority of legal taxi drivers in their beat-up Volkswagen Vettas and would often end up talking with them and later thinking someone needs to remember their lives, especially as they are going to be outlawed by the end of this year in Guangzhou, meaning more hardworking people who are barely surviving will be unemployed.
It’s not too unsurprising to find one of them is blogging, nor is it surprising they come from Hunan, or more exactly, Changsha. 陈洪 Chen Hong is blogging at 长沙刁民 Changsha Rogue, and China Digital Times 中国数字时代 wrote about him today.
The Self-Narrative of a Motorcycle Driver – Chen Hong
A two-month old blog attracted more than 150,000 clicks and over 3,000 comments. Its daily visitors reached as many as 5,000. This is not a blog about sex or private lives. It’s about social problems, economic reforms and bureaucracy, and it’s written by a motorcycle taxi driver who never went to college, and whose business is illegal in China.
Chen Hong calls himself “Changshao Rogue” in his blog. Living in Changsha, Hunan Province, Chen was laid off ten years ago. He tried everything and ended up driving a motorcycle to make a living.
In one of his blog posts, “a self-narrative of a motorcycle driver,” he said:
For dozens of years all our labor and efforts only ended up helping a group of the social elite… And we end up as elements of disharmony in a “harmonious society”–the illegal motorcycle drivers. I don’t intentionally violate laws. I became a motorcycle driver because I was starving. Some said a harmonious society ensures the right of every member. But to those who lost their jobs and means to earn a living, what else can they do except drive a motorcycle?
Someone identifying themselves as “Guo Feng, a graduate student from People’s University” replied to this post:
I don’t agree with you. The country and the government are not obligated to take care of our generation for our whole lives. We once stood at the same starting point. Some get rich, some get left behind. We should responsibility for ourselves. Motorcycles are not supposed to be used to carry passengers. You put our lives in danger by riding a motorcycle to make money. The society can’t change itself. You must adapt to the society.
The two argued back and forth. Most blog readers stand on Chen’s side. Later on, Chen was even threatened for his post on social inequality.
Going from Huanshi Dong Lu to Jiangnan Dadao, across the river and along the inner city elevated freeways that snake between buildings along narrow streets, stacked on top of each other. I took this ride so many times in taxis, on motorbikes, and very occasionally in someone’s car. And always I’d be looking out the window.
Hanging out in Zürich with Cornelia, who pointed her camera at everything and in ways I’d think, “what the fuck is she doing?” then see the photo and go, “oh! wow! clever bitch!”. Anyway not that I’m pretending to be as interesting as her with a camera, but it made me start to be a little more free with what I’m doing, and a bit more careless, just pointing and deleting …
So, this is the taxi ride through the heart of Guangzhou, a city I’m very ambivalent about at the moment in a country that scares the crap out of me whenever I think about it and the next forty years of its “economic development”.
The ride along the elevated road cuts through part of the old city, and underneath the decaying fields of red brick apartments and dwellings litter the suburb between endless polished tile skyscraper tenements. What was Guangzhou and what will be all the city becomes is right here, one a tumbling mess of subtropical urban life, the other just another anonymous Asian mega-city.
At the ride’s end, in near Xiaogang park and Loft345 artists studios and the remaining inner-city universities, where the canals haven’t been paved over and the feeling of living in a small city is most pronounced, this place is why I like Guangzhou, and what I’d always hoped it could become.