Life in The “Tofu-Dregs”

My last two posts dealt with shitty Chinese construction. This one will too. I hope this doesn’t mean you are leaving my blog now. Please stay! I promise not to rant about our apartment problems…this post is about the larger cultural phenomenon of shitty Chinese construction.

Now, if you are still with me after my desperate plea, here’s why I’m writing about this again: “Five Years After A Quake, Chinese Cite Shoddy Reconstruction.” This NPR article articulates better than I the downfalls of shitty Chinese construction, which led to so much devastation in the wake of the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, and even gives it a great name: “tofu-dregs construction.” I like it. Pretty accurate from what I’ve seen around Haiyang, Feng Cheng, the expat village, and our very own Chinese apartment.

Tofu-dreg buildings are the result of corruption, failure to follow building standards and use appropriate building materials, and faster-than-the-speed-of-sound construction, according to the article. While I can’t speak about corruption (though I would love to one day if I somehow acquire an “in” with a local Party member), I can tell you that our apartment was obviously built with sub-par materials (hello paper trim!) and that a proper inspection most definitely never occurred. I can also tell you that around us construction is everywhere. It’s as if the roads can’t be dug and paved quick enough and the concrete buildings can’t dry fast enough. Pretty scary considering that it’s likely that all of these buildings are similar to ours. I’m just thankful that we don’t live along a fault line like the poor folks in Wenchuan.

The larger question that all of this shitty Chinese construction raises is: for whom are these buildings being built? For the most part, the buildings that are going up around us sit empty. Clearly, masses of people are not flocking back to Wenchuan or to our area to settle down. Feng Cheng is being touted as a “beach town” and a great alternative to Qingdao’s crowded and polluted beaches, but it remains pretty dead for the most part. This is evident from all the empty finished apartment buildings, the half-finished buildings and apartment communities, and the shell-only concrete buildings scattered throughout our area. Iggy and I even have a little game we play when riding through Feng Cheng. It involves counting the hot water tanks on the tops of the buildings to figure out how many apartments are occupied. Typically, we can only count a handful for buildings that house several dozen apartments.

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I hear the town gets busier in the summer as all beach towns do, but I also hear that all the empty buildings currently sitting in Feng Cheng remain lonely and uninhabited during the summer. Sure the hotels and restaurants get busy, but the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of apartment buildings and beach houses are left empty. Why? Well, that’s the other big question. I’ve heard several answers, but I don’t know how accurate they are. It’s obvious that a lot of construction — clearly too much construction — happened in anticipation of last year’s 3rd Annual Asian Beach Games, which were held in Feng Cheng. According to some of the expats, another reason is that vacation just isn’t something the average Chinese family does. From what I gather from random conversations with taxi drivers, people also aren’t too thrilled to  splash around in a beach that’s located a few miles down from a soon to be working nuclear power plant. Fair enough.

Then again, maybe what’s happening around us is simply what’s happening in lots of other areas in China. In these places the phrase “if you build it, they will come” is most definitely not true. In fact, there are a bunch of places like Feng Cheng known as ghost cities. The government has thrown lots of money into building up these towns — or in some cases creating whole new towns — only to be let down by its cheap (er…poor?) populace that has yet to move in and probably won’t before the property bubble bursts…or before the buildings crumble apart. Hopefully ours will stay standing for the next 3.5 years.

In case you didn’t bother to click on some of the links above, I’m re-posting them below since I find them so fascinating.

1. Video of Shanghai’s Thames Town (2:30 minutes): Showcases faux British town built in a suburb of Shanghai that remains deserted. Apartments go for about $3.2 million. Wowzers!


2. Video on China’s Ghost Cities (14:37 minutes).


3. Nat Geo photo of polluted waters of Qingdao, which is two hours from us. Thanks to my buddy for sending this to me. If you scroll through the slideshow, you’ll discover other polluted waters of the world, including Lake Erie….which is also two hours from us in our real home of Pittsburgh. Weird coincidence?


This entry was published on May 16, 2013 at 7:50 am. It’s filed under China, Haiyang and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

8 thoughts on “Life in The “Tofu-Dregs”

  1. John on said:

    This is crazy! While reading this, I was thinking that maybe a lot of people move to the area for the summer, but, as it sounds like you’ve been told, it’s impossible that all of these empty buildings could be filled by them. What the hell is the reason then that they are building all of this? Would they lose the funding they get from the government (if that’s where they get it) if they didn’t build something? So, so strange. Anyway, you would hope that they would be stricter on the standard enforcement with the buildings people do actually live in. Sweet baby buddha.

  2. John on said:

    The Chinese version of Thames Town is hilarious. Can’t wait to see what they do on Germany and Denmark! FYI, it appears that the second video you posted has been removed. And the pics of Lake Erie and Qingdao are cool but disgusting. Didn’t realize the problem was that bad in Lake Erie or Klamath, CA. Wow.

  3. John on said:

    Saw the second video… wow. Just wow. Unreal.

  4. Jess on said:

    This is interesting and just recently, I was watching a PBS special about the Chinese artist Weiwei. (I guess I forgot to tell you about it.) Anyway, he did an installation about the Sichuan 2008 earthquake and targeted the government for their allowance of poor construction. He is not well liked, obviously, by the government because the installation released a list of 5,385 students killed. Here is more info on it if you’re interested – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ai_Weiwei. According to this he was beaten badly by the police for bringing this to light.

    • Thanks for the info. I know of Weiwei, but didn’t know about the Sichuan installation until reading the wiki page on him. I’ll have to head over to PBS Video to see if I can find the documentary you saw.

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