'Exclusive housing' draws ire of locals

By Huang Zhiling and Zhang Ao (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-01-29 07:02
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CHENGDU: The construction of a city community exclusively for people from overseas has drawn sharp and contrasting reactions from locals and foreigners.

Zheng Xiaoming, chief of the planning and construction bureau of the Chengdu National Hi-Tech Zone, announced on Wednesday that an international community covering 250,000 sq m will be built in the zone.

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Located in southern Chengdu, the community will consist of apartments and villas for up to 5,000 foreigners, with the first of two phases expected to be completed by October.

A church, bilingual kindergartens, hospitals and playgrounds will be built, and English-speaking locals will be available to serve the residents, Zheng said.

"To ensure the community is truly international, no residence will be sold to locals. Instead, they will be rented out exclusively to people from overseas," Zheng said.

For Briton Caroline Portsmouth, an English teacher, the announcement was a few years late, but she was still happy. "I would not have left the city if the project had been built earlier," she told China Daily.

An outgoing person, Portsmouth felt lonely during her seven-month stint at Sichuan University in 2003-04, for she found few people spoke English in the city.

She terminated her contract with the university's school of foreign languages five months earlier and returned to England.

"This new foreign community is expected to solve such problems. Largely financed by the city government, the rent will not be too high. We hope such top housing conditions and facilities will attract more investment to Chengdu," said Wu Jun, an information officer in Zheng's bureau.

But most netizens who posted their views on the country's major websites voiced strong criticism of the project.

By last night, more than 500 protested against the project on a Chengdu forum.

"I am so depressed to hear the news. It means segregation. Why is the government less interested in building more affordable apartments for local residents? " asked "Pirate's Smile".

Another named "The Fourth Brother" weighed in: "I cannot but help thinking of the time when China was weak and invaded by foreign powers. Only at that time were there communities where the Chinese were not allowed."

Zhang Chaofeng, a consultant at Beijing-based Xinhuaxin Consulting Company, said the developer had perhaps not expected that Chinese people's feelings would be hurt.

Bob Bansby, a Londoner living in Chengdu, is not enamored by the exclusive housing zone. "Living with Chinese people is fine with me. I will not move even though the houses there may have better facilities."

Bansby was the first general manager of the Kempinski Hotel in Chengdu when it opened in 2003. After working for the hotel for a year, he went to Beijing but eventually returned to Chengdu in 2007 and has settled down here.

Bansby, who has bought an apartment and lives with his Chinese wife of five years and their two children, said: "Since you are here in this country, why do you intentionally isolate yourself from the locals?"

Chengdu had about 20,000 people from more than 130 countries and regions by the end of last year, mostly executives working at Sichuan branches of foreign-funded companies or teachers at local universities.

According to the administrative committee of the Chengdu National Hi-Tech Zone, 863 foreign-funded companies had offices in the zone by the end of 2009.