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Once promising city now in need of a tune-up

Once promising city now in need of a tune-up

Write: Belina [2011-05-20]

SHANTOU, Guangdong - One of the first cities opened up to the outside world when China launched its major reform 30 years ago was Shantou.

With more than 5.6 million residents, this coastal city in Guangdong province relies heavily on the many toy factories based in Chenghai district, or so-called "City of Toys".

However, as the country attempts to move away from labor-intensive industries, residents say the city is falling behind and needs to be urgently updated.

Fly over Chenghai you will view a sea of mostly three- to five-story buildings lining gray streets. Except for a smattering of municipal buildings and residential complexes, most are taken up by factories.

There are also many home-based workshops that regularly receive orders from export companies 500 km away in Guangzhou, the provincial capital, and Shenzhen, another major industrial hub.

"Things haven't changed here much," said a resident surnamed Wang living in a complex in Fengxiang Industrial Park. "The city looks just like it did 10 years ago but other cities in Guangdong have been much improved.

"If you stay when others are running, you get left behind," he said.

Shantou's GDP last year was 97.4 billion yuan ($14.3 billion), ranking it 92nd among China's cities. It was 91st and 77th in 2008 and 2006 respectively, according to figures from the National Bureau of Statistics.

One thing that has risen, however, is traffic violations, say residents. China Daily reporters witnessed five taxis driving on the wrong side of the road, seemingly without fear of punishment.

"It's the same as a dozen years ago, no one stops us," said Wang Hailin, a cabbie in his 50s. "Sometimes it can take an extra 30 minutes if we strictly follow the traffic rules, so there are many violations here."

He emphasized more than once that driving on the wrong side of the road is for the good of passengers, and would not accept that the practice might be dangerous.

At night, many people use their tricycles to earn extra money as taxis, some licensed and some unlicensed.

"The traffic officers are all at home and will not bother talking to us", said an unlicensed rider who did not want to be identified. He argued that tricycles are cheaper, although admitted the streets are dangerous due to the number of motorbikes.

As more migrant workers have flooded in over the last 10 years, residents estimated about 150,000 villagers from Henan province drive taxis in the city.

One man summed up Shantou as "a promising city that has become another city ready to be updated, mentally and physically".