Exotic Cities, Part Nine: Guiyu, China
July 1, 2009
Astute commentators have declared the 21st Century to be the Century of China. And no stronger argument supports this view than the example of Guiyu, which is located in Shantou, Guangdong. Guiyu is the 21st Century Techno-Paradise, Eco-Paradise, and Green Revolution City all rolled into one.
In the span of one generation, this exotic city has been transformed from a sleepy agricultural village to the world’s foremost recycling center for electronics. And its inhabitants have been transformed from simple farmers to technological workers who enjoy great prosperity. The average resident lives in a house or modern apartment, drives an eco-friendly car, and enjoys all the latest electronic gadgetry. And how about 100-plus channels of cable and satellite TV!
Every day, long lines of trucks disgorge discarded computers, phones, TV’s, VCR’s, and related items at a large depot. From there, the sorted items are sent out to over a hundred companies for disassembly and recycling. Large amounts of precious metals, industrial metals, and rare earths are extracted from all the debris. Other components are chopped up and reprocessed as raw materials for construction and agriculture. Nothing is wasted. The wealth generated from all this activity is enormous.
Hotel Manager Jonathan Litvak of the Westin Guiyu is a latecomer to this revolution but has still seen remarkable changes since he arrived here eight years ago. “Everything is green and clean. The air and water are perfect. The urban environment is like something out of a futuristic movie. We have modern buildings, underground malls, sports facilities, an efficient light-rail transit system, lovely parks, hotels, restaurants, you name it. And it’s all neat as a pin. In fact, you can’t even spit on the sidewalk.”
The Westin Guiyu is noteworthy for its glass exterior, which is tinted with real gold. Under the right conditions, airplanes approaching the international airport can see the sun’s brilliant reflection from ten miles away. The lobby is a huge atrium adorned with sculpted coral from the offshore reefs and a mosaic of dazzling semi-precious gemstones, and a 60-foot waterfall cascades into a pool filled with pink and purple angelfish from the island of Bali. Despite all this opulence, the hotel is surprisingly affordable, with most rooms in the range of $129 to $149 a night.
All visitors tour the industrial parks in air-conditioned buses. The parks themselves are works of art, with each plant having its own landscaping treatment and garden.
Downtown Guiyu is a spotlessly clean district of upscale boutiques and shops. High-tech gadgetry is everywhere, of course. The Communist government has decided not to meddle with all this success, so the city is unusually free to do its own thing. You can even buy The Wall Street Journal and Playboy.
All vehicles, including buses, are electric or hybrid. The little police cars are especially cute. They operate on a biofuel made from chicken manure. And the chickens are fed reprocessed plastic turned into nutrients by a secret process invented by Sha Bi Biofuels.
Guiyu gets most of its electricity from a highly unusual power plant that makes use of electric eels — a technology invented by Hung Wa Holding Company. Thousands of eels are kept in pools, and their discharges are collected and stored in batteries. The power is then inverted from DC to AC and fed into the local grid. An identical plant will be built in Laramie, Wyoming, by Hung Wa’s international subsidiary, Dynamic Electro-Fish, of Mississauga, Ontario (see Laramie Boomerang archives for April 1, 2009).
There are all kinds of restaurants in Guiyu, but the trendiest is Ba Po, which specializes in — what else? — Chinese cuisine. Head Chef Chee Loong Cheong, formerly of the prestigious Haozhan in London, England, serves up his exotic creations — chop suey, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice.
But competition has arrived in the form of a Mexican restaurant called El Chapo’s. Mexican chef and entrepreneur Joaquin Guzman arrived in Guiyu last year with a trunkful of money, saw the opportunity, and seized it. Now everyone’s going crazy over his tacos and burritos. Pop star Lady Gaga went gaga over the food! She claims she put on five pounds eating daily at El Chapo’s during her recent one-week tour. She performed to packed houses at the Gun Kai Club, whose owner, Chang Chi Kao, considers himself the Lady’s number one Chinese fan.
And last winter, Mel Gibson was on hand to celebrate the opening of the Friendly Chicken, hilariously designed by artist Chester Brown of Toronto. Patrons enter the restaurant through the chicken’s head, eat in the stomach, and exit by the anus. Gibson remarked to the media, “Australians love this sort of humor.” But Jonathan Litvak of the Westin Guiyu insists it represents an ecological theme.
Guiyu’s mascot is the bird of paradise, and if you want to see them, go to the park along the bank of the Lianjiang River, where they roam freely.
The Lianjiang is a pristine river. And when it freezes over in the winter, residents go ice skating.
Golden fields of millet and corn surround the tributaries of the Lianjiang, and you can climb at least part-way up the slope of Tharpu Chuli, a dormant volcano, which enriched the soil in the distant past. A high fence marks off the Gungbung Conservation Area, where the rare white tiger is protected.
The biggest surprise in Guiyu is an authentic Shaker Village, founded by dissidents who left the South Union, Kentucky, community in 1922 and traveled to China in search of spiritual purity and a population of converts. Now well-established, it numbers nearly a thousand members, who earn a good living fashioning bar stools and roulette wheels out of maple, oak, and applewood, all crafted with the elegant functionality for which the Shakers are well known. But these people are not stuck in the past. Oh, no! The Shakers have always embraced technology and invention. The community’s leader, Sister Mary Catherine Park Hui Gee Crucified of Jesus, sees a Divine Hand at work in Guiyu and calls the city “a new Garden of Eden.”
Guiyu now has a sister city in the U.S. — Compton, California. Mayor Eric J. Perrodin says, “We be gettin’ down wid dem Chinamen!” He regards Guiyu as a model to emulate and intends to remake Compton into a major recycling center for electronics, generating thousands of high-paying jobs. He has not yet traveled to Guiyu himself but intends to go with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this fall. The Governor sees electronics recycling as the perfect industry to cure California’s financial mess.
Recommended vaccinations: yaws, Mucolipidosis IV, jejunal atresia.
Copyright@ 2009 by Crad Kilodney, Toronto, Canada. E-mail: email@example.com