Dust and Construction

Published 2006-10-23

Life is slow and frustrating in Xiamen lately. Warm and dusty. I’ve about had it with nothing working right, shoddy design, and everyone basically being OK with those things. I’m also really missing autumn, my favorite season. There is no autumn here. The weather is cooling but still low 80s (mid to upper 20s C), and humid. And yet, still dusty. Everything is coated with a thick layer of fine dust. In the countryside, the dust is from the mountains and fields, which are drying from the wet season. In the city, the dust is from the construction.

Construction is really out of control. We picked our neighborhood in part because it had many single-family houses, we figured we were immune from more construction. Boy we could not have been more wrong. Every other house is being renovated, which in China means “all but demolished and then completely rebuilt.” But the really fun part is the degree of care and professionalism being invested in this construction.

For example:

There’s a switchback west of our apartment where the road climbs the hill behind us (to the south). On this switchback someone is shoe-horning a new house. The construction site is perhaps 30 m long (east to west) and 15 m wide (north to south), with an elevation change of up to maybe 10 m. Previously there was a stone retaining wall on the downslope (south) side of the switchback. The construction company literally removed this retaining wall and excavated the space inside the switchback. So now there’s an open pit inside the switchback, level with the downslope side, with a 10 m unretained loadbearing dirt wall directly under the road on the upslope side.

It gets better: To the east is the building immediately next to us. It has a two-story side-wing with no foundation, built directly against the slope to the south and west. So this pit also has an unretained loadbearing dirt wall for a six story apartment building. They did this excavation in literally two days. I’m not an engineer and I don’t know bupkiss about construction but even I can see this is a spectacularly bad idea. Maybe the dirt coheres when it’s dry (doubtful), but God help us if it rains. Oh wait, yeah, it’s typhoon season. Holy crap. The hasty nature of all this construction suggests the sort of bender a gambler takes on his last $1000, when he knows he won’t stay in another hand. “Let it ride!”

I heard that Fujian province is renowned for its shoddy construction and I hope for the safety of the Chinese people this is true. I hope that elsewhere in the country they wouldn’t remove a cliffside retaining wall which bears weight for both a road and an apartment building.