Sat, Jan 13, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Building boom in China’s tropics as ‘smog refugees’ flee toxic air

Jaded urbanites keen to outrun the hustle and bustle of Beijing put down roots near the border with Myanmar and Laos

By Tom Phillips  /  The Guardian, JINGHONG, China

Look the other way and you see part of the construction site for a high-speed rail line that is to link Yunnan’s capital, Kunming — as well as Jinghong — with the Laotian capital, Vientiane, and possibly one day, Singapore.

“All the major developers are now coming,” Li Yanjun said. “The city is booming.”

Smog is not the only factor driving migration to Xishuangbanna. Ji, who used to work for the state-run China Development Bank, said he was also tired of human beings.

“Beijing has too many people, it is too big, and has too many tall buildings. I do not like it,” he said.

Jin Di, a Beijinger who runs Jinghong’s first craft brewery, Big Black Dog, said he came chasing opportunity; others were attracted by property prices.

“You can sell one house in Beijing and buy 10 here,” he said.

However, Jin, 37, said he regularly hosts northern guests who had received medical orders to quit the capital.

“Last year a lot of my friends came here because their children were always coughing — very serious coughs — and the doctor advised them to change place because if their children stayed in Beijing they would not [get better],” he said.

During 2016’s airpocalypse, “a lot of people came here to buy houses,” he said.

Li Yanjun said he had mixed feelings about the changes.

As the first member of a family of rubber tappers to go to university, he benefited directly from two decades of development. However, such growth was “a double-edged sword,” because cement factories on the outskirts of town meant Jinghong was no longer completely smog-free.

Ji and Liu, who hope to start a family in their new home, said they were also wary of unbridled growth and the pollution from the growing numbers of cars and construction sites.

Still, having spent more than half of his life in mega-cities — including a year in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with a population of 20 million — Ji said he was happy with life in Jinghong, which has only about 530,000 residents.

“The air is good. The weather is good. If we want to climb mountains, all we have to do is drive for a few minutes. In every respect, things are better here.”

How long would they stay?

“I do not know — maybe forever,” he said, before correcting himself: “Probably.”

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen

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