Beishan’s Zheng Road is anything but idyllic. It may be the main street in this part of Zhuhai’s Nanping town (about three kilometres northwest of the Macau border) but it is really no more than a lane, with a cracked pavement and soupy pools of black rainwater through which litter drifts. A makeshift abattoir-come-butcher shop operates beneath a tarpaulin; a tiny room houses a mahjong parlour. Overhead, electric wires knot with telephone lines. Remarkably, some remnants of China’s majestic past remain: a few Qing dynasty buildings, ramshackle and forlorn, sit between “kissing” houses – charmless low-cost tenements quickly (and often illegally) built so close together it is said that neighbours can kiss.
“Everyone here is from outside,” says Mr Peng, a migrant worker from Hunan province, over a steaming bowl in one of the street’s eateries, a Chongqing noodle shop, explaining why no one here appears to speak Cantonese. “The local people rent us the houses, they’ve already moved to new housing.”
A short distance away is some of that new housing: Huafa Century City is a modern waterside development of luxury apartments, Western-style coffee shops and European brand-name stores. Closer still is a construction site on which, it is claimed, will rise Zhuhai’s swankiest mall: Huafa Shangdu.