Demolition & dead letters


Continuing an earlier musing about how “chai” works (and how it could work in the future), avoidance strategies for how one could possibly evade having one’s house demolished still beg to be considered when faced with a view like this. Would you be willing to paint your entire building the same shade of “Urgent Red” that “chai” is usually written in if it bought more time before demolition? Or repaint it another color, remove its address plaque (if it has one) and “hack” its appearance in other ways? In the fast-changing Chinese urban where addresses can be fluid and official systems and processes are (sometimes surprisingly) analog, consider the requirements to resist/defuse/outsmart them.


Connected to the more analog/less digital nature of things in these parts, consider whether/how protected your mail is depending upon population density (that yellow plastic box with the lock on the bottom and mounted to the wall of this condemned building in Chongqing is actually a mailbox). In urban Chongqing and New York City, two contexts with which I am familiar,  unlocked mailboxes are rare. In what is considered by most to be the “rural” areas of these two countries, there are less strict standards for securing mail. The question I’m pondering is where the line gets drawn for these two different places, and does the information being sent through the mail have any bearing upon the perceived need to secure one’s mail. As always, borderlines and places where the lines blur tend towards the most interesting – somewhere like East Liberty in Pittsburgh, where the former standard of three-story single-family houses is gradually being replaced in some parts by apartment buildings. The former’s mailboxes are often unsecured and out on the street, the latter’s are often placed inside of a locked door, and are also individually locked themselves. Consider the speed of change from unsecured to secured, the motivations behind that change, and process of actually changing (from purchasing a new box, to removing the old box, to informing the mail deliverer and supplying the necessary keys, etc.).

To bring it around full circle, thinking back to the high speed of urban change in China and the analog nature of the processes governing those changes, when the systems do inevitably break down, consider where mail addressed to a building that has already been destroyed ends up – what does a “dead letter office” in China look like, and is there any way to “revive” (as in, for the former resident of a former building physically go and physically retrieve) such a letter? With this in mind, consider the equivalent informal kinship/friendship systems that work around this constraint to get important physical things (documents, money, etc.) to the people who need them yesterday.

Finally, see the summary for an excellent new piece from Reboot on the cellphone’s evolving role in remittance/money moving, replacing the risks and constraints inherent in the above informal systems (while bringing an interesting set of their own to the table.

2 thoughts on “Demolition & dead letters

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s