It seems a good idea to define Anhai, since it’s probably not a “typical” Chinese town, if there is such a thing, and some other narratives in this blog might require this bit of background.

Anhai is under the jurisdiction, broadly construed, of Xiamen, one of the original five “Special Economic Zones.” These SEZ’s were allowed to have commerce with the outside world long before other parts of China, and as a result, money began flowing into this region sooner than most other parts of the country. And it continues to flow in even faster today.

Long story short: Anhai, as far as small-to-medium sized cities go, is fairly well-to-do. This isn’t apparent as you walk the main streets, though; they look rather filthy and dingy. The wealth isn’t visible–unless you count the high-end vehicles you sometimes see in the filthy streets–until you step into private courtyards and sprawling multi-story homes, accessible through small mazelike alleyways.

You see, Anhai has become wealthy to the point that its native inhabitants no longer need to do any “menial” or “service” tasks. The people sweeping the streets, cooking and waiting in restaurants, working in factories, and just about everything else that isn’t “managerial” or above, they’re all from elsewhere, maybe poor inland regions of Fujian or as far away as Sichuan Province.

Thus there’s a very obvious two-class system in Anhai, one that might bear some comparison to the way of life in South Africa these days. The locals live in large multi-story houses with stone, marble and granite floors, stairs and countertops, with grand rooms and rooftop gardens and refrigerators and big TVs, behind large walls with glass shards sometimes embedded on the top to discourage unwelcome visitors, locked front gates, bars over the windows sometimes as high as the third floor, and so on. They wear more expensive clothes, often sent or brought back by relatives overseas or in Hong Kong. Many have cars or motorcycles. They often get their hair cut in salons (Japanese styles are fairly popular, I’ve noticed.)

Local people here in Anhai are factory owners, traders, stone/marble granite magnates, and the like. Also, lots of people from here have gone abroad to make their fortunes, and they send a lot of it back. At least enough to build one of these grand family homes, large enough to be mistaken for multi-unit apartment buildings, if one doesn’t know the whole story.

Most people you see out in the streets, however, are referred to as “Northerners” here, though this term encompasses basically anyone who’s not from “here,” anyone who has come as a laborer or worker. They live in spartan, crowded conditions, dress in common or low fashion, get their hair cut by street barbers with dull shears…and are not trusted by the locals, as the gated courtyards and barricaded windows suggest.

I’m not sure who fired the first shot in this class warfare, but I frankly don’t mind sleeping behind the locks and bars, as there are enough stories to convince me of people, sometimes entire families, being murdered by robbers who managed to break in during the night. Less so now that the extensive “home security” measures are in place, but such crimes are what made the measures so ubiquitious in the first place.

Street and alley robberies are fairly common here too, usually around dusk, when it’s harder to get a good look at the assailant, but no so dark that said assailant can’t see his way as he makes his escape. Whenever someone has been caught for such crimes, they are–of course–“Northerners.”

We were headed out today–me, my Wife, two Daughters, Wife’s Younger Brother, and Nephew–and my Mother-In-Law warned us to be careful because the number of street robberies increases around the Chinese New Year. I told her not to worry, because with me along, everyone in the streets will be watching us, and the robbers might not be as bold with such a great crowd of potenial witnesses watching our every move. We made our way out and back again just fine, but I’m not sure my reassurances helped her feel better. She’s known too many victims of brazen daylight robberies here for that to happen.

A View of Part of My Wife’s Cousin’s Four-Story House

A Couple Views of My Wife’s Family’s Third-Floor Outdoor Garden Level: