Thursday, July 26, 2012

All Around the World: Underground

Asheley Gao

            After the torrential downpour over the weekend, the kayak has replaced cars, bikes and buses to be the most popular form of public transportation in Beijing. With the heaviest rain in nearly four decades, the deluge brings roughly 6.7 inches of rain in downtown Beijing and even more in the suburbs during the weekend. From subways to toilets in apartment buildings, all sorts of outlets that are connected to the underground have turned into fountains and swimming pools. Bridges collapse, dropping concrete bulks into flooding streets where drivers and pedestrians are stranded. The media, as always, praises the dramatic and heroic rescue stories, while trying its best to avoid the critical question: why, in the first place, would such an unprecedented flooding happen in a modern metropolis like Beijing? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the underground world of Beijing: the underground city, the subway, and the sewage system.

            The underground city is a network of tunnels constructed during the 1970s asa bomb shelter. Thirty feet under the surface, the tunnel runs under Beijing’s city center with its entrances secretly located among the shops and houses in downtown Beijing. Living under great tension with the Soviet Union and expectation of a potential nuclear war (in the 1970s), Beijing civilians tore down historical buildings and city walls in order to supply building materials for the tunnels.There was also a tunnel connecting the military base in suburb Beijing to downtown, which, rumor has it, transported large amounts of troops to Tian’anmen Square during the massacre in 1989.

            The subway system in Beijing has been rapidly expanding in the past decade; its total track length has ranked No.4 among world’s metro systems. However, like the Dwarves in The Lord of the Rings who have dug too deep into Moria, Beijing’s subway construction has caused multiple collapses that resulted in huge holes on the surface of the roads. Many rainstorms in the past few years have rendered the subway stations into large cisterns, turning the staircase down the station into waterfalls.

            Both the underground city and the subway system are connected with the sewage system of Beijing. Originally constructed in the Yuan Dynasty (the time of Genghis Khan), the aging system can no longer handle the burden of modern Beijing, a city with approximately twenty-million people. Water from rain, industrial waste and other human activities all converge in these six-foot tall, three-foot wide sewers, inducing serious flooding during a heavy rainfall. While the government officials splurge billions of dollars constructing sky scrapers, Olympic structures and other show-cased projects that can been easily seen and praised, the neglected underground world of Beijing has become a time bomb that sets off every summer, haunting the lives of civilians.

The Culture Columnist, Asheley Gao:

My name is Asheley Gao and I’m a junior at Cal, majoring in History of Art and minoring in French. I grew up in Asia, the land of dragons and jasmine green tea, as a kid with too much imagination. Indulging myself in exploring different cultures and what they have to offer (art, movies, cuisine, you name it!), I’m on my way to becoming a woman whose country is the whole world. Along with all the excellent writers at Unleashed, I would love to share with you my adventure and take you all around the world.

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