After money, middle class rediscover community life
Updated: 2016-01-12 14:15
Xiang Zheng was shocked when she peeped through the curtains and saw the theater packed to the rafters.
It was the first time Xiang, 37, had been on stage and she was so nervous she almost forgot her lines. She should not have worried though, the play was a hit and each night the audience gave it a standing ovation.
None of the performers had any previous acting experience. Off stage, they are entrepreneurs, company executives, investors, engineers and architects. They did not know each other until they bought houses in Aranya, a new community in Beidaihe, a coastal resort near Beijing.
Over the past year, more than a thousand families have chosen to spend their weekends in Aranya's quaint seaside homes, traveling back to Beijing, China's most expensive housing market, for the working week.
"We have worked hard to become wealthy, but our hearts are empty," said Xiang, and this is where her drama club comes in, providing an opportunity for Aramya's residents to interact with each other.
Aranya is not alone in wooing the middle class with community activities. At Jackson Hole, a resort community on the outskirts of Beijing, residents can join baseball, knitting and calligraphy clubs. In east China's Jiangsu Province a developer is working with home buyers to create backyard oases.
Mi Hongwen is a company executive well-known to her staff for her almost complete lack of any perceptible sense of humor. After playing a stripper in Xiang's play, Mi claims her coworkers commented on her transformation, describing her as "a smiling sister with feminine charm." She said the play taught her that you can achieve more by relying on those around you.
Xie Xiaomei was of the same opinion. In real life, she is a highly regarded speculator, but in the play she was a servant. "The contrast showed me how to serve others."
However, all the women agreed, the biggest rewards from the experience were the friendships they made.
In recent decades, China has undergone substantial urbanization. Old communities and neighborhoods have been razed and new, luxury apartments built in their place. People move house frequently and their neighbors are often strangers.
"When we were young, we used to live in gloomy apartments or crowded yards in the Hutongs. We were not rich but we knew our neighbors," said Xiang. "Though our houses are getting bigger, we are separated by walls or doors. The drama club brings with it a sense of belonging."
The groups in Xiang's community have made a difference: residents speak to each other, they learn and share, and trust and help each other.
"Our hearts have become closer; we are a community," said Xie Xiaomei.
Aranya caused a stir last year when pictures of its "seaside library" and picturesque church went viral. Some blasted the town for only being accessible to the lucky few, however, the members of the drama club said the sense of community has nothing to do with wealth.
"Money does not matter, happiness does," said Xiang.
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