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Wenhua Xiang filling up with financially overextended youth

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Denizens of the Green Lake area and other passersby may have noticed that hip shopping and dining street Wenhua Xiang has become increasingly crammed at nighttime over recent months with street vendors.

A surprising aspect of this illegal street bazaar is that many of the vendors are apparently affluent twentysomethings who are selling clothing and other items out of the back of shiny new cars.

Despite the swelling tide of private cars in Kunming, they are still considered a luxury in China and it has raised some eyebrows that people who could afford one would want to sell clothing on the street.

It appears that the phenomenon is at least partly caused by car ownership itself, as young car owners make ends meet by generating extra income at night as vendors, according to a Kunming Daily report. But it has also been spurred by Kunming's spiraling inflation and stagnant wage growth for younger workers.

A women selling winter coats on Wenhua Xiang out of the back of a red Chevy explained how her business worked.

"Our coats are of similar quality to the ones in stores, but we're selling them for half the price," the woman told Kunming Daily. "We make a profit of about 200 to 300 yuan a night. We just need to work here a few days every month to earn enough to buy fuel for the car plus have some extra spending money."

A new university graduate surnamed Fan said that she had first started selling notebooks at Wenhua Xiang last year with her university roommate, but that it had been as much a hobby as anything else. But once she entered the workforce she felt compelled to once again start working nights as a vendor.

"I started working a full-time job this year, earning 3,000 yuan a month," Fan said. "But the way prices keep going up, I've been spending practically my whole salary every month and I started thinking about how to supplement my livelihood."

Upon returning to Wenhua Xiang, Fan noticed that the number of vendors had increased from an average of around 10 at a time last year to 70 or 80 by the end of this year. "It seems as if everybody's having a hard time [making ends meet]," said Fan.

"If it weren't for these vendors, the whole street would be empty by 10pm," a Wenhua Xiang resident surnamed Zhang told Kunming Daily. "Instead, at 10pm the racket is only starting. The noise interferes with kids doing their homework and elderly people sleeping." He added that the booths often block the way when he is trying to drive his car home.

A chengguan officer said that the urban enforcement workers patrolled the street every day from 6pm to 10pm, but that vendors laid out their wares as soon as the patrols passed by. He said that chengguan officers had a mandate to punish everybody who violates regulations and Wenhua Xiang vendors were not being given a free pass just because they were white collar workers.

For their part, vendors said they wished they had a legal place to set up stalls or sell from their cars.

"Maybe we can imitate foreign countries and open some designated flea markets," one vendor said.

Image: Kunming Daily

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It's incredibly obnoxious how much rubbish they leave on the streets when they do this. I live in the area, and early morning you can see just how much crap these people leave. Plastic bags, bottles, etc. No respect whatsoever for the neighborhood or the people who live in it.

The Chengguan do very little if nothing at all. They claim that they make patrols, but I haven't seen them. In fact, many times I've seen police giving tickets to cars parked on the main road while these people have their cars pulled up onto the sidewalk selling their crap. It's a farce, really. If these people were farmers selling vegetables or fruits, or barbecue vendors who used to be everywhere in the area, the Chengguan would roll up and act like badasses as they confiscate their carts.

The whole thing has gone from being a minor annoyance to a huge problem. Don't the business owners on the street feel angry about this? I see kids standing in front of a clothing store selling similar items for half the price. This is like cut throat capitalism at its finest.

If I had a shop there and had to pay spiraling rent, tax and salaries I would be furious that the authorities allowed this to go on, and I (having a building site right down from my window myself) can easily understand why the residents feel annoyed by the noise and commotion. On the other hand one can also understand why someone would want to supplement a 2-3000 yuan a month income, especially with the kind of inflation we are experiencing at the present. Not an easy situation to deal with but hopefully the local government will one day realize that tearing down all the markets in order to build an excessive amount of high rises might not be such a good idea in the long run.

There definitely are some problems associated with this, for example the garbage left behind as J.H.C. mentioned, or maybe the noise level at night. However, all in all, I think this is great, and I actually wish there were more of this in the West.

In response to this:

"Don't the business owners on the street feel angry about this?"

I actually think the opposite is true. These dozen or so random collection of carts and cars selling goods, from plants to clothing to plastic trinkets, have attracted massive crowds of potential buyers that would simply not be there in the first place if it weren't for this impromptu night market. Sure, there might be some degree of competition, but mostly I don't think there is all that much overlap, and anyway, the crowds that they attract more than make up for the small amount of business that they steal from them. The noise complaint isn't really that reasonable either: the alley is packed with restaurants and bars that are usually open far later than the night market anyway.

The only real complaint I have are the cars that insist on driving by. Seriously, the best thing that could happen to wenhua xiang is if they closed down the street to cars, except if you had a resident's permit and lived on that street. Otherwise, there really is no reason to drive through it. I mean, what, you're driving on Yi Er Yi da jie and you need to get to wen lin jie or something, and you think that driving down what is essentially a one-way alley, packed with students from Yunda and pedestrians shopping, is going to get you there any faster than going around? If you meet even a single car coming the other way, then you immediately block the road and cause a jam.

Instead of complaining about the night markets that frankly do far more good than bad, we should do something about limiting the number of cars on wenhua xiang

We've tried bringing it up with the local community groups in the Wenhuaxiang/Cuihu area, but it seems like a lost cause. They're not interesting in making it a walking street, even though it would be SO much better if it were so. Awhile ago, most restaurants and cafes had tables and chairs outside. It was a really cool, nice environment. Fewer cars would try to get through. Now it's utter shit, clogged with cars and these people making it an absolute mess every night they congregate to sell things.

Noise is an issue, trust me on this one. Yes, there are bars and restaurants all up and down the street - inside. It makes a huge difference.

Hope this gets solved soon, as I'm really tired of having to deal with it. Either make the area a night market and be done with it, or get these kids the hell out of here.

they create noise and mess. they undercut legitimate businesses such as the small fashion shops towards the north end of the street. of course they undercut shops... the interviewee says as much. the chengguan are next to useless and the police stand around and watch it all happen. it's a joke and i'm also convinced that it wouldn't be allowed to continue so blatantly and in such numbers if they were barbecue vendors. finally, they block the path of other road users like the shop workers, delivery bikes / cars and me on my bike! a pedestrian street would be much preferable to these rats.

Having just moved here from Shenzhen, I am pleased to hear that the Chengguan are less aggressive, even if means some inconvenience for now. I assume that sooner or later at least some of these vendors will find it more difficult to spread their wares in the evening, perhaps under pressure from shop owners.

The SZ solution, and one that is often applied elsewhere in China, would be to leave such problems to the Chengguan to resolve as they see fit. When given a free hand, Chengguan can be absolutely ferocious and nothing less than thugs.

Surely Kunming has a better way to deal with such relatively minor problems...

"Maybe we can imitate foreign countries and open some designated flea markets," one vendor said.

This man obviously hasn't put taxation in his mind.

Dan - QiuHe (KM Party Secretary) has a BIG problem - he embarked on a massive construction program (movement of all universities to chenggong and the Tier 2 players to the old yuangpu campuses, the new international airport, highways, subways, not sure about water, power, sewers, sanitation and other growth infrastructures and I DEFINITELY don't see any new schools to alleviate the overcrowding inside the city - cmon 70+ students per class?). The good thing is his massive construction programs generated a tremendous amount of jobs for unskilled laborers.

The negative is the influx of unskilled labor (usually comes with higher crime, civil unrest when they can't eat or live, etc) and the staggeringly massive debt Kunming has to repay. They're selling land to try to dent the debt - hence the massive apartment construction projects which again support more migrant labor - which leads to incredible property value swings (more than 50% drop in value from original purchase price).

So, on one side of the coin Kunming has generated massive employment of the unskilled - but service of that debt is an equally massive problem - Everyone is banking on KM becoming the SE Asian Hub, but Guangxi is competing hard.

Our negatives - rude lazy taxi drivers, a generally lazy appearing work force, a culture of laid back sort of anything goes, close enough is good enough malaise, and a lower skilled workforce than other Tier 1 and up and coming Tier 1 cities. Kunming is targeted to be elevated to Tier 1 level - sometime around the time we hit a population of 10 million (including rural migrants I suppose) - so you see - our fine and fair city has some rather large problems looming on the NEAR horizon.

The dudes shining the lasers everywhere, including, one time, into my eyes are really obnoxious.

Laotou00, you're kind of off-topic there.

There are a lot of issues arising from Qiu He's moves, but the construction is going along rather smoothly, considering the scale.

As for the debt, you have it backwards. The government sets up local development corporations and gives them large parcels of land. They use this land as collateral to finance the infrastructure projects, and when the new infrastructure is built, that land, now highly valuable to developers, gets sold to pay off the debt. It's happening across the country. Almost all of the other bonds and funding mechanisms are sold domestically, so if something happens, it will be more manageable than, say, Argentina's international debt crisis of a few years back.

SSeminari is living in a dream. Illegal vendors that are now starting to play loud music on the street late at night while blocking to road for LEGAL (no matter how annoying) vehicles which causes the cars to all honk endlessly at the same time creating tons of litter and undercutting the shop owners who pay crazy rent on that street. It is a residential area that sleeps early and the restaurants on the street don't make near as much noise as these kids produce. I don't believe that the people who buy their wares are there just for the market and I don't believe those people being there is of any help to any of the legal businesses. It's just annoying and rude. No one wants them there but you.

Wenhua Xiang is just one long, extended, interminable joke. i can't write my comment for laughing. the trash pile that spews from the corner (yes, i know it used to be worse), the new(ish) buildings that were built with no utilities access, the zero-height kerbs that make it oh sooo convenient to park on the sidewalk, the fact that cars are allowed on it at all, the illegal street vendors, the police cars with parking tickets on them (no joke), the disincentive to renovate (the strip with Bangkok Cafe, Kadilan, Qian Yuan et alii) because of the persistent rumours of chai'ing, the silly rent being paid by the likes of Salvador's and The Box, it's all a big fat, side-splitting joke. what makes it all the more funny is how easy it would be to solve. everybody's stupid.

@hedgepig Agreed.

it's not the party.

"No one wants them there but you." And all the vendors and shoppers. And me. Lots of people, in other words. If they annoy the annoying car drivers, so much the better. Maybe they'll learn to stick to the big streets.

i don't want them there and i don't have a car. they annoy me too. the arrogant scum have blocked the path of anyone crossing on wenlin jie again tonight. why should pedestrians have to walk on the road for illegal sellers? they cause a disturbance and mess that the local bars and shops could never get away with. the joke is that they weren't noticeably there when i passed at 9.30 but were out in force by the time i come back just after 10. i squeezed between two clothes rail to cross the street and the reaction i got was slightly worrying. the sellers on both sides stared at me and mumbled something derogatory.

it's true that kunming, china and the entire world face bigger problems but that doesn't make the behaviour of this underhand, greedy and selfish bunch any more acceptable. let's face it, want them there or not, they're trading illegally and failing to deal with the issue is just one more failure for local authorities.

Those kids are scum, pure and simple. Sell your car and buy a bike.

Kris, let's agree to disagree. You just posted a bunch of your opinions, without anything backing it up.

Let's take this one:

"I don't believe that the people who buy their wares are there just for the market"

I pass by wenhua xiang fairly regularly, maybe three or four times a week (it's between my workplace and my home). On the nights that the people are there selling their wares, the street is, like you said, packed. On the nights where they aren't there (even at the same time of night) wenhua xiang has maybe a tenth of the people. Compare these days at around 10 PM with wenhua xiang a few months ago. Are there more people now or less? And if these illegal markets aren't bringing more people around, then why all of a sudden is there a noise complaint, and not before? It might not seem so to you, but to me it seems fairly obvious that it is exactly this night market that is bringing around more people, and nothing else.

I know that you "don't believe" this or that, but it makes it difficult to discuss this with you when you just post unsupported opinions.

"It's just annoying and rude."

I consider the cars on the street far more annoying and rude.

And regarding living in a dream, how about this for a down-to-earth, easy-to-apply solution to the car problem:

1. give every resident who lives on the street a car permit, which they place on their car.

2. Place a sign on the street saying that after a certain date, no cars without a permit are allowed on the street. Failure to comply results in a 50 yuan fine.
3. On that date, have a police officer or chengguan patrol up and down the street. Every time a car rolls by, check it for a permit. Failure to produce a valid permit results in a 50 yuan fine slapped on the driver.

All you need is a few cars a day passing through illegally and the system pays for itself

Whoops, missed this one:

"I don't believe those people being there is of any help to any of the legal businesses."

I don't know, I'll agree with you that the new vendors are competing somewhat unfairly: they don't have to pay rent, and sell out of their cars. However, the Chinese way of shopping is exactly this: dozens and dozens of store congregate around each other, all selling the exact same thing. And shoppers come and walk and browse, comparing the goods. What to me seems like a terrible idea ("well, there's already a dozen stores selling cigarettes on this street, but sure, why not, I'll open my cigarette store here too!"), evidently seems to work in China. This sort of competition is perfectly normal.

And lastly, have you actually seen any of the wares the street vendors are hawking? It's all trash. Either small plastic trinkets, or ill-fitting, ugly clothing that clothing stores rejected. Sure, they're cheaper, but they can't compete with the higher (I use the term loosely) 'quality' stuff sold in the stores.

The vendors are a big part of the crowd that you see when the vendors are out, from my observation the people that end up looking at their stuff were already walking by anyway and just kind of congregate and didn't come to wen hua xiang just to go to the 2 hour market, and as you said those buyers just buy cheap stuff and dawdle in the street making noise and are not spending much money in the shops.

Everyone agrees that cars shouldn't be allowed in wen hua xiang, I say start with the kids that park on both sides of the street selling stuff out of their trunks (because they figured out they can just shut the trunk and walk away and the cheng guan can't do anything to their cars) They now park in their spots for the night in the daytime and come back later making the already bad w.h.x. traffic worse all day.

There are at least four apt complexes and a police station in w.h.x. all of those places have cars that come and go. Late at night a good portion of the cars trying to get in and out of w.h.x. actually live there and have more right to be there than anybody as the man in this story was quoted as saying...

'at 10pm the racket is only starting. The noise interferes with kids doing their homework and elderly people sleeping." He added that the booths often block the way when he is trying to drive his car home.'

I know there are many other cars that shouldn't be there and I say get rid of them now, but if illegal vendors stop one person who lives in w.h.x. let alone dozens from getting to their rightful, expensive homes on a daily basis it's a problem.

Of course the vendors want to be there, they can sell lots of stuff without paying any rent, utilities, taxes, salaries etc. They are exploiting a weak enforcement system and they obey no laws be it traffic, commerce, taxation, sanitation, environmental or even politeness. They block the road for the cars and pedestrians with zero remorse or regulation. There is smoky shao kao sometimes now and kids with powered subwoofers playing disco music and garbage, garbage, garbage and endless car horns honking. This isn't Khao Sarn road ya'll. A few hundred people have homes with windows that face the street.

@SSeminari The problem of regulating traffic in w.h.x. seems so simple. Your plan is a very good idea and I pray that it could be implemented ASAP. We have all had similar ideas, 'a gate with a card, members only, no through traffic' maybe even one-way and otherwise totally pedestrian. Everyone has talked about this for years but alas apparently it still is a little dreamy :)

there has recently been car parking enforcement in the area near Paul's store. there's been a baoan (or two) stationed just to the WHX side of Paul's for a couple of months, and while i've not confirmed the details, it appears parking in that area is now restricted to residents/permit holders. there's also been some work on the hardware (some planters removed, repairs to the road surface) to make a little more parking space.

last i saw was that the mechanical barrier was sawn or broken off (someone drove through it? they realised they were squeezing bike/diandongche/pedestrian traffic into a metre-wide space?) and that they'd started placing plastic traffic cones in the road instead.

while thus far it seems like half measures, it does seem like someone is thinking about these issues. throw in a sprinkling of consistent, reasonable enforcement from the chengguan and the traffic police, and we might be getting somewhere. there's hope.

I've just watched four or more chengguan drive past with a look of despair on their faces at seeing crowds of youth standing next to rolled up mats and dubiously parked cars (which they must now are full of dodgy merchandise). I must say that I sympathise with them a little - it must be terrible knowing that you're a toothless watchdog, a beast with no balls.

Kris - hmm, after reading your post, I think you're right. Originally, I was only in support of the impromptu night market because I thought it wasn't doing any harm, and because it was making it more difficult for cars to pass through, and might eventually lead to fewer cars on the street.

However, after reading your posts and seeing the reality for myself on the streets, it's becoming evident that they are indeed a nuisance to nearly everyone, including residents and shopkeepers, and that they're bringing in _more_ cars, not less. How has the market affected Salvador's sales?

@ hedgepig - Yeah, I've noticed that on the street near paul's as well. Hopefully it is a first step to making the entire alley pedestrian, but somehow I doubt it. They're probably only limiting traffic in that area because there is a school there and a playground, and they deem cars unsafe, whereas wenhua xiang is still considered ok for cars. I think it might be expecting too much for the authorities to realize the value of a car-free area?

Wow, congratulations to Simon to being the first person in the history of internet discourse to actually read somebody else's argument and change his mind based on it's logic. A man among boys :)

@SSeminari Yeah man, it started out innocently enough about a year ago when there were only a few people out from time to time but in recent months it really has gotten way too out of control. And the fact that the Chengguan leave at the same time every day only encourages more and more people to come as they know it will be fine after 9ish. Now I think there are more illegal vendors in w.h.x. than legal ones hahaha! It makes it harder for anyone to get in and out of w.h.x. and makes being in w.h.x. more hectic, I suppose it's possible that scares some people from coming into the alley indirectly affecting Sal's business but really it's the noise, garbage and the fact that it's difficult to walk around anymore that is the most dissapointing about all this. The neighborhood has been hijacked. I liked it better when w.h.x. was quiter. Great chatting with you all about this.

I think one of the motives for this behavior that is not mentioned in the article of comments is not a financial one. The youths seem to consider it as a very hip kind of lifestyle to sell their fashion on the street. They try to be as image conscious as possible and as it often goes with this kind of young-hipster-fashion-motivated behavior, they completely disregard and undermine the existence of other people around them; neighborhood residents and the people who pay loads of rent in order to open legitimate shops.

The chengguan once again show us that they are not more than lazy, selective and ignorant thugs who are not at all genuinely concerned with the well-being of the city. They use overly excessive force when there is not a single reason to do so, while at the same time giving those disrespectful youths the chance to exploit the lax policies and almost vandalize a neighborhood.

What else is there to do? At least don't buy anything from them..

I'm preparing a lightning bolt to strike down all of these heathens.
This is quite simply unacceptable, and I won't be having any of it. My dad is super pissed, too.

Join hands with me, my children, and allow us to show these young enterprising demon kin the truth, the light, and the way.

There used to be a lot of street food vendors on Jianshe Lou and in front of the Yun Da guesthouse. They were great, until someone in power had them chased away (probably with the excuse "that's not what they do in America!!"). Now that some are coming back to Wen Hua Xiang, I am happy. Maybe the restaurants will get to have outdoor tables again. If I wanted to do all my shopping in Walmart, etc., I'd live in the USA.

some_guy - thanks for the compliment, but how do you know my first name?? : /

Did any one notice this in the report; "... at 10pm the racket is only starting. The noise interferes with kids doing their homework"

Why on Earth are kids do homework at 10 pm?

with tutors and all the other evening classes kids go through here, they probably don't even have time to start their homework till 10.

That's true. There was a kid 10 years old that commited suicide because of the pressures of homework. This happen about 2 days ago or so.

Zhubajie - street sellers are not the problem... it's the amount of them that squash in to one tiny street and make noise/mess while inconveniencing the locals, pedestrians and vehicles. That's not to mention the obvious negative effects on local businesses. I'd guess that most of us enjoy street food and (almost) all would welcome the return of the outdoor cafe tables but allowing one small group of 'affluent twentysomethings' to openly flout the law isn't going to bring anything back.

Total, I would say the main problem is the cars. Let the vendors and their customers alone. As for "flouting the law", this is not America! If it were, I'd move away again.

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