Like many foreigners in town, I live on Hongshan (虹山), a hill near Kunming's old university district flanked by Dianmian Dadao (滇缅大道) to the west and Jianshe Lu (建设路) to the east. The area has not been immune to the rampant destruction and construction enveloping vast swathes of Kunming, and for years residents have been subject to a constantly transforming urban landscape. A new and abrupt change occurred on the morning of March 1, when urban management officials began dismantling 200 roadside kiosks where people, including myself, have bought groceries for more than two years.
The small blue stalls — called Wuhua District Hongshan Dong Lu Standardized Booths (五华区虹山东路规范点) — now being torn down and thrown away were originally installed on Hongshan Dong Lu in 2014. They were licensed for use to vendors through urban management officials, or chengguan (城管). For a fee of 20 yuan per day, fruit and vegetable sellers, butchers, snack purveyors, clothing merchants and many others could rent the curbside stalls. Business was typically brisk from dawn to dusk, as the Hongshan area is home to about 20,000 people.
In my personal experience shopping on the street, the conglomeration of vendors sold an enormous variety of seasonal fresh foods and homemade staples. Some 'shopkeepers' adapted quickly to the variety of different requests made by foreigners living in the area. Ask for avocados, raspberries or mala peanuts (麻辣花生) one day, and chances were by the end of the week they would be available.
But the outdoor market's success ended up being its eventual undoing. An increasing number of pedestrians, coupled with the coming and going of innumerable delivery vans, brought vehicular traffic to a standstill for hours every morning and evening, rendering navigation of the street a nuisance and hazard.
City officials decided to close the outdoor bazaar down two weeks ago, and gave vendors notice then. People renting the kiosks were also given options — move to the Zeka Supermarket (喆客生活超市) in a converted factory on Hongshan Dong Lu, or to the covered Yonghexing Wet Market (永合兴农贸市场) 500 meters away on Hongshan Nan Lu. Renting a space in either location will cost between 260 to 400 yuan (US$38-58) per month, prices roughly comparable to renting the old street-side booths.
I spoke with two vendors who are moving their shops to the Zeka Supermarket later this month. They are among the estimated 80 percent of street-side merchants who have signed contracts to move to other markets. Both seemed unbothered by their evictions. A woman whom I've bought vegetables from on a daily basis for more than a year said of the move, "At least now when it rains or snows, I'll be inside."
The decision to shutter vendors stalls stems from daily traffic jams along the road, and officials feared without removing the booths, things could get even worse in the near future. Hongshan Dong Lu connects the major thoroughfares of Dianmian Dadao and Xuefu Lu, the latter of which will convert to a two-way street later this year. Traffic through the Hongshan area is expected to increase significantly because of this change, while new high-rise apartment blocks being built nearby will undoubtedly stress parking arrangements and traffic conditions significantly.
The move to clear kiosks off the road is scheduled to be completed by March 15. The plan seems to be a fairly reasonable one, especially considering vendors were given options. But I will miss shopping on the street at what was one of Kunming's more colorful, vibrant and interesting markets.
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