China’s property naysayers seem to think that the real estate market is divorced from commercial reality. But one particular project hitting the headlines at the moment is being designed with other-worldliness unashamedly in mind. It aims to recreate the Spanish Costa Brava on the southern Chinese coast. The plan is build a copy of the port of Cadaques, a small town that once served as home and inspiration to Salvador Dali, the Spanish painter.
Sound ambitious? China’s Cadaques will be built in Xiamen by China Merchants Zhangzhou, a subsidiary of the state-owned conglomerate China Merchants Group, on a 100-acre plot looking out across the ocean towards Taiwan. More than 15,000 residents are expected in future, primarily holidaymakers keen to enjoy a Mediterranean experience without having to jet all the way to Europe to find it.
The town’s designers claim confidently that the topography of Xiamen Bay will allow for an authentic duplication of the Catalan town’s white painted buildings and narrow streets. It even allows for a gentle slope leading down to a fleet of boats in a picturesque harbour.
“We will recreate the essence of a fishing town, reproducing the most characteristic elements of the architecture in a space which has a similar coastline,” a resort architect told Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia.
The town is also aiming for an artsy reputation. Dali did have a connection to things Chinese, penning a collection of illustrations inspired by Mao Zedong’s poetry in the late 1960s. One of them, “Bust of Mao”, was completed five years before Andy Warhol’s much better known silk-screen prints of the Chinese leader. Dali’s own sketch showed the Great Helmsman cut off unceremoniously at the shoulders, which some now see as a critique of the cult of personality. “The man is so tall he didn’t fit on the page,” was Dali’s explanation at the time.
The Chinese have shown interest in overseas idyll before, most notably in Thames Town, a picture-postcard copy of an English market town, built an hour’s drive from Shanghai a few years ago. Local residents signed up on the promise of a British utopia of corner shops and cobbled streets. A fish and chip shop, red telephone boxes and even a bust of Winston Churchill in the town square were thrown in for effect. Presumably drunken fisticuffs are choreographed outside the local pub at closing time on Fridays too.
Certainly, the town sounds like it needs a little spicing up. Property sales have been poor and the streets are reported as largely deserted, except for couples looking for wedding photo backdrops.
The Scots feature in the imitation game too, with the Tiger Beach golf course in Shandong now twinned with the famous Carnoustie course on the Scottish east coast. Pot bunkers, gorse and extensive sand dunes (bulldozed into place, naturally) all serve as faithful replicas of the Scottish experience. Even the winter weather does its bit. A bitter wind whipping in off the Yellow Sea ensures miserable playing conditions for all but the hardiest golfer.
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