The Anxious Class


A crowd suddenly roared outside the patio doors of my high-rise apartment. Something very dramatic must have been happening for me to be able to hear the clamor clear up to the seventeenth floor, I thought. Typically, my adopted Chinese hometown of Suzhou was a rather placid city, just 65 kilometers outside Shanghai. The Lakeview Garden apartment complex in which I made my home was the very model of a modern middle class: all propriety, privacy, and just enough show of wealth to let others know where on the socioeconomic ladder one perched. Whatever the matter was, I considered, it sounded violent. A fight? A drunken brawl? Another protest perhaps? The Suzhou spring evening was warm without the usual heavy humidity. The perfect evening for an outdoor performance. I hurried out to the balcony to catch the show.
I couldn’t have been more surprised or amused. A small, yellow, scorpion-like backhoe was pulling down the half-meter thick wall that had blockaded owners of the apartments in the complex from half their property. A Singaporean real estate development corporation had built the wall to bar the tenants from further spoiling its delayed construction project for two more residential towers on the land. I scurried down to the ground floor to take in the action, still in my T-shirt and sandals.
Lakeview residents had pushed ...

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