Damion is now a foreign teacher at an international school in Changsha. [Photo/ Liu Shuangshuang]
Zigzagging through the alley paved with rough limestone, people can see traditional local houses with black tiles and green walls, tree-shaded courtyards of coffee shops, elaborate hotels and distinctive boutiques. Not far from here, Changsha IFS, “the tallest building in Changsha”, is often the most lively and bustling place. This is where the contrast of ancient tranquility and modern fashion coexist.
In the camera of Damion Braithwaite, British, the old streets such as Duzheng Street and Baiguoyuan appear quaint and unique. “Changsha (capital city of Hunan, China) did very well in its urban renovation, especially in retaining the historical flavor of the old lanes. In the vibrant city of Chansgha, history and modernity are perfectly rolled up into one,” said Damion, who often visits the old streets.
Damion, 43, is an English teacher at an international school in Changsha. Damion visited China in his world tour more than 10 years ago, and then decided to live in a city boasting a long history and profound cultures. Changsha, an ancient city with several thousand years of history, was finally chosen as his destination. “I love the city for its ancient yet vibrant culture, delicious food, buzzing nightlife and friendly people,” said Damion.
Damion, based in Changsha, likes to express love for this city in his own way: exploring how to make more foreigners fall in love with and better adapt to the city. He tried to start a free magazine, and then set up a WeChat account (WhatsNewInChangsha) providing information about food, scenic spots and job opportunities. This platform not only offers information, but also communication opportunities for foreigners working and living in Changsha.
It’s been 10 years since the initiation of WNIC. Recently, a 6-part well-produced video collection titled “Changsha Historic Walks” was posted on the account, standing testimony to Damion's knowledge and love for the city's culture. In the videos, Changsha's old streets and alleyways hidden in the downtown area are presented. In the caption, some written introduction, old photos of streets and alleyways, and a map of Changsha's old streets made by Damion through field visits and online research were also posted.
“Changsha is undergoing extensive renovation to bring back the city’s amazing historic past. Enjoy the delightful cobbled streets, food stalls and private gardens. Changsha awaits!” Damion wrote in the caption.
Old streets are the historical mark and cultural symbol of a city. In recent years, a large number of hundred-year-old streets in Changsha have been renovated. This time some old houses and buildings were preserved, thus the old flavors were retained while many new businesses were also emerging in the old alleyways. The old houses were renovated into popular guesthouses; restaurants were built in the old pavilions, and their dishes became new gourmet favorites. The prosperity of old Changsha is therefore retained and continued.
As an “organic entity”, the city needs to “metabolize”. While improving the quality and vitality of the city, Damion believes that old streets and buildings should be treated with reverence and kindness, and that the memory of the city’s history and culture as well as traditions should be well preserved. “Just like what Changsha is doing,” said Damion.
Photos of towering skyscrapers and information about various events posted on WNIC exhibit the prosperity and modernity of Changsha. Over the past decade, WNIC has attracted more and more foreign “fans” by offering information, and organizing occasional events and cultural exchange activities, which have greatly enriched the lives of foreigners in Changsha.
Damion and his WNIC are also witnesses of the increasingly open and internationalized Changsha over the past decade. Changsha, a UNESCO City of Media Arts, has either become sister cities or have cooperative relations with 50 cities from 29 countries. Changsha is also host to a series of world-renowned events, such as China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo, International Sculpture Art Festival, Meixihu International Culture and Art Festival, and Orange Isle Music Festival.
Damion, who “always wants to do something for Changsha”, said that he hopes to do his best to introduce Changsha to the world, help the world better understand Changsha, and make more foreigners fall in love with this charming city with a long history and rapid development.