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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Why Irish builders should move to Tibet

We all know there's a 'downturn' under way in the Irish construction market. This has something to do with the fact that Irish houseprices are currently marginally more unbelievable than the toothfairy and the Yeti in a clinch.

But it also has something to do with the revelation that a quarter of a million houses in the country are lying empty according to the last census.

We have all the houses we already need. Why pay the silly prices being asked? Once that penny dropped for people, so did the asking prices.

As we watch Irish house prices flutter downwards towards something vaguely and distantly resembling normality, let us consider the plight of the poor, downtrodden property developer.

Yes, he will have smirked wryly to himself over a nice Scotch at the golf club this weekend as news permeated his idyll that his old pals in Fianna Fail have been returned for another five years of playing 'protect the builder.'

But the bottom line is that all the pips have already been squeezed out of that orange.

It's always worth chancing your arm trying to flog crap holiday homes in places no one's heard of, like Cape Verde, especially if people trust you, like they do Eddie Hobbs.

But for most builders, interested only in their declared mission in life of knocking out substandard homes for over the odds prices as quickly as possible, the prospect of slogging it out in the Cape Verde villa market does not appeal.

So what to do? Time to move to Lhasa, I'd suggest.

The ancient capital of Tibet consisted of the Potala Palace, home of the Dalai Lama, and the Jokhang Temple, around which Tibet's main tourist drag of Barkhor Street now runs (see pic of Barkhor above).

A photo I have of Lhasa in 1916 indicates these two buildings as the only things on the entire plain between the Himalayan ranges. Nowadays, the entire stretch of the city, from the Norbulingka Palace to beyond the Barkhor Area, is a predominantly Tibetan 'old' town.

This in itself is odd, given how Tibetans are traditionally semi-nomadic, following their yaks in semi-permanent tents for much of the year, often going on pilgrimages solo, spending time at sacred lakes or sites in contemplation and so on.

But there you go, Lhasa the city exists. But there is another Lhasa - the Chinese immigrant city best viewed from the back of the Potala. This is twice the size of the Tibetan city, and is, apart from its relative cleanliness, indistinguishable from any other Chinese city.

This end of town has the little kids in their sports tracksuit school uniforms, the Bank of China ATMs, the garish neon signs for cheap hotels or good Sichuan food, the travel agents, the shopping centres, the gated communities, the car showrooms.

This is the product, not only of sixty years of Chinese occupation, but also of the dozen flights and numerous trains daily arriving in Lhasa from China in recent years. Lhasa is a Chinese boomtown right now, and Chinese from all over the Middle Kingdom are arriving looking for work or to make a fortune out of foreign tourists.

It's the wild west, from China's perspective, especially since the SARs of Hong Kong and Macau are off-limits for most Chinese.

Now, currently China is gobbling up a quarter of the world's cement, a similar amount of the world's steel and all sorts of other construction materials as it tries to build its way out of murky economic waters, create the Beijing Olympics, renovate Shanghai as a financial centre, and cater for an indigenous property speculation and stock speculation drive.

Mostly, this building is going on in the East, in places like Shenzhen and Shanghai, as well as in Beijing for the Olympics. But the exception is Tibet, where building of housing and massive infrastructure is proceeding at breakneck pace, presumably in an attempt to increase the rate of cultural colonisation and Sinization in Tibet.

Now, it would seem to me that a canny Irish builder looking for a bit of work to tide him over between Irish property boom cycles could do worse than pop over to Tibet right now.

There's no end of work for immoral, shady developers used to corruption and backhanders, who are practised in the dark arts of throwing up developments as quickly and shoddily as possible.

Form an orderly queue, lads.


Bock the Robber said...

Maybe Fianna Fail should move into fucking Tibet and make an alliance with the Chinese to rip off the locals while at the same time enriching their dodgy builder buddies.

What a great idea.

BTW, here, do me a favour and update your link. Please.

JC Skinner said...

It's an auto-referral thingy, Bock. It links to your old site because your old site links here first, if you get me.
But for the record: pop along and annoy Bock at his new domain, people. He's at www.bocktherobber.com. Not so hard to remember, eh?

Boyd R. Jones said...

It's not just Tibet -- all of China is booming. If Irish (or other) construction folk were able to adapt to how Chinese are building their mass urbanization (400 million more farmers urbanizing over the next decade or so), could be quite lucrative.

Flirty Something said...

Was out with some builder types at weekend and apparently they are sitting back for the next year to see what happens - interesting times ahead.