July 07, 2008

#01-131: Reading Boomtown Chronicles 4

wide view of an urban area with bushes in the foreground, over which is written "READING BOOMTOWN CHRONICLES"
Shenzhen, the Boomtown

Note: Between Lesson #01-128 and #01-207, I wrote 72 lessons explaining expressions in articles published in the Shenzhen Daily. Read more about "Reading Boomtown Chronicles."

Get Ready: Have you ever been accused of pursuing a pipe dream?

Boomtown Chronicles Part I - published Monday, June 16, 2008 (cont.)

  • "making a pipe dream"

pipe dream: Zhang Xunfu, the then-Party Chief who presided over the opening of Shenzhen, said that people had accused the visionaries who created the modern city of "making a pipe dream." I'm sure this is a translation from Chinese. I wonder if the translator knew the origin of the term?

Of course, the meaning is "an unrealistic idea" or "something that is unlikely to happen." But it actually has its origins in the abuse of opium, once a hot topic in Guangdong. Who can forget Lin Zexu, the great hero who did his best to stop the illegal importation of opium by the British? Anyway, a "pipe dream" is the type of unrealistic fantasy one might have while smoking an opium pipe.

  • "When I visited the Fishermen's Village in late 1981, the ramshackle houses were gone...."

ramshackle: Zhang said this, referring to the progress made in a very short time. The word means something like "deteriorated" or "in poor condition," perhaps even "poorly built." It is not a very old word, first found in the 19th century. Its roots go much deeper, however.

It is believed to have come from a much older word, "ransacked." If someone came into your house and threw the furniture around while looking for money or jewelry, we could say your house had been ransacked. A "ramshackle" house looks much like that! Rann is an Old Norse word for "house," and "sack" here is related to the word "seek," so someone "seeking" something in your house would ransack it.

We also, of course, use "ransack" figuratively:

Example: "Can I please borrow a pen? I ransacked my desk, but I can't find one."

  • "few people could then foresee that Shenzhen would become an economic powerhouse that has driven China's manufacturing boom, and a modern city with 12 million people in less than 30 years."

powerhouse: Literally, this is a place where electric power is generated. By extension, it has been used to describe anything with a lot of power. As a single word, it is often an adjective, but it can also be a noun.

Example: "Our new ad campaign will deliver a powerhouse blow to the competition."


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shenzhen

Practice: Choose the correct term to fill in the blank in the sentence below:

  1. pipe dream
  2. powerhouse
  3. ramshackle

  1. I couldn't believe Bob paid that much money for such a ________ place.
  2. I think his plan to make a killing in real estate is just a ________.
  3. If he's going to succeed, he's going to need a partner that's a real ________.
  4. She had a ________ plan to start a new business.
  5. If a property begins to look ________, it will be harder to sell.
  6. It can take a lot of cash to turn a ________ into reality.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for July 7, 2008

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