CHINA - The Chinese capital is no stranger to demolition work, having seen large parts of the ancient city pulled down to make way for modern needs and the 2008 Olympics.
It is strange though to see workers trying to take down a bizarre villa with its own fake mountain built illegally on top of a 26-storey apartment block near a busy road in Beijing's Haidian district.
Workers were seen last Thursday and Friday removing parts of a trellis at the villa, nicknamed Beijing's "most awesome illegal structure", local media reported.
No sign of the wrecking ball or building materials being moved out was seen when The Sunday Times dropped in last Friday afternoon. But sounds of drilling were heard coming from the roof, whose access doors were locked.
Nobody answered the door at unit 2605, home of rooftop villa owner Zhang Biqing, 58, a self-proclaimed doctor and former Anhui village boy who made his fortune in the 1990s selling slippers said to boost blood flow.
He had grudgingly agreed to demolish parts of the villa located in Park View estate, after a public outcry led the authorities to decree last Monday that he do so.
That the rocky outcrop, built on an area nearly as big as two basketball courts, could go unnoticed for years has beggared belief and underlined how China's well-connected can get away with almost anything.
"How can he just do whatever he likes?" asked Madam Liu, 60, a resident on the 24th floor who declined to give her full name.
A former member of his district's political advisory body, Mr Zhang started to build a garden with a trellis, fake hill, trees and even a swimming pool around his penthouse back in 2007 at a cost of more than 800,000 yuan (S$166,000).
The consultant for a chain of acupuncture clinics told Beijing Times the fake mountain helped cool the building.
"Later I saw that the mountain was bald and found some plants to put into the crevices. The Beijing municipal government encourages greenery on rooftops after all."
In response to fears that his illegal villa may cause excessive loading and damage the building, Mr Zhang claimed the mountain was made of plastic. "Keeping it won't damage the floorslab."
Workers will take down the trellis and part of the fake mountain by hand, just like how they built them, he added.
Residents and domestic helpers told The Sunday Times that renovation was done so often previously that long waits for the lift were common.
"They kept sending things upstairs," said Sichuanese domestic helper Madam He, 50, who gave just her surname.
A man in his 50s surnamed Wang said: "It's like a swallow building its nest bit by bit."
Many residents did not realise how big the villa was until they saw it on the news.
"We hear that there's even a lift inside. We feel it's such a waste that he didn't become an interior designer," said manager Wang Xiaohua, 35, taking a lighter view of his block's rooftop attraction.
But those on the upper floors who found cracks and leaks in their homes were not amused.
One elderly man surnamed Lan, who has since moved, was reportedly so fed up he tried unsuccessfully to petition the estate office and quarrelled with Mr Zhang.
Despite his neighbours' complaints, Mr Zhang agreed to tear it down only after photos of it posted online sparked an uproar and led local urban management officers to order him to pull it down in 15 days.
Officials are also now checking if his clinics are offering medical treatment illegally, Beijing News reported.
Some residents told The Sunday Times they worry that Mr Zhang would not see the demolition through.
Madam Liu, a finance executive, said: "We don't know when he will finish demolishing. After all the reporters leave, we don't know whether he will start building all over again."
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