Ringson Chen, a 27-year-old financial planner, is no cultural expert. But he resents the disappearance of the Guangzhou he knew as a child. 'There used to be lots of old buildings in the Lingnan architectural style in Guangzhou, but so many have been demolished in preparations for the Asian Games,' he sighed. 'Now, the city's atmosphere is completely changed. You wouldn't know you're in Guangzhou any more.' Chen is just one of many native Guangzhou residents who are outraged about the demise of their local culture and the disappearance of their original way of life, thanks to the rapid economic development in recent years. Ironically it is the Asian Games, supposed to promote Guangzhou as one of China's most prestigious and cultural cities, that has helped hasten the erosion of its heritage, residents say. Even though the demolition of old quarters of the city started long before the Asian Games frenzy began, the event has provided fresh impetus for developers to speed up construction amid a government-led drive to boost the image of the city. The construction of new underground railway lines ahead of the Games, for example, has meant many old buildings had to go under the wrecking ball. But residents are far angrier at commercial property development projects that destroy the old Guangzhou they loved. Across Guangzhou, many two-storey houses with Guangdong's signature Lingnan architectural style have been razed and replaced by gleaming skyscrapers. Old stone-paved alleys have been bulldozed to make way for dual-carriageways. Traditional dim-sum restaurants have been vanishing amid the demolition of old residential areas. The rapid disappearance of the old Guangzhou has left many local residents feeling helpless and insecure, but they say they are powerless to do anything. They say they are often left in the dark about the demolition projects until the last minute and when they are told, they are often given a consultation period of just 15 days. And some gripe that the modernisation drive - in the name of the Games - has stripped the city of its unique character and created a glossy but bland looking city like any one of dozens on the mainland. 'The streets look completely different now and you can't see a trace of history anywhere,' said one 28-year-old marketing executive. Native Guangdong residents also feel increasingly alienated in their home city by an influx of migrant workers who cannot speak the local dialect. 'Now you walk into a shop, or get into a taxi and they speak Putonghua to you,' said 22-year-old Domo Lun. 'There are more and more outsiders in Guangzhou and we're forced to speak Putonghua in our own city.' This, against the backdrop of the central government's policy of mandatory use of Putonghua in government, education and virtually all of the state media, is a powerful enough force to threaten the Cantonese dialect, they say. A number of Guangzhou schools have reportedly threatened children with punishment if they are found speaking Cantonese even at playtime. Many primary school pupils are unable to communicate with Cantonese-speaking grandparents because they have become so used to speaking Putonghua at school. Linguists point out that Cantonese contains elements of ancient Chinese that can no longer be heard in Putonghua and should be preserved. Many native Guangzhou residents say they are not averse to speaking Putonghua but resent the fact that it has taken over from Cantonese in everyday life. Tensions came to a head over the summer after a local official proposed that Cantonese prime-time television programming be replaced by shows broadcast in Putonghua to make Guangzhou a more attractive place for Asian Games visitors. Hundreds attended two Guangzhou rallies to defend Cantonese in July and August. Observers say these were manifestations of long bottled-up resentment against the marginalisation of their once-thriving local culture and language. 'That was the last straw. [The rallies] were a collective venting of anger,' said Guangdong native writer Ye Du. 'The effort to save Cantonese is an expression of our pain over the loss of our traditional culture.' Li Gongming, a professor at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, said many local residents, even young ones, simply cannot face the dramatic changes made to their home towns. 'When local people see the face of their home city altered beyond recognition, they simply do not know what to do. They are helpless amid all the changes and they have no voice,' Li said. Despite a flurry of official events aimed at promoting Guangdong folk culture ahead of and during the Asian Games, native Guangzhou residents say they would rather the government invest in the preservation of cultural heritage and their dialect to maintain the city's uniqueness and long-term attractiveness. 'I just miss that feeling of the old Guangzhou - the language and the way of life,' said Michelle Xie, a 21-year-old hair stylist.