Archive for January 22nd, 2010


Maneuvering through traffic

For a two-way street, Hongkou market is a smorgasbord of traffic. It is impossible to stand still in any part of the street without a car, bicycle or people bumping into you. Always look left and right before taking that next step.

You could be idly having a conversation with a friend on the street, and suddenly a big van would be beeping its way into the crowd, its side mirrors brushing against the back of your head.

The roast sweet potato seller would have to maneuver his entire operation to make way, losing bits of wood used to fire up his portable oven. He inevitably interrupts a father and son on a scooter coming in his direction, who then repeatedly blares his horn in the midst of a crowd to signal his presence.

Yet nobody was unfazed or angry for this was how one would move through a market. It was like a domino effect of human and vehicular contact, which would shift in the opposite direction in a few moments.

The noise, people and blur of activity blend into a symphony if you stand there along enough, that is if it was even possible.

December 2009


Her home. A long history.

She left most affairs to her son whom she lived with. She slept on the first floor which was neat and well kept while he slept in the attic that had a single bed and an alarming amount of junk. Next to the son’s bed was a giant biscuit box which served as an ashtray.

Her bedroom was the main room of the house where I imagined people gathered when visiting. It was warm and welcoming. [Another view here.]

Like many enduring “nail houses”, mother and son wanted to ensure they got every penny they deserved from the government for relocating. The son was well-tuned to the exact value of his house.  His mind raced  like a human calculator as he broke down the intricacies of longtang real estate. Don’t you be calling them victims. They know their rights and the value of their property.

They were destined for Baoshan in northern Shanghai, an industrial town known as home to the state conglomerate Bao Steel. It seemed many newly relocated residents from the metropolis have moved out there.

I asked the elder lady if she was sad to move. She smiled and said thoughtfully, “Such is life. Why be sad? I hear at our new house, we get our own bathroom and there are nice facilities.”

She then pursed her lips and concluded, “Besides, we’re surrounded by rubble. Winter is coming. It’s cold without the neighboring houses.”

November 2009

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January 2010