Archive for March, 2010


We are but a shirtless belly away

We flung outselves into Spring’s embrace a few days ago under sun-soaked rays, light breezes and an explosion of blooming flowers.

Other signs make it hard to forget that May is but round the corner.

“Extra security! Speed up the demolition! New roads! Confused cabbies! Visitors from out of town all in the same month. HAVE YOU BOUGHT YOUR TICKETS TO THE EXPO YET?”

Just in case you weren’t aware that the Shanghai Expo is happening. We’re all at the edge of our seats here.

Then, the spring months will pass and before we all know it, summer will be here.

Cue the moans. The hot, the sticky and the smelly.

Cue. The invasion of the shirtless bellies.

You wouldn’t know where to look.

August 2009


Family business


Children are excellent sales people at the market. Adorable ones attract browsing customers, even if you’re just selling garlic and ginger. 

To call this grandmother’s place of merchandise a stall is a bit of a stretch. She had two baskets of produce that registered a few coins per purchase. Yet it seemed like a way to pass the time while caring for her grandchildren. 

The family was from Shandong province, as were their neighbouring vendors. The market street was sometimes clustered according to your province and hometown, common in migratory patterns.

An old security guard stopped by, played with the children for a bit and bought a few pieces of ginger. Barely 3, the older child, after wiping her snot-riddled fingers on her clothes, picked up the produce awkwardly and bagged them while everyone watched her move in painfully-slow motion.

Next to her, the baby boy, wrapped up in a permanent ball of fleece, simply stared into space while concentrating on standing upright, with much futility.

“Good girl!” a few people clapped enthusiastically when the girl sucessfully bagged the produce. She giggled at the attention.

Suddenly, from behind us, someone snapped in jest, “Oei! Little girl, hurry up! I’m in a rush. Two pieces of garlic.”

More about Shanghai’ street markets here and here.

January 2010


Work’s Momentum

In their hands, these workers carried bricks that once made up houses that are now no more, in neighborhoods that the next generation will have no idea once existed.

Their prerogative is only to deconstruct and construct. This side of history, by no fault of theirs, has nothing to do with them.

Taken west of Shangchuan Huiguan (商船会馆), a former temple and lone structure in a vast ocean of concrete rubble. Even children who played amidst what was left over of the neighborhood, are not likely to recall what it used to be.

March 2010


Behind the Camera: Katya Knyazeva on Documenting Old Town (老城厢)


Katya Knyazeva is a journalist, book designer and fine artist from Russia. Her illustrated books and graphic novel have been published in Korea, and a book about Shanghai’s Old Town is on the way. She writes about cuisine, culture and urban form, and documents Shanghai’s neighborhoods using vintage cameras. For 3.5 years, Katya has been dedicated to capturing details of the city’s historical houses and its facades, researching its history and sharing it with the public. 


1. Your photostream reflects years of discovery and research of Old Shanghai architecture and way of life. When and how did you get into documenting places and their details? 

KK: Nighttime photo-walks became a habit a few years ago when I lived in Korea. Superficially, Korean cities seem like an endless replication of same elements: apartment compounds, clean embankments, sodium streetlights. But I remember the first time I wandered around with a camera and stumbled on a hillside community of improvised gardens, with terraces made from old doors, discarded television sets and copper funnels. This turned my companion and me into ‘flaneurs.’ Every night, we’d bring a camera, take the subway to a different stop and go wandering around with a camera, getting entangled in a strange neighborhood. Each time we lost our way, we found surprises. When we moved to Shanghai, we just continued to do the same thing. 

2. What other aspects of street photography do you focus on? 

KK: Compared to Korea, Shanghai has such luscious and diverse city landscape, sometimes in a single image you can trace years of the history of a house or a street corner. Human habitation is a natural force, just like erosion, and I’m drawn towards neighborhoods and buildings that show the effects of long years of adaptation. It’s only recently that I’ve become a little more systematic, especially regarding artifacts of old Chinese culture in the former walled city. 

3. How do people generally react to your presence and intentions when you’re photographing? 

KK: Being able to speak some Chinese opened many doors – and closed some. Once I barged into the beautiful Writers’ Association mansion on Julu Lu (巨鹿路) just with a simple ‘hi’, and the guard had no vocabulary to stop a foreigner. A year later I spoke to him in Chinese and he refused to let us in. Frankly, the poorer or more precarious the neighborhood, the more gracious, curious and welcoming are the residents. 


Continue reading ‘Behind the Camera: Katya Knyazeva on Documenting Old Town (老城厢)’


The ubiquitous Chinese electric bike

“In the chaotic ecosystem of Chinese roadways, the electric bike fits in right where the infernal moped might have once hoped to go, as a stepping stone for growing families or a low-cost option for commuters.

For anyone who has not been to China, it is easy to lose sight of just how big a deal this is: China has twenty-five million cars, but it has four times as many e-bikes.” ~ Evan Osnos, “The Turtle King Revolution”, Letter from China, The New Yorker

Taken on Lanxi Road (兰溪路)

March 2010


Nostalgia in harmony

“The only thing better than singing is more singing.” ~ Ella Fitzgerald

One of the best ways to experience the city is to immerse yourself in the many public parks around Shanghai. There are small parks that accommodate a few chess games, body exercises and common assemblies of retired conversationalists. Larger parks like Lu Xun Park (鲁迅公园) contain a spectrum of activity that warms the heart and cheers the spirit.

Come late afternoon as the sun slides lazily into the early evening, tens of middle aged to the elderly would throng about in large groups in accordance to their indulgences. Some dance, others sing and most do both.

In the centre of Lu Xun Park, there is a large group that does the waltz, tango or cha-cha. Sometimes they dance en mass to a booming speaker that is owned by an accompanying cowboy on guitar. Other times, they surround an outstanding pair or two who twirl and move seamlessly in circles.

But almost all the time, everyone sings.

A few have songbooks that reveal old lyrics from the Communist era filled with patriotism but mostly of nostalgia. They blend into a harmony of voices – tenors mixed with sopranos that are supported by baritones. The more they sang, they more they smiled, some serene and others mile-wide with glee.

In that free space, they lose themselves to fresh air, swaying trees in balmy winds and amongst companions who have experienced life as much as the next person. Yet there was no need to talk about the past when you can share it in song in the present.

April 2009


The world as their playground

Well detailed here, the area surrounding Shangchuan Huiguan (商船会馆) in Old Town, also known as Merchant Shipping Hall, has been completely flattened and the radius of demolition continues expanding in full force. Built in 1715, it was a place for business traders to congregate for wheeling and dealing or to rest for the night before hopping back on their boats moored off by the port along the Huangpu River (黄浦江). While the structure itself is authorized for preservation, everything else has fallen to the wrecking ball. At least 5 streets now no longer exist, their road signs standing in irony.

In this vast track of land, unnatural in Shanghai’s dense urban jungle, there was much activity. In addition to construction workers shoveling rubble, speeding bulldozers, and a web of scavengers, children from surrounding neighborhoods were peppered across the landscape.

There is so much to play with – puddles of water with rocks of all sizes, endless discoveries of discarded knick knacks and miles of dust to build sand castles. The children were oblivious to the sea of roaring engines and whipped up dust storms, only mindful of the playground beyond their doorstep.

March 2010

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March 2010