Archive for the 'Building the China Dream' Category

27
Jul
10

A day of rest

He was sitting alone, surrounded by concrete sand and mud, reading a newspaper on top of a tiny table. Behind him was his home, a large blue storage container which served as temporary accommodations for workers on that construction site.

I greeted him good day. “No work today, sir?” I asked, motioning my camera for permission.

He smiled, his crow’s feet pressed together to form a startling handsome face. I was so struck, not just by his genial disposition but by how perfectly framed his face was by his beard and hair, colored evenly with grey, black and white.

For a moment, I knelt there, mesmerized by his features while he stared back, not so much at me but past my shoulder at something else. I repeated myself, asking if he was enjoying his day off.

Suddenly, a voice boomed out from the side. “Today’s Sunday! We’re not working. What are you doing here anyway?” A large and portly middle-aged man, in nothing but a pair of bright red briefs, was in mid stride to the container when he spotted me. Standing firm with his legs apart and hands on hips, he waited for an explanation while I tried very hard to look anywhere but his underwear.

I didn’t recall what I stammered in response, only the image of the smiling old man who quietly acknowledged my departure.

July 2010

13
Jul
10

The steel nest

I’ve always wondered how much steel is required to hold up an entire building.

Tons, I imagine, snaking through concrete and plaster.

I watched a group of construction workers bend and weld apart long twines of rusted steel and pile them high into a massive truck, which came up to almost 2 stories high.

Interestingly enough, I discovered the core group of workers to be from Chonqing, as the demolition company was owned by a Chongqing family.

One young worker swaggered over to me, shirt wide open, and peered at my camera. I pointed to this picture of him and said, “You look like you’re building a bird’s nest.”

He responded with a blank look, and laughed, “Only a person who doesn’t do construction labor would say something like that.”

July 2010

23
Jun
10

Don’t poke around, but I’ll happily pose

“Good day, sir! How are you doing today?”

Stare.

“Working hard, I see? I’m curious about this site, I hear it’s a former military barrack. Are you all renovating the place?”

Stare. Unblinkingly. Someone else coughs.

“Okay. Mind if I walk around for a bit. The buildings are very interesting!”

Stare. Then, a monosyllabic “No!” in unison.

“Then how about a photo of all of you. It’s a nice day, you can pose for me.”

Blink. Stare. Come to life. “Yes, I’ll stand here. He’ll stand there. I want a full body shot. But wait until I put on all my clothes. No, no, stand a bit further back. When you are done, let me see.”

June 2010

08
Jun
10

Walling the site

I stood completely disoriented in a vast track of demolished land running along Gongping Lu (公平路) and Tangshan Lu (唐山路).

I was retracing an old longtang neighborhood but found myself circling back to the same parking lot. It was common for flattened neighborhoods to be converted into parking spaces at RMB10 an hour, a temporary albeit profitable solution to utilize fallowed concrete spaces prior to actual construction 

Shoddy looking walls were often erected around construction sites to contain the dust and from prying eyes.

The wall surrounding this plot of land was almost complete, save for a gaping hole in the north end.

There, I found some men coating the wall with a fresh slab of concrete. From Subei (苏北), short for northern Jiangsu, they often worked 7 days a week. “Otherwise, how do you get this?” a worker said to me with a glint in his eye, motioning money with his finger tips.

It turned out that their main jobs were to build temporary walls for construction sites. In fact, they were responsible for much of the walling of major sites in Hongkou for the past year. 

Currently, they were preparing the site that will soon house one of many metro stops along Shanghai’s 12th subway line, steadily making the city’s subway system one of the largest in the world. I had earlier documented the demolition of another neighborhood for a separate Line 12 stop last year.

I squatted with the workers under the beating sun, watching them paint deft strokes of concrete while puffing away on cheap cigarettes. It was hard not to notice their leathery skins which were dark and shiny from hours under the sun. After sharing some waxberries (杨梅) I had on hand, I departed, leaving them to earn another day’s wages.

June 2010

31
May
10

Shanghai Minimalism

It’s official, summer is here and everyone is on vacation. Couple that with the allure of the World Expo, friends and family are pouring into Shanghai in droves.

I love showing people around, enjoying good food and sights of what Shanghai has to offer. Some want to see New Shanghai and are endlessly dazzled by the brights lights, big city. Others want a peek at old neighborhoods after a long day of fighting crowds at the Expo site.

As for me, I’ve seen the Bund a few too many times, almost everyday in fact. I’ve memorized the outline of the city landscape from various perspectives (from both sides of the river, to and North and South of the Bund) and as they say, you can’t get too much of a good thing.

All along the Bund, teeming masses of humanity adopt a common posture: arms outstretched with a camera/phone in hand. How can you not? Dare to go home without the obligatory Shanghai skyline? Never.

But I’ve had my fill. So a little minimalism is in order. Like a tiny thumbprint in the corner of a photo.

April 2010. Taken at 5am at sunrise on the Bund.

28
Apr
10

The gentleman who does construction

In his paint-speckled work jacket, he had a laizzare-faire air about him that was striking yet charming at the same time.

A profile shot was irresistible. Yet at the sight of my camera, he was unfazed. Rather, a lazy grin spread across his face as he fingered around in his pocket for a cigarette. Keeping a steady gaze at my camera, he whipped out a pack of cheap ciggies and even offered me a teasing stick which I politely declined.

A lit cigarette in his hand, a breakfast omelet in another, he raised his left hand to toast me and ambled away to a corner to enjoy his breakfast. No doubt whatever hard labor that laid ahead of him that busy day, he seemed like a man who would take everything in stride.

October 2009

16
Apr
10

Portraits of Strangers #1

In thy face I see the map of honor, truth, and loyalty.
      – William Shakespeare, King Henry VI

There’s no art
  To find the mind’s construction in the face.
      – William Shakespeare, Macbeth
         (Duncan, King of Scotland)

Taken in Lujiazui Financial District, Pudong, Shanghai

April 2010

29
Mar
10

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

22
Mar
10

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

Continue reading ‘The world as their playground’

10
Mar
10

How do you view China?

If I were a romantic, I’d paint a picture of China’s social and economic contrasts. A stalwart  worker poised on his bicycle, a mode of transportation that once defined an entire generation of Chinese before the country opened up, against the backdrop of the bellowing economic beast.

If I were a skeptic, I’d say that he fits like a small piece in a huge jigsaw puzzle that is China, a cliché that journalists and pundits use to sweepingly illustrate trends like “the widening chasm of income-inequality” or “the growing flows of migrant classes”.

But today, I’m neither.

This man was merely bicycling to (or from) work at 7:30am and enjoying a cigarette in the process.

And when you smiled at him, he nodded gravely and continued along his way.

“(…) it turns out that there’s another way of comprehending the reality of modern-day China — one that captures the contradictions of the place and allows them to co-exist.”

“So the tug-of-war continues, and the stories keep rolling in. The bigger story is a long way from over. Stay tuned.” ~ Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, 28 February 2010 “Beijing’s Labor Pains”

November 2009




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