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

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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




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