Archive for the 'To Market, To Market' Category


Buying back old Expo tickets

He stood there holding a small styrofoam board with a bored expression that was only rivaled by the young boy next to him selling ice-cream with his shirt rolled up to his chest.

Apparently, this man was in the business of buying back old mobile phones and transportation cards, amongst other things I’m sure, to recycle and make a bit of profit on the side.

“How come you are buying back old Expo tickets.” I asked, “You selling them online or try to get back into the Expo grounds?” I joked.

The man lazily looked me up and down, “What’s it to you?”

I shrugged. “I have a spare Expo ticket in my pocket to sell, maybe we can talk business. I’m just curious what you do with it, that’s all.”

He eyed my camera suspiciously. “This and that.”

I asked to take a quick snapshot, he pondered for a moment and acquiesced. As I framed my shot, he suddenly swung the sign board right into my lens.

He then proceeded to do a little dance, swimming the sign board all over the place just so it was impossible to photograph it.

“What you doing, man?” I asked in bewilderment. If you don’t want me to shoot, just say so, I huffed.

Ok, ok, he guffawed. As I tried one more time, he began his old antics again. This time, swinging the sign like a pendalum, cackling at his own wit.

Afterwhich, he pointed west and drawled, “There are a bunch more people like me buying back Expo tickets down the road, why don’t you photograph them?” With that, he continued cackling.

Exasperated, I spun on my foot and left. What a joker.

August 2010


Before Dinner Time, You Could …

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…  sing a song.

… run an errand.

… play one last round of carom.

… run around with a stick of celery.

… trim your hair.

And just like that, the weekend was over.

August 2010

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The Transaction

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In the afternoon that I have been hanging out at a scrapyard along Huoshan Lu (霍山路), I noticed an old man shuffling quietly through with a small bag in hand. He was shirtless given the sweltering heat, and his age showed through his liver-spotted and saggy skin which hung loosely on his person.

I followed him across to another scrapyard by Liaoyang Lu (辽阳路) and discovered him tidying up a large tarpaulin bag filled with plastic bottles. He had an odd movement about him. Upon closer examination, I noticed his shaking hands.

He had Parkinson’s disease.

His right hand shaking more than his left, he stared at his wares and mentally calculated its costs. I thought it made sense he collected plastic bottles, it’s light and portable, but you only earn about RMB 0.20 (USD 0.03) to one jin (斤) which is about 500 grams.

I was standing amidst a group of men in charge of collecting recycled goods – wood, steel, plastic, rubber, junk. They bought scrap from individuals to sell in bulk to recycling plants.

A young man sauntered over to assess the voluminous heap of plastic. A transaction was made with a modest sum exchanged. I could not help noticing the old man’s shaking hands while he waited for his payment. I wondered if he was being medically treated.

The old man then shuffled off counting his money, dragging his dust encrusted feet and slippers.

“He’s about 60, maybe 70.” One of the managers said in response to my question. “We try to give him a fair deal each time.” A look of pity flashed across his eyes as quickly as it disappeared. He then distractedly turned back to jousting with his buddies.

August 2010

Continue reading ‘The Transaction’


Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“Hello. Bag? Watch? Jacket? See this menu, we have everything.”

Try to side-step.

“No thanks.”

“Round the corner only la. Watch? Bag? DVD?”

“No. No!”

Walk faster.

“Come on la. LV? Gucci? Prada? Watch? Ba..”

Start running. Hawker starts fading into the distance. Success!

“Hello. Bag? Watch? DVD?”

“Arghh!! Where do you guys COME FROM?”

June 2010


Insert thought bubble here

Sometimes, there is nothing worse than having someone notice you with a camera. Or when you hit a low point in your photography for the day.

There are times when I take my kit out for a spin and position it by my hip to randomly capture anything that passes me. The diversity of the random, bizarre and mundane amuses me. Every once in a while, you chance upon a gem like this.

When I see this, I have a strong urge to draw in a thought bubble and guess what he is thinking.

What to eat for lunch or dinner? Strategizing the next mahjong session? Perhaps a haircut is overdue.

The endless possibilities of a wandering mind.

February 2010

On a separate note, I’ve noticed a huge jump in readership in the past week and wanted to extend a hearty welcome to new readers and thank existing readers for being patient with my slower pace of posting of late. Work and travel has kept me busy, regular programming will resume soon.

Finally, I was interviewed by BBC Vietnam last week about Shanghai’s development and the blog, the video is here. For some reason, I thought it was going to be a radio interview, I clearly did not dress/make up for the occasion.


All animals are comrades

“All men are enemies. All animals are comrades.”
– George Orwell, Animal Farm, Ch. 1

At first sight, the chicken was sleeping. Next to it, the sign screamed pending death, “Chicken! 8 yuan a kilo”. That’s when you realized, the chicken was really contemplating its doomed fate.

I’ve photographed my fair share of animals at Chinese markets (detailed in “The Last Squawk”) but it remains impossible to be completely desensitized by live killings, the preferred way for most Chinese to ensure fresh food.

There are times I’ve had to forgo meat for the rest of the day, haunted by the image of a hawker violently ripping the skin off an entire chicken in one stroke. Then, wiping the blood and flesh bits off her cheek, she’d ask if you’ve had lunch.

Or the image of a frog, split in half and tossed on the street. Its eyes were bulging in delirium, staring at its own flailing legs just inches away, as if swimming frantically away from an imaginary enemy.

Once, a curious duck pecked at my hand when I came very close for a shot, and its friends quacked in unison, as if laughing at me. Looking back at that photo, I noted faint smiles, even a smirk, if you’ve lost your mind like I have.

Were they posing for me or mocking another cruel human? It’s nice to know poultry have a sense of humour, even hours before death.

April 2010


Hello Kitty keeps his ears warm

Judging from his blue uniform with yellow reflector stripes, he was a sanitary work or the likes. We were both standing in line for some hot flat bread when I noticed his earmuffs.

I had a silly grin plastered on my face which he clearly noticed. His hand automatically reached for his ears and blushed. It appeared it wasn’t the first time someone had pointed it out. 

Flat bread in hand, he chuckled abashedly and walked off.

It was then I felt a tingling in my ear lobes as the wind picked up.

Seemed I needed a pair myself.

December 2009

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