Posts Tagged ‘虹口

30
Aug
10

Echoes and the crunch of broken glass

What is the appeal of an abandoned building?

A common question posed by every other person who happens to be squatting or doing brisk recycling scrap business, to me when I come snooping around. They sniff at the building, then at my camera, and scratch their heads. These are the friendly ones. The hostile ones literally chase you out, they tend to be the ones that have the most to hide: their status, their business, their families.

My answer is it depends.

The mood has to be right: The people, disinterested enough to leave you alone. Each floor seems to unveil something different, not just the view outside. There is the matter of the right music on Ipod. I sometimes like Explosions in the Sky, Bach’s Partitas for Violin No.2, Bob Dylan and even Guns and Roses. Music that complements the gravitas of the situation at hand. Heck, have you ever mounted narrow staircases with no banisters to Lady Gaga? Exhilarating.

The environment and atmosphere: The air and garbage has to be dry enough so any stench would not be so overwhelming that your hands are preoccupied shooting rather than covering your nose. A sun-drenched room is the best, where rays bounce off walls and broken mirrors on the floor.

The foundations have to be steady: Concrete floors are safe, though one has to watch for cave-ins; spots where soft cardboard is piled deceptively high that when you step in, the bottom is actually compost paper and your foot sinks right in. Wooden floors are tricky. Very tricky. I tried it in a large mostly-abandoned European house in Hongkou before, where half the wooden floor was sunken in. Each creak of the rotting wood gave me heart palpitations.

Common sense dictates that you wear shoes, not slippers. I once stepped into a trio of fluorescent light bulbs which exploded under my slipper sole. My screams reverberated through the floor as the glass bits flew into my feet, it took me 10 minutes to extricate myself. 

The potential spectacular view: It may not be the Vue Bar on Hyatt on the Bund, Glamour Bar or New Heights off the Bund strip. But you can always be surprised. With the sweet spot, you could stand there for hours alone with your thoughts, the quiet air punctuated by the occasional blare of the tanker on Huangpu River. In this case, the view of Pudong skyline, like some far away land and era, from this abandoned building will not exist in a few years. Unforunately, urban development will throw up more buildings near the river front, obscuring any view for unfortunate tenants living further behind.

Finally, the stories of chance encounters: Sometimes, squatters, recyclers or neighbors may tell you the history of the building and the neighborhood. This particular building used to be the Shanghai Yaming Lighting Company, established in 1923 and was the first lamp manufacturing enterprise in China. It subsequently created a joint-venture with Holland’s Philips Lighting. The factory subsequently closed and became a hotel. Yet, the outline of where the company name used to be on the building front is still visible.

When I was there, a simply-dressed woman in her 60s, carrying an umbrella, was staring at the building, lost in her own thoughts. It turned out that she had worked in the factory assembling light bulbs before the Cultural Revolution. She was then in her 20s. She later became a teacher and is now retired. In a matter of months, she will be emigrating to America to join her son and husband, both at Ivy League colleges in Boston. “I heard this building was going to be torn down,” she sighed wistfully, “I thought I come for one last look before I leave China.” 

July 2010

23
Aug
10

Before Dinner Time, You Could …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

…  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

* Simply refresh page if slideshow fails to come on. Ta-da!

19
Aug
10

It’s a family affair

Along a quiet part of Huoshan Lu (霍山路), an old, wrinkled woman was parked by the curb in a rattan chair, quietly fanning herself. Surrounding her were two young mothers and a child entertaining herself with an empty plastic bottle. They were lying on a thin rattan mat as if they were in a grassy park rather than dirty asphalt throbbing with heat.

A few degrees cooler, it would have made for a lovely summer day.

“That’s our mother,” a man waved in the direction of the old woman. “And those are our wives,” another man affirmed.

The Jiang (江) brothers were part of a team of migrant labor from Anhui and Henan, dismantling and emptying all scrap materials from an old factory building slated for demolition. The ground floor served as temporary living quarters, together as a dumping and sorting ground for all the wood, clear glass, mirror glass and all other recyclable waste. In the distance, a group of shirtless men were playing cards and listening to a small transistor radio.

I chatted with them at length, charmed by how similar they looked and amused by the elder (or younger?) brother who peppered me with questions, upon learning that I was from Singapore, how he could move there and make big bucks. “In fact, how about you bring me over to Singapore?” he asked. Everyone laughed.

The following week, I returned bearing 2 copies of this portrait for them. The heat was unbearable and everyone had migrated into the building. The brothers were there, as were their families sans the matriarch. Pleased as punch, his wife pushed an ice-popsicle into my hand. “It’s too hot. Cool down, cool down!” she clucked. I stood there awkwardly holding the popsicle in one hand, camera in the other. Something had to give.

And so, their son, who was eyeing my cold treat, got to slurp down another popsicle. Everyone won.

August 2010

17
Aug
10

The Transaction

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

* Simply refresh page if slideshow fails to come on. Ta-da!

** For those still unable to view the slideshow, the photos are available in sequence after the jump.

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’

02
Jul
10

The street that became a gulf

On a balmy spring day, I had ducked in a narrow corridor to get away from the frantic market activity along the stretch of Anguo Lu (安国路), where the street market bustled with clucking chickens, flopping fish and a rainbow of vegetables and fruits.

I found myself in a compound with squat two-storey apartments. It was a mix of communal housing from the 60s and modest shikumen from the early 30s – non-descript concrete intermingled with old wood.

What struck me most was how neat and orderly everything was. Burgeoning blooms rested in small garden patches that lined a courtyard devoid of clutter and decorated with warm, red windows. What the space lacked in interesting architecture, it made up with a quiet and homey space that was bathed in sunlight.

I struck up conversation with two older men which naturally attracted more people. House-proud, the first gent said he had lived here his whole life, “giving” his apartment to the government after 1949, and reclaiming it in the 1980s.

When I complimented on the state of their residence, they beamed. The second gent pointed out, “We make it a point to be civilized (文明) and clean up after ourselves.” Furrowing his brow, he lowered his voice, “Not like the waidiren (外地人) (or out of state residents) who now dominate the houses across the street. The houses are old and have grown messy and dirty and they don’t take care of it.”

Others in the group nodded. A middle-aged woman lamented as she sorted her vegetables, “When more outsiders started moving into the neighborhood, locals would move out. Or maybe the Shanghainese could afford better housing elsewhere, and start renting their old homes to migrants.” She seemed confused about who to blame, then quickly added, “We renovate and upkeep our houses. Whereas they (outsiders) can be so uncivilized and dirty, destroying our surroundings.”

An old man tottered by and offered his two-cents worth, “Even the Shanghainese living opposite don’t like those outsiders.”

The first man jumped in, “If we can help it, we discourage landlords around here not to rent to outsiders. We prefer local Shanghainese.”

He then summed it up for me, “That street (Anguo Lu) is like a river that separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon/New Territories.” Hong Kong Island is where businesses thrived and living standards are high, compared to New Territories which still has vast tracks of rural land. “We’re all the same city yet different.”

I didn’t respond, only smiled distractedly. I knew a few residents across the street, including a fish monger, a vegetable hawker and a store keeper. Like almost all the street hawkers in the vicinity, nobody was from Shanghai.

When locals refer to out of state residents, or waidiren (外地人), with such distaste, they usually refer to working migrants or labor from poorer neighboring regions. They could have lived here for years and be a permanent blind spot to society. Accustomed to harsh conditions, these migrants take on jobs that locals are less willing to carry out. They tend to be a little rough round the edges given their poorer living conditions. I’ve witnessed rather appalling behavior of construction workers near their living quarters. Enough said.

Of course, there are many wealthier waidiren, like my Wenzhou landlord who owns multiple properties across Shanghai. Or my work colleagues from Zhejiang, Guangzhou and Wuhan, who have called the city home since their university days. They refer themselves to “New Shanghainese” (新上海人). Locals tend to have mixed reactions to them, focusing more on the fact that they no longer feel they owned the city, than how much the city has thrived as a result of local migration.

I recalled a conversation with the fish monger from Jiangxi. In between naps in a plastic tub meant for containing fish, she told me that she felt sorry for many Shanghainese trying to afford property in the city.

“With the money a Shanghainese uses to buy a 90sqm apartment, I can afford a 3-storey house in my home village. At the end of the day, this is not our home and we will all go back. We may even have better lives in our villages.”

It was quite a revelation for me, putting the local vs. waidiren socio dynamic in new light. 

I left the compound after being offered snacks and tea. Whatever the local residents’ opinions, I appreciated warm hospitality and a chatty demeanour.

As I stood in the middle of Anguo Lu, engulfed by bustling crowds, I looked east at the compound where the Shangahinese locals lived, then west-ward where many waidren lived.

There I was, in the cacophonous street that had turned into a gulf, a reminder of the persisting divide that plagues the city.

May 2010

17
Jun
10

A Photographer’s Eviction from the house on Yulin Road

From a distance, the row of European-styled houses stood out along Yulin Lu (榆林路) in Hongkou district (虹口区)– burning brick red against squat shop houses and gleaming condominiums. The place has been designated as a heritage site, according to a plaque that hung outside, which offered little beyond a perfunctory description of “simplified classical style … garden residences” built in 1927.

Inside, more than half the rooms had been abandoned because the wood on the walls and floor had rotted. Signs of previous occupation were rare, save for the occasional celebrity or government poster, and drawings in what was once a children’s nursery. There were also several expired eviction letters taped to doors.

Yet there were persistent stragglers living there, evidenced by dried fish and laundry hanging in the hallways.

On the occasions that I have entered the premise unencumbered, residents left me alone. Once, an old man stared at me blankly from his window above before closing it.

One visit was marked by a dramatic eviction of our own. Exploring the cavernous empty rooms with 2 other photographers (one of whom was 席子 Xi Zi interviewed here), we split up to document the various wings.

I was teetering in a corner of a room whose floor had caved in when I heard aggressive shouting. Peering out of the side of the window, I saw a security guard shoving my friends across the courtyard while they resisted and pleaded to complete some shots. Volumes were raised in a staccato of Shanghainese as arms pushed and pulled. Some residents stared at the drama with little interest.

I crouched back against the wall, clutching my tripod to my chest as my heart beat wildly.  I was determined to finish shooting the abandoned rooms and as long as they didn’t know I existed, I had some time.

I moved swiftly but quietly from one room to another, careful to stay clear of the windows lest I be seen. Just as I hear the main gate slam shut against my friends, I heard someone shout from above,

“There’s still one more! A girl! Find her!”

I froze against the window then surveyed the situation. A resident and guard began striding to the various houses while shouting to their informer, “Where? What floor?!”

After a few jerky shots, I packed up my equipment hoping to find another exit. Barely steps away from the door, I slammed right into one of the guards. We stared, shocked and wide-eyed, at each other. Without thinking, I gave him a bright smile and shook his hand,

“Happy new year, sir! So sorry to bother you. Are you having a good day? So sorry to bother you! Thanks and goodbye.”

I sped walk toward the main gate, while the guards just stood there scratching his head. My friends looked equally confused at my grinning face, and we moved on to another house.

January 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




All rights reserved

Please do not use content from this website without the author's permission.

Archives

Twitter Updates

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Sep    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930