Posts Tagged ‘demolition

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

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

14
May
10

Shanghai’s scrapers

The other day, a woman fell out of the sky and missed me by an inch.

You think I’m making this up?

I was hurriedly striding along the pavement when suddenly, a middle-aged peasant woman from above pounced in front of me and instinctively grabbed me for balance. I did the same but she fell to the ground anyway.

I cursed irrately, my heart still racing from the shock. Was this just a bad accident or was I an unsuspecting support stoop? Bad enough I have to deal with tourists who stop in the middle of human traffic to gawk at the Pearl Tower, and the occasional shovers with nary an apology to be heard. Now, falling human bodies?

The peasant woman had long greasy hair tied neatly in a pony tail and wore a clashing outfit of a red office jacket and jeans, paired with dusty heels. She brushed herself off without a word. That was when I noticed a pile of scrap metal scattered on the floor. I realized she had scaled the wall of a construction site to pick scrap metal for sale. Where profits were concerned, it was a mine field.

Suddenly, I heard a loud clang followed by a thunderous bellow.

Another scraper had thrown a large piece of scrap over the wall without even looking. It barely missed another pedestrian, who was so angry he began hurling verbal abuse at the pair of them. Clearly used to this (disturbingly), they merely picked up their wares and walked away.

I notice them everday now, hanging outside the construction site, occassionally in mid-climb. I’ve stopped walking on that side of the street. Lest more falling metal and women rain on my way home.

The photo above was taken in March 2010 of scrapers in Dongjiadu.

For more stories and news on China’s scrapping industry, I heartily recommend you check out Adam Minter’s work.

22
Apr
10

Retrospect: No longer their city

I received a text message recently I thought note worthy.

It was from this old man in his 60s who was living in Hongkou, a site along Haimen Lu (海门路) I had visited since September 2009. I had documented the process of the longtang’s demise, as its footprint faded from live houses, to a half-demolished mess and finally, unrecognizable flat land.

The old man had wrtten, “New house is nice but far from Shanghai. Life is different. Take care, young miss.”

From the beginning, he was reluctant to share with me where he was moving to although I knew some of his neighbors had scattered to Pudong and Baoshan. He had no interest in a follow up but was pleased with the portrait I had given him.

The photo above was taken in September 2009 in the same neighborhood, of his neighbor, of the midget-like man who lived in a self-built house made of rubble and scrap.

When I asked him if he was going to relocate, he merely said, “Sure. I have to find another space. Any space. At the end of the day, this is not my city.”

September 2009

14
Apr
10

Malchik*

“The tanks are coming! The enemies are surrounding us!” he screamed, dodging bullets from the machine guns spraying from all sides.

“Fatty! Quick! Hand me the grenade!”

Fatty, a large and tubby comrade, heaved his way behind a half-destroyed wall to hand over a loose one.

The boy lobbed it over and they both ducked as the explosion consumed its enemies with fiery flames.

Suddenly, sensing another enemy close by, their heads simultaneously swivelled and found an assassin, whose scope zoomed in on them.

Gotcha.

“Oei! What you doing? MOMMM!!!!!!!!”

“WHAAT?! She’s taking your picture! Smile, dammit!”

Taken south of Shangchuan Huiguan (商船会馆), Old Town

March 2010

* ‘Malchik’ is Russian for boy, and in this context, harks back to Athony Burgess’ “A Clockwork Orange“.




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