Posts Tagged ‘Hongkou market

03
Sep
10

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

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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!

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

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

25
May
10

Lessons from shooting 2010 我在上海 世博特刊 (Part 2)

I’ve been wanting to share stories from a photo shoot I did for <<2010 我在上海 世博特刊>> “2010 In Shanghai: World Expo edition” but preferred to wait until the travel magazine hit the stands.

I wanted to capture children of fishmongers, poultry and vegetable hawkers at the Hongkou market, whom I’ve photographed many times before. With the adults’ expressed permission, I found myself in the longtangs amidst screaming kids, facing one hilarious challenge after another. Here are some humbling lessons I’ve learned, applicable, to all photographers.

Continue reading ‘Lessons from shooting 2010 我在上海 世博特刊 (Part 2)’

18
May
10

Shooting the cover for 2010 我在上海 世博特刊 (Part 1)

I’m most excited to share with you a Shanghai travel book entitled <<2010 我在上海 世博特刊>> produced by one of the most popular travel companies in Taiwan – Lion Travel.

They approached me to shoot (part of ) a cover for their upcoming book on Shanghai, timed to release during the opening of the Shanghai Expo. They clearly had a unique vision and all credit to them for taking a chance on my style and doing such a phenomenal job on the book.

I shot the cover of the little boy in a Hongkou longtang, and can’t wait to give Ah-da and his family their own copy. I’ll share more about that photo shoot next time. Just know I endured kiddy snot and mucus on my 5D, be still my terrified heart.

They even included a photographer’s note toward the end of the book, where I talk about Shanghai through my eyes.

A pleasure working with the creatives over at Lion. I love their passion and professionalism! Do pick up a copy if you’re in Taiwan!

很高兴能和你分享一本上海旅游书,是非常受欢迎的台湾旅游公司- 雄狮旅游 -出版的. 我很荣幸能帮他们拍封面,是虹口区的一个小弟弟.我很期待把杂志给小啊达和他家人.

旅游书内还用了我其他作品,都是我非常喜欢的. 而后面也有摄影师的短文.他们把我英文的短文翻译成中文.

认识了雄狮旅游的同事,觉得自己很幸运,能和那么有创业性的专业家合作.非常感谢他们选”人文”照片为封面.

谢谢雄狮旅游! 如有机会,请购买一本吧!

For Taiwan friends (在台湾的朋友)

For China friends (在中国的朋友)

You can see more of my published work here.

26
Apr
10

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




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