Posts Tagged ‘house


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


Next door, next to go

If you walked by too quickly, you would have missed her.

A crowd had gathered to watch an ongoing demolition of a row of old houses. Some were residents from nearby neighborhoods; others had simply nothing better to do.

A few children stared, mouths agape with wonderment at the massive excavator at street level, as if waiting for it to unfold into a giant robot.

The old houses, or what was left of them, had survived awkwardly next to the Dalian metro station and were rapidly outnumbered by gleaming luxury condominiums. Mostly abandoned and decaying, the facelift was inevitable.

Adjacent to the commotion, an old woman who looked to be in her 60s if not older was sitting outside her home, staring vacantly at her surroundings. She seemed unperturbed by the noise, or maybe she was just used to living right by the noise and pollution of vehicular traffic.

There was a loneliness about her that was so palpable, made more stark by the sprawling concrete around her where a neighbor’s house once stood.

A thousand questions rang in my head. I’ve never shied away from speaking with people I photograph. But this old woman’s indifference felt so impenetrable, I left her alone. With the constant reminder of her inevitable move, she did not need to recount her loss to yet another stranger.

Taken along Changyang Road (长扬路) by Dalian (大连) Metro Exit 4

March 2010

Continue reading ‘Next door, next to go’


Home owner, house father

I had never met a resident in the longtang (弄堂) who owned all three floors of his shikumen (石库门).

The structure is traditionally narrow – the door opened into a tiny flight of stairs that led to a large living room and a small bedroom, followed by a small kitchen and an equally small shower/toilet on the third floor that was recently installed. Many residents in longtangs do not have their own toilets.

Yet for all the space the gentleman had, one could not help but notice all the clutter.

It was everywhere. Boxes, books, soft toys, clothes, appliances and more bits and bobs were crammed into every crevice that mapped the living room into a topography of an even larger mess. Abashed, he apologized for the state of the room.

He worked at the shipyard and lived with his college graduate daughter who stared blankly at me as I spoke with her father at length. His wife had passed on a while ago due to diabetes. I did not probe. The man cooked and cleaned when he can and at the moment, was taking care of his unemployed daughter who had a slight cold from the winter chill.

January 2009


And then they were gone

I’ve lost them.

I was away for 3 weeks and returned to a shell that left nary a sign of its past existence.

Only 3 weeks ago, I was standing in the living room cum bedroom with an old woman while she watched television from her couch. I had walked up to the second floor with a low attic where her son slept, and had a narrow window looking out to towering corporate buildings. Next to his messy bed, was a lamp, fax machine and a giant biscuit box that served as an ashtray.

I had come back with photos for them and to inquire more about their new home that supposedly had new toilets and better electricity fixtures.

But I took for granted that they would be there when I returned. After all, they did say that they were holding out to the end when the place would be flattened in December.

November 2009

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