Posts Tagged ‘scrap

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

17
Aug
10

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’

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.




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