Posts Tagged ‘Shanghai skyline


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


Shanghai Minimalism

It’s official, summer is here and everyone is on vacation. Couple that with the allure of the World Expo, friends and family are pouring into Shanghai in droves.

I love showing people around, enjoying good food and sights of what Shanghai has to offer. Some want to see New Shanghai and are endlessly dazzled by the brights lights, big city. Others want a peek at old neighborhoods after a long day of fighting crowds at the Expo site.

As for me, I’ve seen the Bund a few too many times, almost everyday in fact. I’ve memorized the outline of the city landscape from various perspectives (from both sides of the river, to and North and South of the Bund) and as they say, you can’t get too much of a good thing.

All along the Bund, teeming masses of humanity adopt a common posture: arms outstretched with a camera/phone in hand. How can you not? Dare to go home without the obligatory Shanghai skyline? Never.

But I’ve had my fill. So a little minimalism is in order. Like a tiny thumbprint in the corner of a photo.

April 2010. Taken at 5am at sunrise on the Bund.


Sunrise on the Bund (Part 1)

It was one of those moments that occur to the (semi) conscious mind at 430am.

Dark blue hues were giving way to light, inch by inch. A lone bird chirped, for it too was an early riser. The sun will reveal itself in the barest of moments.

Sunrise in Shanghai. The endless opportunities to discover if one was courageous enough to swing out of bed.

Even the cab driver was barely awake during the journey. The hum of the engine served as a monotonous soundtrack as the cit swept by, empty and dead.

I hopped off by the newly constructed Bund, which only weeks ago, had thousands of people thronging and jostling on the pedestrian walkway.

A friend had remarked, “I only saw bobbing heads, not a skyline. If there was a time to start hating humanity, this was it.”

I hated crowds. Thus, 5am seemed like the perfect time to start my morning affair with the city.

Standing by the river, I watched the wind whip the clouds playfully as they gathered and rolled. The sun gained strength as it grew higher, its bold rays streaking across the skyline.

I’ve never seen Shanghai like this before.

It was as if the Bund belonged only to me, … and a few others. The average age was 50 and above. Retired kite-flyers, joggers and the occasional lone photographer peppered the Bund. The enduring landmark was being enjoyed by its residents, as it rightfully should.

It was about 7am when a large group of elderly folk began their morning excerise. The peaceful strains of qigong jarred unharmoniously with a nearby blairing radio entertaining some cha-cha dancers.

Just as the tourists started arriving. it was time to leave. I walked toward the city as it opened up and swallowed me back into the noise and bustle.

8am. Time for bed.

May 2010


And the Shanghai Expo begins..

I caught the ceremonial launch of the World Expo in Shanghai on television like any good Shanghai resident, away from the maddening crowds. It showed spectacular views of the Shanghai skyline, especially an aerial sweep of the Lujiazui financial district, which sits on the edge of Pudong, like a futuristic island only opened to special individuals.

That was when it hit me: Hate or or love it, Shanghai had an incredible urban landscape.

Yet when the fireworks were primed to go off, we dashed toward the river front where teaming masses had been milling around for over an hour.

And when the sky lit up with bursts of golden and red clouds of light, everyone ooohed and aahed. Someone remarked that it was not as heart-stopping as the Beijing Olympics ceremony, but what they hey, kids were screaming in joy and adults were staring in awe. I stood in a sea of outstretched arms, filming the entire display with camera phones. We all shared a moment along a part of the river less frequented by tourists and wished every night was this special.

April 2010

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