Each time I start a new walk into one of the old alleys of Shanghai, I feel as though I am entering another world where simple life, community feeling, tradition and open communication thrive. There is a charm to the old alleys and a distinct sense of nostalgia that makes them so attractive and keeps me coming back. As long as they are there, the spirit and essence of Shanghai continue to live on.
Big cities have this way of resembling beehives, busy, constantly moving. Most of these urban centers are jarring, fast, harsh, noisy, and unforgiving to all that is slow. Not Shanghai. Shanghai has a gentle flow about it, where people just glide by on their bicycles, slow enough to examine life around them and nod with recognition at friends in their neighborhood. A bicycle and tricycle culture, so much is moved around on wheels. As long as tradition lasts, this will be (at least to me) the greatest charm of Shanghai.
Behind the modern facade of Shanghai and the fashionable lifestyle of its rich, is a world of tradition hidden in the city’s old alleys. Every week when I visit these neighborhoods, I find less and less of them left. The city is changing so rapidly and the new has no room for the old. Modernization is consuming tradition and Starbucks cups are quickly replacing the famous tea containers of the Shanghainese. A paradise for street photographers, I feel so lucky to have lived in Shanghai as long as I have.
Every stitch on her costume, every threaded bead she decorates herself with, every wrinkle on her face plays a part in telling her story, a life so different to ours, a world so alien to 21st century culture, an existence rising out of old traditions, she belongs to a tribe that allows strangers no access. All I could capture was the sense of her presence and the few photographs that I always hope could link to the state of standing in front of these amazing people.
Men puffing out tobacco smoke has become such a common daily sight for us living in China, people smoke in the rain, on bikes, while working, in classrooms, and sometimes even while eating! Yunnan was no different. The ladies smoked their pipes leisurely while the men smoked cigarettes and water pipes. The tobacco fields can be seen spread out for miles around the valleys and mountainous regions of Yunnan and the smoking traditions thrives.
This man was sitting in a small one room restaurant in a marketplace and he enjoyed his tobacco while I photographed him feeling almost proud and theatrically demonstrating his skill at exhaling the clouds above his head.
It is such a common sight in Yunnan to see these strong women from the Yi ethnic minority with pipes lit in their mouths puffing at tobacco smoke around the streets, markets and village homes. The pipes are hand crafted and each woman holds on to hers for life proudly. When I asked about the place where we can buy one, I constantly received puzzled looks, “you don’t buy these, you get one made for you when you come of age”!
To be able to shut down, recharge, get rest, anywhere, in any situation, is the gift of sleep.
My shutter click woke her up and I found myself buying water bottles as a form of apology 🙂
Sometimes the world has this strange way of sliding by as thought we are sailing smoothly on a still lake. It allows us to watch time pass in slow motion and a great stillness embraces us. Those are the photographic moments I treasure and wish for every day in the big fast city.
We struggle to protect ourselves from what we perceive as threats only to balance those threats with what gives us pleasure. We tend to somehow negotiate a deal with ourselves that makes it all ok.