In Qibao, and old area of Shanghai, is a neighborhood(if you can call it that) of green lanes. Confronting realities wait there behind each door and in front of some where young women prepare to sell themselves for a living. As much as this practice is as old as civilization itself, it remains heartbreaking to witness people’s daughters going through this to survive. And most painful of all was seeing a little girl forced to grow up in that strange world of green lanes.
Street workers and cleaners are part of the Shanghai canvas. A city of about 20 million remains spotlessly clean every day and in every weather because of their hard work. Every time an eye contact is made with a worker, you are mostly rewarded with a warm and shy smile. Simple wonderful people with simple pleasures, like a well deserved lunch break and an involved conversation with a friend.
Don’t you love the rolling of seasons and how elegantly each season fades into the next? Our glorious fall is shedding the last stage of vibrant colors as if it knows we will be yearning for brightness in the coming grey and white days of winter, so it saturates us with hues so bright that we yearn for the toned down palette that is sure to follow. In Shanghai’s streets these days the workers are busy sweeping away the fallen leaves and starting to bundle up for the coming cold.
I like to picture my life since birth graphically as a line drawn on a globe almost like a dot on a GPS system if you want. The line starts the day I was born in the Asian continent in a small country called Lebanon and then that line goes on curving here and there, small segments at first, then they getting longer, crossing borders of countries, winding and sometimes going back to the same places and the whole time crossing with other lines of other humans. Sometimes it aligns and moves parallel to another line, like when I took walks with someone, and then splitting off to a new direction upon leaving them. And we meet so many strangers on our journey through life, some we just pass by, others we choose to be with for longer periods, and some strangers for some unknown reason, make us stop. It feels as though an exchange is meant to be had, a brief eye contact, a word, a moment shared and in my case a photo captured. And then we move on. This girl on a pavement in Shanghai just made me stop and the moment was destined to be captured and archived in my mind as very special.
The first thing that amazes me coming back to Shanghai is the abundance of artificial light. Chinese people love lights, in their toys, on their cars, on their bodies, in their skies, on their buildings, in their windows, on their pens,… everywhere. You cannot escape being almost blinded by lazer light salespeople roaming the streets and pointing their dangerous lights into your unsuspecting eyes. It is the culture that invented fireworks and celebrates it as an omen of good luck. It is a stark contrast to the quiet and moon lit nights I got to experience on this long trip.