Visiting the city we called home for almost 12 years is nothing short of strange at first. But within a day or two I felt the streets call me back with their charm, unique flair and warmth of the people. So little of the old city is left as the large construction projects drive forward leaving bits and pieces of the beautiful old alleys around the city. As I walk around and find huge empty lots and big buildings on the sites of my favorite alleys, I realize that all my photography over the years in Shanghai has been about recording history and vanishing alleys that are never to come back again…
a witness of the whirlwind of changes that took over the glamorous city
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.
For these children their alley will soon become a distant memory…
We often go back to the places where we grew up and most of us find ourselves surprised at how much smaller they look, how much our imagination added to them over the years, how developed they look or how abandoned. For the children of Kashgar, they will come back to find nothing of the old. The city is under demolition and their homes will soon be gone with no trace of them ever having existed. I feel so lucky to have been one of the photographers who captured a slice of this beautiful old culture before it gets forced to metamorphose completely into something else, somewhere else.
photo taken: children playing in an old Kashgar city alley~ Xinjiang
More than two thirds of the old city of Kashgar has been demolished and the rest doomed to follow shortly…
I met this girl in one of the narrow alleys of what is left of the old city as she stood framed by her old family door. Old decorated wooden doors are considered a family treasure among the inhabitants of Kashgar and the carry with them a richness of symbology and lore. A half open door for example is an indication that the master of the house is at home and male visitors may call in. I head while in Kashgar that when the homes are getting demolished, the families, unhinge their doors and take them with them to their assigned new homes, because these doors are holders of their family traditions that they are so afraid of losing.
A dew drop on a fresh flower petal at dawn radiates a beauty beyond anything we humans can create…
The concept of beauty is a funny one. What is considered beautiful in one culture can be completely unattractive in another. In China where we live, big noses are considered attractive, while tan skin is not, and ladies walk around with umbrellas during the sunny days to protect their fairness. In the west, we work very hard on shaping our eyebrows to achieve a minimal look, whereas in Asia, the unibrow is a sought after symbol of beauty.
I find beauty in the varying concept of beauty. I love traveling the world and learning its different ways. I love the fact that we humans are able to express ourselves in so many varied ways and to respond to land radiations and let them permeate our ways, from food, dress, thought, religion, fashion, even down to our perceptions of beauty.
In the streets of old Kashgar I met so many children, playful, joyful, running here and there, but not this little boy. I had some candy in my pocket that I offered him and he just stood there looking at me then down at his shoes, then at me again until he summoned the courage to extend his had for the sweet candy only to drop his eyes back again to his feet. He looked so innocent and fragile with his borrowed woman’s shoe that I almost reached out to hug him… but I did not. He walked slowly away down the alley to found the door to his house and disappear into it.
In the old city of Kashgar is a charming teahouse. When you enter into it you feel as though you activated a time travel machine. The tea is prepared in a most traditional way with water boiled in large pots over burning fires, the spices used in the tea and the amount of sugar mixed into it are all adherent to old surviving customs. The patrons of the teahouse are some of the most colorful collection of men I have every met. They seem to have a unity that binds them in their togetherness and a feeling of calm and well being resides in the old teahouse.
This place was used as the background for filming the movie ‘kite runner‘. It is a must see for any traveler to Kashgar and I do hope it outlives the ongoing demolition of the city.
As beautiful as the old city of Kashgar is, it is also heartbreaking to visit. The charming old architecture is being demolished systematically by the authorities section by section for the last few years. The reason given: a possible danger from earthquakes the real reason, I leave for you to research. The locals are horrified as they are moved family by family outside the city and in place of their neighborhoods, malls, plazas, and fancy holiday housing is being planned and erected. Every year less and less of this historical city is left to admire and its traditions diluted slowly into the new characterless architecture. Yes, it is most definitely painful to see and to know about.
photo taken: a little family in front of a neighborhood condemned to be demolished in the old city of Kashgar
To see a culture soaked in tradition, to walk the old streets and be filled with awe, to feel welcome at every corner, to get invited into homes of strangers and to be presented with their finest bread, nuts and sweets, to be amazed by exotic ways of life and to be deeply saddened by the fact that it is all going to disappear so soon…
photo taken: one of the many local barbers who serve their customers in the streets of the old city in Kashgar