In Hongkou, part of the old city of Shanghai, was a set of grey narrow alleys that were a maze of tiny streets containing 2 or 3 story homes stacked side by side in a most claustrophobic manner. Hundreds of tangled electric wires dangled between walls that were decorated with phone numbers advertising services for those who needed them. Water flowed down the streets and bikes and colorful laundry colored the otherwise shabby surroundings. In those sad alleys I met some very happy people. Their smiles instantly appeared when we met and stories were told that I only understood partly because of my poor grasp of Shanghainese but laughter was the largest part of the conversation. I just loved that place and I kept going back again and again to photograph until one day the residents announced that their neighborhood is condemned to demolition like so many other old Shanghai alleys. The last time I visited there were metal foundations of giant about to rise from the stories of these lovely people. I had to fight back tears seeing the ghosts of what used to be there and is no longer…
Day 67 of 365~
Image taken in the old alleys of Hongkou, 2014
progress will wait for no one~ Shanghai’s condemned alleys
Shanghai, the pride of China, races towards its future, bejeweled with glitzy sky scrapers, glowing with billions of energy consuming lights, employing the largest work force in the world, day and night, 7 days a week and waiting for no one to be ready for this epic change. In neighborhoods like this one, people are given very little notice before their homes get demolished giving room to bigger, more modern and more expensive buildings. The people themselves are moved to housing outside the city to start a new life with little character, with no traditions and with not much choice. Every week that I visit these alleys, I find that more and more of them has disappeared…
worker in a Shanghai old alley
The thing about the future is that is seems to happen on time and not wait for us to be ready to receive it. And always things appear to be later than we think, don’t they?
Today I was with a friend on a photo walk in an old Shanghai neighborhood condemned to demolition and we saw that from week to week homes were being demolished leaving in the rubble, shoes, clothing, old furniture, toys… It would seem that people had very little time to pack up and leave their homes before they were destroyed and we wondered at the levels of stress this must have caused a family that lived there possibly all their lives. Change is often associated with pain, even if it was a change were seeking all along.
in the alley
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
The little Uyghur lady~Kashgar
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.
nothing left to say
You can see it every day in this city, a new demolitions site, another traditional neighborhood condemned to destruction and giving way to the race for a future city of sky scrapers. Imagine having to pack up all your belongings on a whim and move to a new world with no history, no character and no choice.
Nothing left to say…