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.
Shanghainese women, famous for their strong personalities and their control of the household including their men have become a stereotype in China. The wife in Shanghai is known to make her husband hand in his whole salary at the end of the month and to only give him back a small portion as pocket-money as she sees fit. He also has a strict curfew for coming home at night and he is expected to perform certain household duties on top of his daily job. I took a sneak peek at some of these lovely ladies’ mahjong gambling activities in the afternoon behind a dusty window screen in one of the alleys of the old city, and strength is certainly a quality they emanate.
I was often asked after leaving Lebanon for good: “if you love it so much, why did you leave it?”, “if it is that beautiful why aren’t you there?”
But when I remember what drove me out, it was not really the war, not the seeking of adventure, not my love for travel, no, it was something much simpler than that.
I could never be ‘me’ in my home country. It is a society that allows you to speak as long as what you say conforms to popular opinion. It lets you do as long as you do what is politically correct. What drove me out was my search for truth and my strong longing to be myself, to be true to who I am and to find out who I was. And who can do that except under the wings of freedom? How can you find yourself if you are imprisoned in dogma?
And still, years later, if you ask me where I wish to grow old, I would answer: ” Lebanon, where else?”
City life is fast, unrelenting, and always moving. At all time, you are pushed and shoved into different directions with the moving crowd, unless you are able to move against the rushing current. How do you do something that counts in a sea of humanity? How do you swim against the stream? How do you find your freedom in a world of old doctrines and a society of rigid opinions?
photo taken: a cross road and moving taxi in central Hong Kong by night
Fences are so telling about the state of affair of humans today. They are so symbolic of the condition that human relationships have developed into, the me and you, the us and them, the mine and yours. I was researching fences today trying to understand especially the photographer’s fascination with fences when I came across these quotes:
“Good fences make good neighbors.” – Robert Frost
“A good neighbour is a fellow who smiles at you over the back fence, but doesn’t climb over it.” – Arthur Baer
“There is something about jumping a horse over a fence, something that makes you feel good. Perhaps it’s the risk, the gamble. In any event it’s a thing I need.” – William Faulkner
“Fear is the highest fence.” – Dudley Nichols
“To be fenced in is to be withheld.” – Kurt Tippett
“What have they done to the earth?/ What have they done to our fair sister?/ Ravaged and plundered/ and ripped her/ and bit her/ stuck her with knives/ in the side of the dawn/ and tied her with fences/ and dragged her down.” – Jim Morrison, of The Doors
“You shall build a turtle fence.” – Peter Hoekstra
photo: Family fence, Marienbaum, Germany
And how many communication gadgets do you own and how addicted are you to them? Almost everyone I know flirts daily with at least one phone, one computer, one ipod, one ipad, one game with a wireless connection, among other newly invented virtual reality toys, and they spend a large chunk of the day engrossed in that world, that it becomes real. The virtual avatars, gravatars and buddy icons become as real as you and me (well you are probably virtual to me as I am to you anyway) and it is kind of scary. We are living the scifi movie that we watched and wondered at as children. These days you can even play a highly addictive computer game where you create your own alternate world and be with others in it, fall in love, meet new people, get a new career, that some end up preferring it to their real life and get sucked into it as they gradually lose their grip on their physical world. Just some thoughts that were triggered by the subject of my street photo.
Photo taken: a girl in Shanghai completely oblivious to me, the pedestrian and car traffic while texting
We love to draw lines in our modern world. We enjoy keeping order by creating clearly defined and fixed rules and regulations about what can and cannot be done. You must be 21 years old to drink (at least in America), you must be 16 years old to drive, you must be a male to drive (until recently in some countries), you must be a man to vote (sadly still the case in some countries), you know how it goes. And with children, they start battling and aiming to cross these lines from a very early age. They have to be a certain height to go on some rides, they have to be below a specific age to get free stuff and they have to be with an adult to cross to the deep end of the pool even if they argue that they can swim. In our case in Shanghai, they are most definitely better swimmers than the lifeguards, who save drowners by pulling them out using a long pole thingie because they are scared of the water!
This is the argument I have to listen to every time I am at the pool from my daughter and her friends!
After many years of severe restrictions and quotas limiting work seeking migrations across provinces in China, in 2002 a new law was passed to allow migrant workers permanent residence in cities like Shanghai. They are then segregated into skilled and well off workers, or lower class workers with less pay and very modest living conditions.
This worker was so cute as I was photographing him hiding, smiling and being shy. In the end he held my hand and gave me a big smile, my reward for the day 🙂