Sunday, March 25, 2012

Disappearing Act

Since moving into the Fortress of Solitude, I passed a certain house every day on my way to school. The front of this house had an electronic marquee in the window that flashed, "Defend the dignity of law! No illegal home removing!" Note all those past tenses in the first two sentences, because they're important. See, like all their neighbors gone before, the "Dignity of Law" house is no more. And it kind of pisses me off. See, it's not exactly an uncommon thing - an area up the street has been sealed off and knocked down. These areas might be kind of dingy, they might be a little seedy (the one up the street had hookers), but they were REAL China. Not the slick shiny knockoff of other large cities around the world, but a thriving mess that was truly, authentically Shanghainese. And they're disappearing under the forward march of progress. So let this week's blog stand as a tribute to those alleyways, as I take you down one of the few that are left in Hongqiao.
You can enter this alley from either Huaguang Lu or Chengjiaqiao Lu at Hongzhong Lu. I started on Huaguang Lu then looped back along Chengjiaqiao. Like I said, they're grimy, but alive, and have probably been standing as long as China's been communist. Maybe longer.
Madonna and Child, with piss stream.
Kenny Rogers ain't got nothing on these bad boys. I was a few seconds too quick; as I turned away to peddle off, the one on the right turned and hawked a big loogie. That's China for you.
The meat cart - no back alley is complete without it. This one doesn't have any paws on it, in case you're faint of heart.
Now, from my comments above, you may think I'm making fun. Don't get me wrong, the public urination and spitting everywhere gets old. I met a friend for dinner on Thursday and when she took off her ear muffs they had caught a gob of phlegm that some individual spat somewhere along the way (we were both disgusted until we realized it COULD have ended up on her face or in her hair). But places like this are honest - the people are what they are, unreservedly and without shame. They don't have a lot of money, but my gosh, what they lack they make up in character, and I kind of think that's beautiful. And I think it's a shame that their communities get torn down for new apartment blocks. I'd rather see smiling faces like these...or hell, even be reminded of my otherness by open-mouthed stares as I pedal down their streets.

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