Out and About

Time flies, and it is hard to believe that it is over a week since I last posted. The family news is both bad and good, as Cindy fell and dislocated her shoulder, which is luckily now very nearly OK again, and the good news is a consequence. She did not travel back to New Zealand as planned. Instead, she is staying here with us so the family is together. Everyone is very happy, though of course Louis remembers that she had promised to bring lion and tiger back from New Zealand, where they languish in the storage box in the garage. The new teddies are very nice, and piglet and tigger have travelled everywhere with us, but sometimes we need lion and tiger, like when we remember, and for whatever reason do not like Shanghai. This tends to coincide with being told something is ‘not allowed’ and also coincides with Mummy and Louis will go to New Zealand and Granny can stay in Shanghai.

I do not tell him ‘no chance, I am getting back to bleak wet cold wonderful Edinburgh just as soon as I get on the plane’ and ‘if you were not here I would not be either’. Just say love you and lets have fun in Shanghai.

Jiashan Lu, near Jianguo Lu

I have been out and about taking photos a little. I want to take photos which show the incredible contrasts here in Shanghai, where old and modern are side by side as well as poorness and extreme wealth.

I do not know enough to know if it is poverty, like those who suffer in western inequality, but I suspect that it is, even though different, and that life is very hard indeed. I am distinguishing between ‘poorness’ as a culture which just does not need too much, but can manage quite an OK life, and poverty, where the problem has nothing to do with not having much, but everything to do with being unable to access an OK life even though those around and nearby are living in sometimes obscene plenty and wastefulness. Those economists who say ‘look to Asia/China for the future’ have their heads in a worse place than sand as they are looking at things like GDP and not at what peoples’ lives are like.

Why it makes it hard to take photos is that I feel doing so is voyeuristic and that I do not have any right to be taking pictures of people as if they were objects to interest me.

Outdoor barber and client

However, the street above is typical, Jiashan Lu, a few hundred yards from a Wagas western style coffee bar where fresh orange juice costs 32RMB or about £3 and other upmarket wine store, shops, restaurants etc. nearby. The man is selling stuff from his bicycle trailer, the red box in the middle is a phone box with “WIFI” written on it, just like in Edinburgh. The two white figures beside the box are the outdoor barber and his client, his bag hanging on a nail, which I have selected out and enlarged. I have seen such scenes quite often, and many others.

I would love to put in photos of Louis and Ali chatting to ‘the mechanic man’ where bicycles are mended at the roadside – as they are on at least three places along Pubei Lu, our own street. [But I am too embarrassed to get the camera out].

They stop to talk, enquire and if they can get away with it, raid his toolbox. They also have ‘made friends’ with the gate guards at several residence areas on the way to school. At one, they are now accepting gifts nearly every day, a biro, a ‘lost’ ball, a very nearly empty cigarette lighter [huge success there]. All the gate guards are bored stiff and encourage them to stop. Plentiful employment… but what kind of wages? I have no idea.

This photo is of wedding dresses hanging on a washing line, and the next a more typical ordinary washing line, just strung across the street.

Every residence gate also has its recycling centre, where piles of cardboard, plastic bottles and polystyrene are sorted and loaded onto the ubiquitous bicycle trailers. Scooters and bicycles and trailers are everywhere carrying massive loads. I saw an ordinary bicycle yesterday with six 20 foot plastic drainpipes balanced on it, the pipes sticking out the full length of the bike both in front and behind.

Contrasts everywhere, and inequality. the rich are getting richer here too, and it would seem that the poor are getting poorer.

Street clothesline
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