Nanjing Lu leaves nothing to the imagination, a capitalist monstrosity eating away at the very heart of China’s communist struggle. The Bund, Technology Park, People’s Park, modern Pudong and even the French quarter follow in its ravenous footsteps. It’s just not China, at least not the China I expected.
Heading away from tooting taxis and angry hordes of money-wielding tourists I wander through the backstreets of central Shanghai, twisting and turning ever further from the glistening Metropolis and its Starbucks sheep.
ShanghaiBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 14 - 24 f2.8 / Shanghai
A slight but determined drizzle descends through the eerie yellow mist shrouding Pudong’s glistening heights. Bulbous drops fuse with the perilous waters of the Huangpu, violently churning and chopping as a billion white crests displace tarpaulin-covered barges to safe harbour down stream. A sand storm hailing from the dry deserts of Xin Jiang silently drapes the cityscape like a veil, Shanghai’s famous baby blue lost through impenetrable tones of mustard and coffee. Black umbrellas burst to life as eager tourists choose to brave the gritty weather, posing for photos against the apocalyptic background of wet concrete and sandy glass, grinning white teeth shimmering through noxious mists like Cheshire cats.
As one wonders away from the metropolis, tall glass buildings give way to low-rise suburbia. Street life builds, just a few side stalls selling puppies and freshly cut pineapples at first, then chatty hair salons and busy cafes pop up, carpenters tapping mindlessly as antiques traders scream through megaphones. Suddenly you’re center-stage in an unfinished Sino-Shakespearean masterpiece. In Shanghai, the old China exists by thriving at street-level.
Hairdressers and butchers deftly slice away as if the same, fish mongers man-handle yesterday’s catch from shallow coffins, dropping them on ubiquitous scale-encrusted wooden chopping blocks, hacking and scraping until ready for lunch.
Toads hang in nets, gerbils share tanks with terrapins, pigeons display plumage to the highest bidder, and desperate crabs routinely make a bid for freedom. Visceral sound and colour erupt from all directions, crimson-red blood sailing down chocking gutters, coating glistening scales and entrails of all descriptions.
Quacking ducks are plucked from tiny cages and plunged headfirst into boiling hell, their screech drowned by classic romantic ballads ejecting from the speakers next door. Volume at 11, naturally.
Happily, no one seems to notice a lone wanderer, and sidestepping a few unidentifiable objects, I make my way past squirming shells, blue lobsters, hairy crabs and their less-hairy cousins tied up into neat little bundles ready to drop in the pot. Steam and incense bellow from cook-pots and cloud an already dazzled vision, I finally step in something so viscous it almost takes my shoe off.
Exhausted, I find myself off the main thoroughfare and sit at a small table, order a cold Tsingtao with noodles, and watch the chaos continue for an hour or two. Everything ticking along just like clockwork.
The Rose GardenBarnaby Jaco Skinner / Nikon D4 / 35 f1.4 / Shanghai
Yu Yuan bursts slowly at the seams as modern concrete gives way to Shanghai’s most revered of tourist attractions. Masses of international visitors spill out on to the small wooden walkways headlining the central plaza, with the garden entrance jammed with hordes of camera wielding Germans. Escaping quickly in to the covered alleyways behind, the savvy adventurer shoulders their packs and head for the tea rooms top floors, where money talks but space is plenty.