Thursday, January 26, 2006

Mi Barrio

I live in the South part of Shanghai. The way-far South, a little south of Xujiahui even. Being that it's Shanghai, it's still a densely populated area, but it's about a twenty minute subway ride to the center of town. I never minded subways before, but Shanghai's system can be a grind. Definitely my next place will be more central.

But if I don't so much like the location, the actual place I live is pretty cool. While newer apartment complexes are pretty much the same as American apartment complexes, my apartment complex is older and has a different, very interesting feel.

The first difference is that the whole place is sealed in with a wall. Maybe it's about 8 feet tall, and it's thick. I'm guessing a group of Visigoths with a battering ram would need quite some time to make their way in, if we were under such an attack. The only way in is through a front gate with a security guard. Maybe that sounds like I'm living in a gated community, but gated communities don't have sharp glass shards embedded in the walls - scary!

Two other things worth noting in the above picture: First is the building being built just ouside the apartment's walls - kind of a bummer actually. Shanghai's pollution isn't bad except for the dust in areas where they're building new buildings - which is just about everywhere. Second is the sheer quantity of laundry being dried. It's everywhere in older residential neighberhoods - hanging from lanais, resting over walls out front of my apartment, even hanging from lines out on the street.

It's not just laundry, and sometimes people will dry meat, vegetables, or chilis out in the common areas to the apartments. I guess that's not so strange in itself, but when they're being dried together, the juxtaposition gets to me:

It's not quite sanitary, and neither is another common albeit convenient practice: instead of a big garbage bin that gets picked up once a week, like an American apartment complex, there's a large number of places around the complex where you dump your bags of garbage on the ground. Somebody comes by every few hours and picks it up. Plus, if I leave my plastic Diet Coke bottles or other obvious recycleables out there, they will inevitably be picked up within 10 seconds, somebody else getting to collect the recycling fee. The other garbage is sorted by some guy out front. Trash-collectors with large pushcarts of carboard or paper or somesuch then come by to take away the goodies. Truth be told, I'm not entirely sure how the system works, but it seems pretty efficient.

The garbage on the street and perhaps the drying food helps feed a native population of stray cats - maybe there's four or five of them who hang around the apartment complex. Pets are a new phenomenon to Shanghai, and I hear a lot of them are abandoned by their overwhelmed owners.

There's fourteen six-story apartment buildings in my complex, and that's a lot of people. Inside the walls are a bunch of chairs set up as a common area. Old people sun themselves there - now it's usually just a few, but on a warm day it'll be a couple dozen people. There's a newspaper pinned up in the display case behind the seats, that's pretty common in Shanghai. There's also a couple of small playgrounds for the kids. They're not that much used, though.

Also inside the gates are a couple of really rinky shacks, I can't imagine they're very comfortable places to live. The people who live there run a small store out of the same building, it sells snacks and drinks and bootleg DVDs and the like. Another guy has set up shop near the front gates, he mostly fixes bicycles and repairs shoes, but I've seen him trying his hand at a bunch of other fix-it jobs.

In the immediate vicinity of the apartment (literally across the street) is some more shops: two convenience stores, five restaurants ranging from cheap noodles to a somewhat nice place, a barber, a bootleg DVD store, a foot massage place, and a bakery that sells fancy breads.

There's also a fruit stand right next to the apartment's entrance gate. Sometimes next to it at night will be a guy with a fire-heated iron bolt. He puts popcorn inside, rather than a bunch of small pops it makes one big exploding noise. It's very mysterious and I'll have to have a better look someday, even if I don't like popcorn.

And across the opposite street corner is a massive apartment building site. This photograph only captures a third or so of it:

Looking over these pictures, I hope I don't make it seem like some kind of slum! I guess it does bear a superficial resemblance to the ghetto in that "Kung Fu Hustle" movie, but I really do have a nice place. And I like the neighborhood - it's very safe, it's pretty chill, there's a lot of people, and there's plenty places to eat. People are friendly and don't give a foreigner incredulous looks. Also, the shared areas and the local shops give the apartment complex a sense of community, a sense that apartment complexes I lived in in the US never had. I do get a lot of comments or questions about my height, but as far as pet peeves go that's pretty small.

1 comment:

dave-o said...

remind me not to eat any meat in china... oi.