Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Spray-On Ads

Spray-on ads are one of the two or three things I correctly anticipated about living in Shanghai. They figured prominently in the movie "Suzhou River," where the videographer narrator is shown spray-painting his stenciled advertisement. Earlier on this blog, I mentioned that these ads were a little rare in most of Shanghai. I now realize my perspective was warped by living in a cheap hotel off the very center of Shanghai. While they're rare there, the more residential areas, particularly the more lower-class areas, have these advertisements everywhere. As an extreme example, this was taken from a stairwell just a few minute's walk north of the Bund.

There's no videographer ads, though. As far as I know, all the sprayed ads are for hourly workers who want to do construction, or heavy-duty housework. Shanghai has an extremely large class of poor migrant hourly workers, it's very interesting and I will talk about this in the future. In the meantime, it's enough to pass on a very rough estimate I read that Shanghai will seasonally have up to 5 million migrant workers. Most of them work construction jobs, in support of Shanghai's construction boom - which is the largest ever, anywhere. In the last year, the government has tried to rein in the boom a little bit, so perhaps it's lessened since the estimate I read - either way, it's still a very large sub-society to Shanghai. I guess it's still a competitive market, if people need to advertise for what I'm guessing is a few hundred dollars a month.

I've talked to a few locals about it. They told me that the hourly workers who would post such a thing wouldn't do a very good job. I don't entirely understand why they said this, as they have no experience hiring people for construction projects, but I heard this from different sources so maybe they know what they're talking about. Also, I had thought that some of the ads were using a graphic slang for sex, but I asked a couple people and they assured me that my mind is stuck in the gutter.

It isn't just sprayed on signs - you also see stickers for such work, for example this one is on a corner garbage can. It's very enterprising, especially considering the city does a good job of taking the stickers off quickly, as well as painting over or removing the signs when they're on public property. However, they come up just as quickly, I've seen week-old walls with a number of such ads. Spray-painting the ad on a tree isn't at all common, but I can appreciate the whimsy of the act:

Always eager to help, I offered some people my radical idea for cutting down on this sort of crime. The police could call the numbers, pretend to be be employers to arrange to meet with the workers, and then give the workers a fine. I was told it would be illegal for the police to do that, interesting.

1 comment:

acidelic said...

We saw something similar in Beijing, but if I remember correctly it was only phone numbers, no words. It was not uncommon to see the same phone number painted at different places. Our tour guide told us that the numbers were for cell phone numbers for people who could help you get illegal identification, like a US passport. Why cell phone numbers? Because they are supposed to be easy to get. They're probably more anonymous that landlines, too.

He also mentioned an interesting way that the police deal with those numbers. They obviously cover them up physically, but to prevent people from calling the number they setup a machine that repeatedly calls the phone number. The line is always tied up by the machine. The only problem is that they just get a new phone number and paint that around town.