Shanghai, China

Neighborhood Demolition, Shanghai, China

It’s like a bomb went off. An entire neighborhood leveled. Homes reduced to brick and wood and rubble. But it’s the mighty fist of unstoppable Lord of Progress that has swung down, rendering this place a wasteland and uprooting thousands. Presumably He has big plans for the remodel.

Looking at the wreckage, I imagine some massive machinery at work, bulldozers and an army of hardhats. Instead I find two guys on a rooftop with sledge hammers, pounding hell out of a three story house and pulling it down brick by brick around their ears.

Below them, fewer than a dozen scruffy souls pick through city blocks of wreckage, not a steel-toed boot nor hardhat in sight, sorting the bricks, the ceramic roof tiles, the scraps of metal and bits of wire, all by hand.

All around, life goes on. A few houses still stand, the occupants going about their daily routines, watering their gardens, walking the dog, hanging out wash, while the world crashes around all around them. Without a shared language, I can’t begin to sort out whether they’re holdouts for a better offer or just hanging in there until the fat lady sings.

I scramble onto a house as it’s being taken down, brick by brick, wall by wall. I feel the foundation bounce with each blow, and the building seems to shift and settle when a wall comes down. The guys with the hammers find my wariness highly entertaining, and laugh as they bust holes through another supporting wall, then give it a shoulder and scramble back as it tumbles in a rain of bricks.

 Shanghai, China: October 31, 2013


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