The Flower and the Serpent Under It

I love looking at contrasting images of Shanghai; they remind me of bad student essays. THESE TWO THINGS ARE SIMILAR YET DIFFERENT. Yes they are, students of literature! Making meaningful contrasts or comparisons is a difficult skill to teach—perhaps field trips to cities could drive the lesson home better than reading Dickens, though he understood the contradictory nature of things better than anyone.

 

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Shanghai, like every city, is irreconcilable. The social divisions apparent in San Francisco or New York (see that wealthy exec stepping over the sleeping homeless?) are apparent here too, albeit without so many cardboard-laden souls. The social divisions aren’t subtle: Do you sweep streets and separate garbage for a living? If so, your uniform marks your place in the world like blue tape on a theater stage. Shanghai has an entire workforce dedicated to a sole performance: hand sweeping sidewalks with bamboo brooms. Those blue uniforms aren’t borrowed robes–there are no new parts in this play! On the other hand, perhaps you own a billion dollar company and pay 12,000 yuan for your shoes? Center stage please; a staring role for you! Income inequality visits communist and capitalist alike.

Let’s get real: these photos are merely symbols of my own wild mood swings, expressed as analogies: The French Concession is to Minhang as flowers are to dogs (dead and skinned). Make what you want of chickens and pearls; I’m not sure myself what that one means. There are days, visually, when I could be walking down the street in Paris (except for all the Chinese people milling around). For me the contrasts are entrapment and freedom, simplicity and complexity, the sublime and the profane, the lucid and the murky (at times quite literally). They are the artful and the ordinary, which every city boasts—decide for yourself what is what. They are a walk through the streets of Shanghai.

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