Unless you have a specific purpose, hanging around the human crush at the clothing wholesale district of Qipu Lu (七浦路) is best avoided unless you take particular joy in having your teeth loosened from flailing around in a moshpit.
Qipu Lu is a giant morass of buildings and shops selling low-priced to wholesale clothing and accessories. It’s a mass of humanity on a busy day, with vendors, touts and patrons pressed sweatily against one another, yelling, shoving, shifting wares … you get the point.
I sought respite from the chaos by ducking into one of the old longtangs, or alleys behind Qipu Lu. The soundtrack shifted to that of more pleasant everyday activities: cooking, dogs yapping, kids giggling, old grannies knitting, clattering of mahjong tiles … and the banter of raucous youths.
Because of the wholesale business nature of Qipu Lu, the concentration of out of town migrant folks living in the longtangs is high, especially from Zhejiang and Guangdong where much of the clothing is still made. The range of ages runs from teens to mid-40s, with the youth quota very high for this kind of business.
And with young men and woman come a tendency to experiment styles, this is after all the wholesale fashion district!
I spotted this young bony fellow strolling, no …. strutting would be the better word, up and down the alley. I admired his body art of animals that spoke of power and aggression while he posed readily. In the distance, his friends howled and whooped.
As he gazed at me with sleepy model eyes, I noticed a fresh tattoo on his arm, burning red, bruised and blood-lined. It then struck me that all his body work had a distinct amateurish feel to it, as if done by hand rather than machine. Like how prison inmates you see on television mark each other with a needle and a bottle of ink. The young man saw my eyes trail to his fresh wound and casually covered it with his hand.
Then, signalling he was done with me, he sauntered off with the longtang alleys as his personal runway.