Next door, next to go

Next one to go

If you walked by too quickly, you would have missed her.

A crowd had gathered to watch an ongoing demolition of a row of old houses. Some were residents from nearby neighborhoods; others had simply nothing better to do.

A few children stared, mouths agape with wonderment at the massive excavator at street level, as if waiting for it to unfold into a giant robot.

The old houses, or what was left of them, had survived awkwardly next to the Dalian metro station and were rapidly outnumbered by gleaming luxury condominiums. Mostly abandoned and decaying, the facelift was inevitable.

Adjacent to the commotion, an old woman who looked to be in her 60s if not older was sitting outside her home, staring vacantly at her surroundings. She seemed unperturbed by the noise, or maybe she was just used to living right by the noise and pollution of vehicular traffic.

There was a loneliness about her that was so palpable, made more stark by the sprawling concrete around her where a neighbor’s house once stood.

A thousand questions rang in my head. I’ve never shied away from speaking with people I photograph. But this old woman’s indifference felt so impenetrable, I left her alone. With the constant reminder of her inevitable move, she did not need to recount her loss to yet another stranger.

Taken along Changyang Road (长扬路) by Dalian (大连) Metro Exit 4

March 2010



  • Reply March 17, 2010

    Adam Daniel Mezei

    Hi Sue Anne,

    I’d wanted to ask if you admire the writings and musings of Tess Johnston, who has taken scads of time to chronicle much of SHA’s urban decay and demolition by attempting to create photographic and written legacies from the old buildings and spots that used to thrive in the city?

    One of the more inspirational things I’d read in a recent article detailing her new book, “Permanently Temporary,” was how she feels that Shanghaiese aren’t as fastidious about keeping records about the past or in maintaining the old structures and edifices because, ultimately, Old Shanghai wasn’t really “their” city, per se. Why should they care about structures that existed decades ago that they had no hand in building or financing? Old Shanghai was foreign. New Shanghai is Chinese. I’m sure you’ve heard of this before dozens of times. You’d be a cinch for that book, though. I’ve been looking around for it on Amazon, but it looks as though it’s going to be a local Shanghai imprint.

    You are a maven with that camera! Like I mentioned at Flickr, I really enjoy following your work.


    • Reply March 18, 2010

      Sue Anne


      Thanks for your lovely comment. I’ve actually had the pleasure of joining Tess on one of her guided tours around the French Concession when I first arrived in Shanghai. We sat in her house for a brief backgrounder and proceeded to wander around on foot. She’s an absolute delight. Perhaps you can pick up a copy of her book next time you arrive in Shanghai.

      I do understand what she means by the Shanghainese owning that piece of Shanghai but would like to point out, nowadays, not all the people living in longtangs and older housing are Shanghainese. They are also waidiren, working migrants etc, often times, when I ask the residents how long they have been there, a decade is a common benchmark. So in that sense, they don’t have that kind of ownership to the place and its history. From a government agency point of view, I suspect the forces and pressure for modernisation is too much for any kind of lone opposition. Of course, it does’t change the common perception of what a shame it has become and how a better preservation alternative has yet to emerge.

      As always, I appreciate the encouragement and good words, special thanks for the h/t coming from Asia Health Care Blog.

  • Reply March 17, 2010


    The same happens in my area. (zhabei) one time I noticed the buildings were flat, but the same people (I know a few as I travel there for one year) still came back… weeks later, remembering where they used to live. The place was replaced by a park, now they sit in it to meet and share stories. the city is changing fast

    • Reply March 18, 2010

      Sue Anne


      Cheers for stopping by. Demolition (and construction) moves quickly in this town. I hope you get to enjoy the memories and maybe the fruits of the new landscaping.

  • Reply March 26, 2010

    Expatriate Games

    I admire your restraint here SA. I am pretty sure I would have barged right on to her concrete stoop there and intruded with some questions, and it wouldn’t have been as good as this. Poignant.

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