Walking the Old Streets of Nanjimen Area, Chongqing

I woke up this morning and realized that the heat had broken and the air was clear so it seemed like a good day to take pictures. I had been meaning to go down to the area just south of Jiaochangkou subway station. This area was previously home to a warehouse that is the formal inspiration for my current sculpture. Part of this area is called Nanjimen and has chunks of an older Chongqing sprinkled between awkward bits of more recent, taller builds. None of it really seems to belong, looking more like a rockslide than anything. Even the buildings constructed in the last few decades hold tenuously to the steeply inclined descent from Jiefangbei to the river. Really, it’s only the businesses situated in the unused bomb shelter hollows that seem to have a stable claim to the real estate. The older areas are in various states of demolition. The buildings get the mark of death, a large 拆(chai) hastily spray painted in one pass, 2- 4 feet across, indicating that they are slated to be torn down. This gives another population the chance to get inside and strip it for ever single loose object that may be sold, melted, or carried to a heap somewhere else. Even the bricks are reclaimed with small groups of folks chipping the mortar off with hammer and chisel. My guess is that by the time a lot of the sites are actually cleared, it’s just a matter of scooping some dust, broken glass, mortar, and the truly irretrievable garbage into the back of a truck.

As much as it looks like there will be wrecking balls and loaders coming down the hill any second, there remains a busy community of merchants strung through the alleys stretching for several city blocks. There is almost no car traffic, so there are as many tables in the street as there are permanent stores. Shops sell a fair amount of used and new clothing, second hand electronics, knock off DVDs for one to three kuai (equal parts pornography and mainstream film), some food, some jewelry, some hardware. I got the sense that most of the items were for trade within the community as none of it was valuable enough to warrant coming from any distance. Despite the meager retail offering, the street life is energetic, people seemed in a good mood, getting hair cuts and middle of the street pedicures, eating, and just plain old carrying stuff; which is, as anyone who has spent any time here can tell you, one of the great pastimes of the city.

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