Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

Shanghai Shopping

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You can get anything in Shanghai and in every variety.

On our way to pick up our suits we found entire buildings of sewing items, floors of zippers, buttons, snaps, and fasteners. There are entire buildings of luggage, purses, bags, backpacks, and leather goods. There are rows and rows of shops selling watches, bracelets, rings, ear rings, and necklaces. We found rows of stationary shops selling pens, paper, notebooks, brushes, and ink. One shop had nothing but pens, in every imaginable color. And I haven't even told you about stores and buildings or shops of cutlery, bowls, cups, plastic containers, stainless cooking pots, and label making machines.

In one shop I paused to look at some leather bags. The shop owner asked if I wanted a watch. But before I could answer he pushed open a display case wall that revealed a hidden room of yet more bags and watches. Who makes all this stuff? Where does it all come from?

What is most incredible to me is that all this stuff is made under the most primitive conditions and with the simplest of tools. None of it is automated. It's transfered via moped to the shop owner. It is balanced in precarious gravity-defying heaps on mopeds or even bicycles that must thread the streets clogged with people, cars, taxis, and buses.

Should the moped break down, mechanics squat in the streets or floors of shops and use hack saws and hammers to repair it. It's now in a million scattered pieces in their shop and spilling out into the sidewalk. I step over some pieces and wonder how will they get it all back together? What if I accidentally kick a piece into the street? I can't imagine attempting to do for a moment what they do every day.

But if I did kick a ball bearing from one of the wheels into the street, they'd just make another. They would fire up their torch, melt down an old spoke and form it into a replacement bearing, on the spot. No problem. That's life. Meibanfa.

Smells are bad in the streets of Shanghai. Garbage is piled everywhere. Alleys fill with discarded trash, food, and rubble. Some try to keep the streets clean and wash down the front of their shops with buckets of water and give it a swab with a filthy mop. It's nearly impossible. Too many people, too much traffic, too much trash. The water just pools, garbage and all, in the street near their shop. We step around it.

Buildings half demolished and abandoned stand next to modern glass hotels. I walk under scaffolding of bamboo, towering up the side of a new structure. It's ten stories high. Bamboo scaffolding ten stories high and lashed together with what looks like twine? As I look up in awe of the ingenuity I trip and almost tumble into an open pit being prepared for new paver stones. OSHA would have a hey day here.

But the Chinese pedestrians just walk on, ignoring all the changes around them, stepping over this hurdle and around that barricade. Nothing can stand in their way. They keep going like industrious ants, engineering bridges over crevasses and pathways around obstacles.

They are industrious, ingenious, and will make due using whatever means is at their disposal. Don't have oven mitts for the boiling water container? Just use pieces of cardboard. Don't have the right grill for the sidewalk opening? Just bend over the re-bar into a circular pattern to form the grill. Don't have the right bricks for a sidewalk job? Just pour concrete and strike groves where the mortar would go to match what is already there.

That's the China I see, that's the Chinese people I witnessed.

No one speaks English and everything is broken. - Tom Waits

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