Hey, That Wasn’t There Yesterday?

It will always surprise me how quickly buildings and roads are made in Shanghai. And it all can be brought crashing down just as fast.


We’ve been living in Shanghai for only 5 months, and there’s always a lot happening.

I go weekly to mandarin class, and one time I arrive to see the entire footpath is ripped up and metre-deep and two-metre-wide holes are all along the path to my Teacher Lin’s door. How fast do the workers dig? What are they doing that needs such a big hole? The next week I go and it’s still there but the hole now runs all the way around the building! I can’t access the usual way, so the workers point me to another entrance to the compound but this way has no single piece of concrete, it’s all been jackhammered up and I use the most stable rubble bits as stepping stones hoping I don’t twist an ankle. Carefully balancing I say “Whoa, this is crazy!” but the workers don’t even snigger or seem to be worried. And then of course, I’m speaking English.

Work in progress near my language class

One Friday night I sit and wait for my husband Vincent to join me in the pub for some tea. Then, a huge noise is at the front window, giving me a start and it’s a very large bulldozer on the footpath and arm length away from the pub door and zooming quite fast for a machine on the footpath and I’m happy I parked my bike across the road. The shop next door is having a renovation so at 8pm at night the bulldozer pushes all the rubble into piles on the road. That’s how the job gets done so quickly, I suppose.

We leave Shanghai for just over two weeks, and when we return there are new shops, new decorations on the streets and the old winter chill has set in and taken all the leaves. The days are grey compared to mid summer Australia, and the trees (once lushious with protective green canopies) are skeletal and in hibernation. But Shanghai does not stop growing in winter, there are more changes each day. The actual renovations and how quickly streetscapes change is just so different to my suburban Melbourne home. Here in Shanghai on our daily pathways, there are newly painted walls & annexes around my son’s kindergarten. New scaffolding and rubble outside along a street I ride, whilst next door an entire new marble stoned entrance way has been built. Cranes are lifting fully grown plants into newly dug garden beds by new apartment buildings and security guards in the new uniforms all have new jobs keeping the new apartments secure.

And just as quickly as new shiny slate and marble fills foyers and entrance ways, piles and piles of rubbish appears and it’s always the nasty rubbish. We quickly walk past a usual dumping spot for garbage, so much rubbish we can’t use the sidewalk. I look over the pile that’s maybe 50 cm high, but 7 metres by 3 metres… I see a dead bird, old tupperware, food containers, food scraps, clothes, plants, plastic and decomposing everything. And most of the bags are ripped open, like someone has already gone through to see if there’s any purposeful items in the trash. A week later, the trash is gone, and then a few weeks later it’s back again but with a whole bunch of different yucky drippy and dead things.

The pub near my husband’s work has a notice up now saying ‘After 6 years, it’s time for a fresh look’ so will be closed for a while. 6 years of business, and it still looked new (to us) but they needed a refresh. Maybe businesses renovate just because it’s so fast to do?

It’s a given that things will change, but here in Shanghai it’s just so rapid and startling when it’s bricks and mortar and dust all around me.

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