Opinion / Expats teachers zoom in China

Bewildering clash between past and future

By Samuel Grunig / Switzerland ( Updated: 2015-04-30 16:42

Bewildering clash between past and future
A boy takes a break from cultivating vegetables on a tiny handkerchief of soil amid future skyscrapers in Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province.

China’s cities with their lights, sounds and diversity are a tantalizing experience for foreigners who usually get lost as soon as they step off their long-distance flights. I was no exception.

In order to shake off the bewilderment I undertook long street-photography walks in the very first days of the stay. The advantages were glaring in terms of familiarization, orientation and understanding the environment.

In Hefei, after zigzagging across the centre and avoiding the charms of its bustling streets, I soon reached the urban borders, a continuously progressing no man’s land of empty concrete structures, wide four-lane avenues with a few occasional cars running on them.

I thought, at the back of my mind, I would soon get bored with that sort of architecture. I was wrong though: suddenly the camera became prolific capturing scattered souls, such as the little ones skateboarding from one side of the road to the other as if it were their home’s backyard, or those who had to help their grandfathers cultivate all sorts of vegetables on the tiny handkerchiefs of soil left amid the future skyscrapers. Or the man ridiculed by the gargantuan proportions of the buildings in progress he was observing from a pile of rubble.

Those pictures are the vivid memory of a warm autumn midday, when I profited from the silence instituted by the lunch break to get a glimpse of simple things, which may be over tomorrow.

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