This is part of the Travel: What it’s like to visit each city series I’m doing, to talk about what it’s like to see each city I’ve been through, from a foreigner’s perspective.
DISCLAIMER: There will be some potentially disturbing, NSFW (not safe for work) photos coming up that might bother some people.
If you are sensitive, and/or easily offended or grossed out.. stop reading.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
THE HIDDEN, WALLED NEIGHBOURHOODS
There are a lot of hidden alleyways and areas in China, mainly because it seems like their neighbourhoods are in these alleyways with doors, and can be locked up for safety reasons at night.
Photograph of a fancier walled alley-way of homes
What you see when you walk by on the streets, are these gates, and within these gates, you can see glimpses of houses with their doors right in front of each other.
Their house is literally just that room:
A slightly not-as-nice hidden alleyway
Another older looking one, more “Chinese-y” with the red and brass handles
..and those are the nicer neighbourhoods!
My feeling from seeing all of this, is that if you’re considered ‘poor’, you don’t even have a walled gate to help protect your home at night, you’re right out in the open, with your door on a busy street.
Homes with doors literally on busy streets.
A close-up of one of these on-the-street homes, I wasn’t in an alley for this.
Their kitchen is outside, although this might be a business as well, selling food.
Within these walled areas, they even sometimes have fruit trucks that come directly to them.
A gathering group of fruit-buyers
This truck with watermelons just rolls up into an alley way and neighbours come out to see what’s being sold.
THOSE PAILS YOU SEE THEM CARRYING
Neighbours hanging out, that red pail to the left-hand side of that older woman hidden by a t-shirt, is not what you think.
It’s their toilet.
They don’t really have toilets inside these older homes.
They do all of their business in a bucket or a pail, and then every morning if you catch them early enough, they walk to the multitude of public washrooms available all over Beijing and Shanghai, and dump their stuff.
This is something that everyone used to do before outhouses and modern toilets were invented.
In fact, in Europe in some places in the past, they used to dump their “night soil” right out of their windows in the morning onto the streets and unsuspecting, early-rising passerbys.
You had to be careful wandering around the streets in the morning, because you could get a pile of crap (literally) dumped on you.
You may wonder how people go to the bathroom urgently if they don’t have toilets in their home, and can’t get to a public toilet fast enough.
The answer is that for their kids, they just sometimes let them pee on the street anywhere that they are, and it is totally normal and accepted.
You will see a lot of kids walking around with these particular split-hole pants, and it’s for ease-of-toilet-going, because they don’t have the money or want to buy diapers.
SHOPOWNERS WITH THEIR HOMES ON THE STREETS
Photograph of a typical street in Beijing with typical homes above these shops
And they hang out their laundry to dry on poles.
Very common in Asia.
Or they hang it up just on the walls beside their homes on public streets (but may have to be careful their things don’t get nicked):
Having a family dinner in the dining room right on the street.
Was kind of cool, like al fresco dining.
Or they hang stuff out to dry on racks.
THE GOVERNMENT TRYING TO HIDE ANY TRACES OF THE POOR
We came to the Pearl Market, and walked from that market pictured in front of you, all the way across the other side.
We don’t even know how, because the sidewalks were few and far between, and we basically had to run across the road (highway?) like chickens to cross safely.
Looks clean and great right?
You can’t see a single thing out of place when you’re on the ground. It looks clean, normal and like an industrial area of town.
We ended up on this bridge in the middle of the street, and took the shot above.
Then we walked over to the (right-hand) side of the market, and saw this:
If you can call them that. I’d say more.. “shacks” or favelas (a la Brazil).
And they’re not even considered the ‘poorest’, because at least they have a tin or tile roof.
People lived and still live like this.
The odd thing is that once you go down the bridge, you won’t see a SINGLE TRACE of these homes.The government built these massive walls up and around this compound, and put lovely photographs of how nice China is in the countryside, kind of like this, but much more covered with nice landscapes:
It is completely walled off and closed off if you don’t bother to climb the bridge and take an aerial view.
We would have never discovered these hidden areas, had we not been curious.
THEY’RE TRYING TO GET RID OF ALL OF THESE AREAS AND MODERNIZE THEM
A new, clean, modernized neighbourhood work in progress:
…although it looks like there’s still someone living in that particular home (note the fan on the side of the house).
THE POOREST ARE YET TO COME
The absolute poorest of the poor, don’t even have a home; they sleep where they can find a spot.
This guy judging from his vehicle to the right, is a garbage or recycling collector.
He collects newspapers, cardboard, and all kinds of junk to re-sell and recycle.
THE LOWER MIDDLE-CLASS
They lived in what I liked to call Soviet-style housing. Crammed together like sardines, small apartments, not very pretty.
When you have a town home of sorts, you are rich.
Like these homes. They are for the rich.
Space, location and view is what determines how rich you are.
Those above apartments have this view (they’re the long thin buildings on the right-hand side of the river, across from the boats)
BOAT PEOPLE LIVING ON THE RIVER
Of course, location isn’t everything.
These people live on boats that are on the river pictured above, but they certainly aren’t “rich”.
Think of them more like squatters and the beggars who sleep in Midtown Manhattan in corners of buildings. They have a great location, but not such a hot home.
Houseboats on the river.
Proud boat owner