What I see from my Shanghai Apartment
A photoessay by Christian Petersen-Clausen
The following is a photo essay by Christian Petersen-Clausen on his experience in Shanghai.
It’s a rainy day in Shanghai on this, the twenty-sixth day of my lockdown. As documentary filmmaker, I am not used to spending this much time in my apartment.
I feel fortunate to have a high-floor apartment from which I can look down on usually busy thoroughfares that are now deserted and the main gate to my xiaoqu, where the quarantine buses take away those unfortunate enough to have a positive test result, as well as the many other apartment buildings that surround us.
I spend my days sitting at my window with my camera and my super telephoto lens, exploring how the people around me experience this lockdown.
I begin every morning by looking across the street towards the neighborhood fire station. A tent sprung up nearly one month ago. I’ve seen this man step into it a few times but I still don’t know who he is or if he needs assistance. Walking across the street to inquire feels like being asked to cross the Korean demilitarized zone, an impossible and ludicrous suggestion. I can’t look away.
News of residents from other compounds having been released make the rounds. I search in vain for our address in the WeChat posts from our district. Still closed. As the buses keep coming to collect the newly infected residents, across the Suzhou river people are able to leisurely stroll around their community. I am convinced I see someone smile at me, rubbing it in. For us, meanwhile, it’s another round of in-person testing, a chore we have all long gotten used to.
There is a school below the trees on the right side of a building. Usually around this time of day it is clogged with double-parked parents and anxious grandparents, all hoping to pick up their children while ignoring the sirens of the firefighters trying to pass by.
As the days progress, I have seen an increasing number of delivery drivers appear on the streets. Many of them are said to be sleeping in tents near shops and even below bridges to avoid being locked down in their homes. I see them racing down the streets, their small scooters heavily laden with boxes and bags.
Often these riders deliver group buys from neighbors who have piled together so they can fulfill the required minimum orders. I volunteer to bring purchases inside as they can only be left on shelves by the main gate. After a few weeks, an increasing number of individual orders have begun arriving. JD, which previously disappointed many people by promising deliveries and then not following through, is delivering as normal now. But I still have not managed to place an order without the app crashing on me.
A truck arrives delivering free food for all residents. Construction workers appear and form a long line to quickly unload the many boxes. It turns out the driver has come to Shanghai from Zhangjiakou, 1,400km away. He must have driven more than 15 hours to get to us. He tells me he has to leave Shanghai the same day to avoid the lockdown.
Ambulances continue speeding by at all hours. Social media is filled with horrific stories of them not being able to respond in time when called. I see a paramedic taking a power nap in the passenger seat and wonder how long the exhausted man has been on his feet.
Meanwhile, quarantine buses continue taking away unfortunate souls. I check the date of our release in a WeChat mini program every morning and find it constantly being delayed. The current prediction is May 10th. A single case in my xiaoqu of approximately 4,000 people will reset the clock again.
I spot a young man pensively staring out from a stairwell. He paces around for half an hour and then disappears back inside.
The fire engines across the street from my window have emerged for their weekly cleaning ritual. I am sad to report that Chinese firefighters do not wash their trucks bare-chested.
As the weather brightens a little bit, soldiers pull up at the fire station to deliver food. I am surprised by none of them using any smartphones, otherwise a ubiquitous sight. Later on, a fellow volunteer will tell me that Chinese soldiers are prohibited from using them while on duty.
The roof offers interesting views. I spot a clock tower that I had never noticed before and a private patio. An elderly man looks out from his window.
A steady stream of quarantine buses come and pick up newly-positive cases. Shared bicycles lie discarded at the side of the road.
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