Shanghai: ‘Snail Homes’ and ‘Mortgage Slaves’

It's a snail's life

It's a snail's life

That’s right. Take your pick Shanghai. Life in urban China, especially in Shanghai, depicts two growing phenomena: those who are caught living on top of each other in small “snail homes,” or those with a mortgage that promises to keep them shackled for decades to come.

My search to paint the perfect picture of these two extremes began with a trip to Longchang Apartments in northern Shanghai’s Yangpu District. The corresponding article, published with GlobalPost, can be seen here. This former police station is now home to residents that, you guessed it, live in homes small enough for snails.

The residents were mostly outside talking, tidying up their laundry or cooking – not because they were having a barbeque, but because their kitchen sinks and stove tops are outside.

The amiable atmosphere I walked into was delightful in the same sort of way a guest feels when walking into a party that is expecting company. The first thing that struck my mind was that absence of fear and desperation that so intimately embodies similar impoverished residences in the West. Instead of peeking over my shoulder every other minute, I stood facing residents that greeted me with a gentle, sometimes even timid, smiles.

Snailing about

Snailing about

Some people have a tough life in China, but if they know how to survive it together, peace (or harmony as some would call it) thrives. That is nowhere more evident than in Shanghai’s “snail homes.”

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