My name is Alex, I’m from Long Island, New York and I’ve been living in Shanghai for the past four years. I started Shanghai Observed
when I got a new iPhone. It was November 2016—I can remember because I was super hyped that the camera was so good. I started taking photos of random stuff all around the city and I wanted a place that wasn’t my personal account to share with my friends back home.
So I made Shanghai Observed a daily photo project. I would share that and eventually the stuff that got the most love was the funny stuff or the out of the ordinary stuff. Like the first photo that got my account some attention was from in the metro: an ayi was holding her kid over a trash can as the kid was pissing into it.
Then Subway Creatures reposted it and that gave me a lot of new followers overnight. Another one was a photo of a kid giving me the middle finger. I was riding my scooter and I saw him pull up behind me. For some reason I got the idea to ask him to give me the finger. And he just looks so intense and fierce so that’s another favorite post.
Now Shanghai Observed is a collection of photos that I take and people send me from China and all over Asia that focus on humor and ironic situations. I started taking submissions because I want the best of the best content and I can’t take the best of the best content. So people would send in photos and I’m also in WeChat groups where people share pictures so I get a lot from there (if I know where it’s coming from I give them credit). Even though there’s stuff from all over Asia I like the name and I don’t want to change it.
I think people like the content because it’s so random and bizarre. Most of my following is from Europe and America and they would never see this stuff normally. I’m starting to make t-shirts and a photo book. For the t-shirts I’d rip off some stuff I’d see on the street. For example one of my favorite t-shirt says “sometimes the shit breaks you” and the guy’s face is what makes it really interesting. It’s not just what the shirt says, but the irony that they don’t know what it says, and the expression on their face.
Right after college my friend was living and working out here doing skateboard instruction at Iconx
, so I had an in. I taught skateboarding for a year but after a while it just kind of got to be same old, same old. Still for fun I like to skate and Shanghai’s a good place for it with lots of street spots, plazas, obstacles. The spot everyone used to go to was Love Park
, one stop south of People’s Square but recently they’ve been cracking down and started to kick people out, so it’s been a sad scene. People are getting pushed to the outskirts of Shanghai like even past Hongqiao Airport.
I live around the Laoximen area and I like going to this one dumpling spot called Er Guang Huntun
. Anthony Bourdain went there way back, rest in peace, and that’s how I found out about it. It’s right down the street from my house so I go there often. Sometimes I like to just go to the end of the metro line and end up in a weird mall to people watch and stuff like that. The most recent one I went to was at the end of Line 11. It’s a good way to find skate spots -- you go to the end and you find these big plazas that don’t have as much security.
Most of the time me and my friends end up at Family Mart or recently we’ve been going to 624
-- that’s the address, 624 Changle Lu -- and it’s just street beers. I don’t like clubs, I don’t like loud bars, I like to be able to talk, chill and hang out. I have a love-hate relationship with the change in Shanghai. Eventually I’d like to go to New York City, Portland, or Seattle, wherever my work will take me.
But it is so easy to hustle here, there are so many ways to keep yourself busy. Something I will always say is that people should come and explore Shanghai. If you have a college degree, you have a ticket to teach English out here. And you should take it!