Mr. Guo Jia is a tenant. The room he is renting is at the same time the entrance to the pigeonry of his landlord. On request of the landlord he feeds the pigeons.
Mr. Guo works as a cook in a Cantonese restaurant. He is not particularly fond of pigeons.
Ningbo, Zhejiang Province. Photo: Mark Hobbs
These often dark, and sometimes at first sight depressing places fascinate me, not only as a photographer, but also because they remind me of the long narrow alleys that I would often wander along in my 20’s and 30’s whilst living in the inner city Melbourne, Australian suburb of Fitzroy. Melbourne’s alleys were constructed for very specific practical reasons, they gave ready access to the ‘backyard’ and ‘privy’ of the house (the outside toilet) “the night man” (as he was called) collected the human waste through a trapdoor strategically placed in the wall of the toilet. Most of the houses were built between 1860 and 1900 and of course without proper plumbing. With the houses facing the street and the alley behind the houses.
Ningbo, Zhejiang. China. Photo: Mark Hobbs
In China the alley or “nong tang” is the “street”, they are a maze of dark corners and walled encloses, with secrets behind every turn. To most “Western” eyes they are depressing poverty stricken places, but I find them fascinating, they give a glimpse of a way of life that is rapidly disappearing in China.
The community aspect of these places cannot be replaced with high-rise apartment blocks or western style bungalow dwellings. The Hutong (Traditional Chinese alley dwelling) is of course an integral part of the “nong tang”, they are walled courtyards with a family home surrounding a central yard, they give privacy and community simultaneously. In many of the cities that I have lived and worked in China, the “nong tang’ is rapidly disappearing, along with a way of life. This will be not only a great loss to China and its small communities but a great cultural loss to the world.
Photo’s and text Mark Hobbs
Mrs. Zhao XiaoLi and Mr. Ren Qing both live in a community in Beijing’s Fatou area. Mr. Ren Qing is retired and is, together with around 100 colleagues, doing cleaning work in the community. Before his retirement he had many different jobs, most of the time as a driver. He belongs to the Mongolian minority and his hometown is Jilingele in Inner Mongolia. Twenty years ago he moved to Beijing, because his wife is from Beijing. Now his whole family is living in Beijing. He misses his hometown every day. He misses his relatives and, well actually everything. Because of his age he does not visit his hometown as regular as before; only when he has to go for something very important.
Mrs. Zhao XiaoLi is also retired from a job in accounting. She moved to the community a couple of years ago. The price is not too high and she likes the colorful architecture and the many green trees and plants. In her spare time she often goes to the library in Chaoyang district to learn English. Her English name is Iris. She is not a grandmother yet. Her daughter is currently too busy with work to have a kid.