Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

012 : Cam Rimington on a rooftop whose location he’d rather you not know about, Putuo
Born in 1986 in Melbourne, Australia, Cam Rimington currently works as both a teacher and a student. Why Shanghai? To cure myself. He digs the following Shanghai bits: dumplings; the picturesque disrepair of old concession buildings; Taikang Lu, despite the tourists; old Shanghainese people’s morning exercises, which include clapping and tree-slapping; Tesco trolley wars. He is, however, a bit miffed by Confucian conformity; dawdlers and clueless street walkers; the lax approach to public hygiene; ear-splitting 'private' phone conversations; unchecked nationalism. For more info on Cam Rimington you should send an email.

image: C Rimington

“I could be anywhere, really. There are no landmarks here.”

Phone calls home always leave me pensive – what am I doing here?

Well “here” on the crumbling roof is easy enough to answer. I’ve literally risen above the heat and mosquitoes of the manic streets below to get some perspective. Putuo[1] is sweating today.

Seven floors up and I’m still dwarfed by the anonymous apartment towers behind me. I like being one of the myriad vignettes tenants see when they look out their greasy windows: here a solitary foreigner, there a yapping dog, a tired housewife gingerly bringing in her washing from the 18th floor or an old man limbering up by his basin in an off-white singlet that makes me think he lives alone.

I will love these grimy towers and the grubby little tiles that cover them, simply because I will imbue their charmless facades with affinity…

What am I doing here?

When I tire of that fruitless question, I distract myself by examining the neighbourhood skyline, scanning for telltale reminders of the new city in which I now find myself. There are a handful of unfamiliar characters scattered across high-rise billboards, but nothing conclusive. I could be anywhere, really. There are no landmarks here.

And so I have singled out my own: a dented glass edifice and the set of pockmarked triplets next to it. There is a chalet-style building with a garish cobalt roof and an ornate turret of some faux-European apartments, both framed perfectly by the green-clothed construction sites in front.

I’m selfish with this skyline of mine. I want to take a photo and smugly show it to others. I want to challenge them to find the exact spot where it was taken, confident that they would be unable to arrange all the elements in the right formation, at the correct angles, convinced that they could never experience this scene as I am experiencing it now. 

But what am I doing here?

The late afternoon throws amber and shadows across my broken rooftop. An idle zephyr glides lazily through me nudges something into place. I relinquish an easy sigh.

And, all at once, things become manageable. That nagging question ceases to matter. Here, suspended between the heights of the apartments and the heat of the street, my hesitation clears, my apprehension ebbs and nostalgia from cross-continental voices slips away. All at once, my doubts and second guesses give way to a pragmatic clarity. All at once, the simple fact of being here eclipses the reasons for it.

I smile at the simplicity of my newfound state of mind and hope that it lasts.

referenced works

  1. Putuo is a district of Shanghai, situated in the northwest part of the city. Though not in the downtown core, it is one of the nine central urban districts of Shanghai.

location information

  • Name: a rooftop whose location he'd rather you not know about
  • Address: near Caoyang Lu Station
  • Time of story: Afternoon
  • Latitude: 31.245792
  • Longitude: 121.408796
  • Map: Google Maps



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