Culture

Observe Shanghai Through Shanghai Observed

17.05.2019 | By NANCY WANG

We got the opportunity to sit down and have a chat with the one and only genius, Alex Greenberg, who is behind the Instagram account Shanghai Observed — if you know, you know but for those who are clueless about this account, let’s just say it is somewhat synonymous to 9gag. If that is your kind of humor, maybe you might just as well start following it too!

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m originally from New York, but I went to college in Vermont. I then moved to Shanghai in January 2015. I started off teaching skateboarding with this local company for about a year, and then I went my own way and taught personal skateboarding. After it, I started teaching English while I interned at a video production company called Push Media. *pauses* I honestly recommend people who just graduated and don’t know what to do to come here and teach. It’s
great! You’ve got a lot a free time, it pays the bills, and in the meantime, you can figure things
out.

When did you start this account? And what made you start it?

I started Shanghai Observed back in 2016. Actually, when I first started the account, Ed Templeton was my source of inspiration. He had this daily photo project, where he would take one picture a day. And with that idea, I had the intention of making Shanghai Observed a one-photo-a-dayproject while living here. I like photography and I also just got my new iPhone then so I was
excited to take pictures — the photo quality was amazing. This was actually the first picture I uploaded to Shanghai Observed.

 

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When did you start noticing your followers growing?

When I started the account, I only had about 100-200 followings. But when Subway Creatures reposted one of my pictures of ‘a woman holding up her baby shitting over the trashcan’ I started to gain more followers.

But the real boom was when Bored Panda featured me in one of their articles too. I instantly gained about 12K the next day. And since that moment I knew what kind of contents people liked seeing — I also found my niche.

 

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Do you run this account by yourself? And is this more of a side project?

Yes, I run the account by myself and it is also more of a side project. I’m actually currently studying Chinese at Jiaotong University.

How many submissions do you get on the average daily basis?

I’d say about 20-30 submissions. But a lot of my contents also comes from WeChat groups such as ‘Goddammit China, Because China and Random China Moments.’ A lot of the materials shared in these chats is too much to be shared on Instagram, so I filter and choose the ones that I think are more appropriate. I’m also starting my own WeChat group named after the Instagram page — Shanghai Observed.

And out of all the submissions you receive/posts you’ve uploaded, which are your top 3 favorites?

These might be my top favorites so far:

First

Second

Third

 

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There are some outrageous stories you’ve posted, (e.g., police hauling cars to do random ID/ Visa/drug check-ups, “Chinese humor,” e.g., feeding animals alcohol) What are your personal thoughts on these?

I will start with the feeding animals alcohol issue. My personal opinion? Don’t give alcohol to animals. But again that’s just me. Since I’ve posted videos about this, many fired back with negative responses, got upset and threatened to unfollow/block/report. People have the right to speak their opinions put up an invisible wall, we can have a conversation about it. You can see the posts here.

About the police, I feel like the authority here feels more part of the community such in cases where a group people are getting into arguments, and the cops just lingers around and watches them do their thing as long as no one is getting physically violent. But if this were to happen in America, well at least the misconception of the police force there, the group of people would have been broken up in a matter of seconds.
But then you also see cases where the police are being evasive. Once my friends and I went to Le Baron (a prominent club in Shanghai), and the waiting line was longer than the usual. Not long after, we saw about 10 plainclothes police coming out of the club with plastic bags with urine in
them. So apparently we heard that they locked everyone in and drug tested people — but not just random people. They didn’t drug test women, they only drug tested foreign males. I guess the overview of the police in Shanghai is kept respectfully at arm’s length.

 

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We also see that you started other similar accounts, can you tell us a little bit more about it?

Yeah, there are other similar accounts I’ve created like Shanghai Observed. There’s America Observed, Europe Observed and Hotpotboys. But Hotpotboys is not like the ‘Observed’ series, It’s more about random memes than uncanny behaviorisms. But it’s a bit more challenging to manage the other two accounts since I’m not physically there

 

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Do you ever encounter people refusing their pictures taken?

You see, this is probably the best part about shanghai — No one cares. I mean I would say about 60% of the people see you taking a picture of them, but they don’t acknowledge you. About 40% of the time they just give you a look, a rare 5-10% of people says something and out of all the pictures I’ve taken only one person actually ever said ‘don’t take a picture.’ It’s not like New York, people would give you attitude, and I’m a New Yorker, I don’t know how do those street photographers do it there.

 

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Last but not least, what are your goals for this account?

What I aspire is to be able to create a clothing brand out of Shanghai Observed. I’m selling merch already, but I would like to expand that and sell more of my original designs. I would also like the website to grow — shift my Instagram followers to the site so I could create more blog posts and start/promote conversations about specific topics. I want it to be a place where people won’t put up an invisible wall, get offended so quickly and be able to express their thoughts freely.

In the totalitarian city like this, it is pretty interesting to ‘observe Shanghai’ and get a glimpse of how other people live day to day.

 

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