You’ve probably seen pictures on the Internet with people climbing up to the top of skyscrapers and take majestic pictures.
Rooftopping, that’s what it’s called.
Just imagine looking down from the rooftop is already making many people weak in the knees, but why is somebody still willing to be the daredevil?
Therefore, out of curiosity, I asked a local rooftopper to take me rooftopping.
Back when I was in Beijing, I came across the photos taken by Claire He, a local university student, when I was scrolling through Instagram one day. She caught my attention – a female rooftopper. Wow.
I met up with her in a Thursday afternoon in the CBD. She rarely shows her face in her pictures so I could only recognize her by her shoulder-length ash blonde hair. Wearing a black t-shirt dress and a pair of sneakers, she was dressed as any other 20-year-olds in the city.
After greetings, she took me to a residential building nearby to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a rooftopper.
Claire started rooftopping last February. Just like first-time mountain climbers attempting to climb Mount Everest, on the way to the building, she says she was challenged by her friend who deliberately took her to a difficult spot on her first trip rooftopping.
“We had to climb up 36 stories – floor by floor – to reach the rooftop,” she said. “When we arrived there’s actually nothing around us, when you look down it’s already down to the ground floor.”
“My hands were all sweaty,” she admits that she was very scared when she recalled her first rooftoping experience. But she was thrilled to see the amazing view up on top of the building.
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“You have never seen your city like that ever in your life,” she said it provides her with a different perspective.
After taking the elevator to the top floor, we opened the exit door and walked up to the rooftop. After actually reaching the rooftop, there was a ladder that we need to climb up on so we can get the full view.
Up on the highest point of the building without any fences around, I could finally understand what she meant by having a mixed emotion — a peaceful feeling of being away from the hustle and bustle, and the adrenaline rush of excitement knowing that you are standing in a not-so-peaceful position.
In a city packed with people, the crowd during rush hours can be suffocating at times. As somebody from Hong Kong, I know that by heart. Claire says she tends to come up to the rooftops when she wants to have some alone time.
“Whenever you are trying to be angry with somebody, you just chill down a little bit [up on the rooftop]. That view is so magical that you just cannot have this temper.”
When I asked her what it takes to be a rooftopper, she says it is the spirit of exploration, and that is it – you don’t need a professional camera to take amazing pictures up here, even an iPhone will do. “If you over-emphasize on the equipment you use, you actually neglect how you are going to compose the picture.”
After exploring her hometown, she says she has visited different cities to explore their skylines.
“The skylines are very different. Chongqing is famous for its bridges; Hong Kong is famous for its skyscrapers. Each city has its own style.”
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The rooftopper admits her passion could be a dangerous hobby.
Claire has a Japanese friend who was scammed by the guard after getting busted for rooftopping in Beijing. The guard asked him to pay RMB$1500, otherwise he would call the police. Her friend was afraid of getting into trouble so he did what he was told to do.
Apart from the legal issues, she explained that there might be potential risks climbing up commercial buildings. The rooftops could be in maintenance or the bricks up there might still be broken.
She said posting her photos on social media is not her intention to encouraging people to try it – it is important for people to know their limits.
“I would never do anything I feel uncomfortable with or things that are beyond my ability,” she said.
Despite having almost 6,000 followers on her Instagram account, Claire says she has mixed feeling about this – she loves to share her photos with the world, but the more followers she gets, the bigger the chances she will be commented.
“Some people commented, ‘why is a girl doing this [rooftopping]?’” she said. “I was really angry at this comment. But if I ever commented back it’s going to cause a fight, that is the last thing I want.”
Rooftopping started back in Russia, mainly done by guys. Later it started to become more popular in big cities in China as well. However, no matter how popular it is getting, females are always the minority in this community.
“Take a look at Instagram and other social media, rooftoppers with the most followers are usually guys,” she said.
Claire said part of the reasons that she actually sticks to rooftopping is because she is trying to change the stereotype.
“I want to show the world that whatever the guys can do, females can do it too.”
To prove her point, this Beijing girl is walking up to the edges and dangling her feet off of buildings in her photos, stretching her limits every time she goes rooftopping.
“Not only you are exploring the city, you are exploring yourself too. You are trying to explore how much further you can go. I think that’s why people get addicted to it.”
Even when people have been raising concerns on and on about this type of photography, no one can deny being on top of the concrete jungle does have its lure.
What can we say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
(Article and Photography by Richelia Yeung; Feature image credits to Claire He @claireschilling)