Sightless in Shanghai – Being blind in a 21st century Chinese megacity

There are 17 pianos in Zhang Zhenyu’s office, with no extra room for an 18th. They are lined up back to back and side to side, each in various states of assembly – some look ready to be rolled out on stage, while others have their strings, hammers and metallic guts cracked open on display. Zhang moves from piano to piano, hitting a key, hearing a note and pulling out a wood-handled wrench that he deftly locks into one of 200 small metal pins to adjust the tone.

For the inexperienced, the process is daunting – each piano is a rat’s nest of small, easily confused bits, let alone the training required to spot a good note from one that is ever-so-slightly flat.

“A piano has more than a thousand parts, and each one can cause unwanted noise if it’s loose,” Zhang says. But the 37-year-old knows exactly which pin to turn, and how to turn it. That’s because he has been carefully trained for his job as a piano tuner, one of the few professions traditionally open to China’s blind.

[Read in That’s Shanghai, August 2015]