Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Walk Around My Shanghai Neighborhood

We really love our Shanghai neighborhood. It is not a common neighborhood for expats in Shanghai, though our complex seems to have a mix of nationalities. The location is central and so easily accessible from many of the best spots in Shanghai. Having metro lines 8 and 10 a few steps away and line 9 only a short distance further means we can connect quickly to many locations. We can also walk to Yuyuan Gardens, Xintiandi, the Former French Concession and People's Square pretty easily.

But, probably what we like best about our neighborhood is that it retains some old neighborhood characteristics, slowly disappearing in modern Shanghai. One block away we have one of the largest wet markets in town, where you can get any vegetable, meat or other edible (or someone's version of edible) product. The streets are often filled with caged chickens and buckets full of fish, frogs, and crabs along with the assorted vegetable sellers. I'm not daring enough to buy the meat hanging out over the sidewalk and I have yet to butcher a whole chicken, but it makes for a fun walk.

Life is always thriving in these streets, with people going about their day shopping and managing chores. The neighborhood is kind of like a communal living room and I especially enjoy the times when people are out playing cards, lounging with their family or enjoying a meal on the sidewalk.
Big card game in the local "park" (really more a square of grassy area)
The normal rituals of life in the neighborhood (next time your kid complains about taking a bath, remind them the hair washing could be taking place on the street)
Sidewalks are used for everything from lounging to drying laundry and chilies
There's always someone in from the countryside selling various fruit/veg. Watermelons are in season now, with vans full of them throughout the neighborhood (complete with portable scale).
And the "junk cart" is always present, if you're in need of a hat, bag, scrubber, etc. Better than any $1 store.
We also have a peaceful Buddhist temple about half a block away from home, which is destined to become my favorite retreat. I have been learning more about the concepts of Buddhism with a "beginner" book, Buddhism for Busy People...but it only takes a visit to this peaceful temple to inspire some zen feelings and a better outlook on life.

And the tree lined streets can look like quite an oasis (and feel like one from the heat), but looks can be deceiving as the noise is almost constant.

Unfortunately, our remaining bit of old Shanghai is destined for the wrecking ball like much of the history that has already gone that way to make room for new, shiny high rises (yes, like the one we live in) and malls. It feels sad to us, but then we don't live the daily life of the people in the small lane houses. Living without modern conveniences like a private bathroom and air conditioning might make you feel different about the negative side of progress. On the other hand, I heard one of the authors of Disappearing Shanghai talk about his anecdotal findings of the negative effects on the older generations who are displaced by these moves. Imagine living your whole life in one place and having your entire daily routine and social structure changed, at a time when you probably need the support and closeness most. Often people are displaced in to massive suburban settlements, very isolated from the convenience and community they always knew.
Part of the neighborhood already going under the wrecking ball
Several blocks are slowly being torn down, which gives the neighborhood an odd feel (and makes for some danger with wires hanging out and frequent sawing and sparks flying).

If you're in Shanghai, we'll take you for our own little walking tour. The neighborhood is best experienced both in the daytime and in the evening when the food carts come out and things settle in to a more domestic, less harried existence. Just bring sturdy, preferable close toed shoes and a sense of adventure! The live chickens being killed and fish being gutted are all part of the experience, and children using the sidewalk as a potty are often in with the mix too.

If you want to peruse our neighborhood virtually, check out our photo site gallery, Shanghai.