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China: Shanghai Old City

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Shanghai Old City | China | Asia

[Visited: September 2009]

After getting off the subway, we walked through streets with skyscrapers, and the fast and dynamic life of Shanghai was all around us. Cars and motor cycles speeding by, people on their cell phones on the pavement: the pulse of a modern city in fast development. Crossing some streets took us to a side street with a completely different vibe. A line of freshly slaughtered ducks waiting to be roasted, a man washing vegetables in the street, people playing mahjong in the street... The fancy youngsters in this street, with gaudy haircut and bright, smart, clothes, made this street a true mix of old and modern. At the end of the street, cranes towered above us, and workmen were working hard on construction works. The other side of the busy street: high-rise buildings dwarfing the old houses of the neighbourhood we were in.

Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Street scene in the old part of Shanghai

Turning back towards Renmin Lu, we crossed and entered what is the heart of the Old City - or the remains thereof. The hustle of modern Shanghai now rapidly fading behind us, we walked streets that probably had not changed much for a long time. Originally, this is where the walled city of Shanghai was founded in the 11th century, and it lies outside the International Settlement, and as such served as a ghetto for Chinese labourers. The old city walls have disappeared since long, but the circular roads surrounding the Old City more or less follow the trajectory of the city walls. It is inevitable not to wonder about the future of this area: it is hemmed in by modern neighbourhoods and it seems a matter of time before also these centuries old alleys will fall to the bulldozers one day.

Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): One of the many alleys in the old part of Shanghai

For now, life in the streets goes on as it has for a long time. Walking here is a sheer pleasure for the curious eyes of the visitor. Old women in traditional clothes, a small dog looking at the world from within a bicycle basket, people cycling by, cooks preparing food in an open kitchen: an endless assault on your senses. We turned into an alley, and continued meandering through narrow streets and alleys, with some very quiet corners and lanes where laundry was hanging to dry. We stumbled upon a garbage collection point, and realized that the people coming here with a potty were actually dumping its contents into a special container in the wall. Hard to imagine there is no proper sanitation in this area of one of the fastest developing metropoles on the planet. We encountered many colourful people in the street, always very friendly, and once again I would have loved to be able to speak the language. Still, we enjoyed seeing people having lunch in the street, cooking, cycling the narrow lanes, playing Chinese chess, negotiating about a bicycle (or so it seemed), and much more. When we reached the end of one of the lanes in this maze of alleys, we abruptly found ourselves at the doorstep of Sun Wonderland, a set of apartment blocks with golden roofs rising high above the Old City. We realized that we had reached the other side of the attractive labyrinth of the old part of town.

Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): People playing mahjong in the street
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Chinese woman in traditional clothes at a food stall
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Two men negotiating over a second hand bike in the street
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Old Chinese people having a curious look at their foreign visitors
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Lunch on the street in the old part of Shanghai
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Modern buildings overlooking the old part of Shanghai
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Alley in the old part of Shanghai
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Street scene in Shanghai
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Shopping street in the old part of Shanghai
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Making a movie while playing Chinese chess
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Narrow lane in the old part of Shanghai
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Street scene with cyclist
Picture of Shanghai Old City (China): Cleaning vegetables in the street

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