Two months before our move to Shanghai, Matt and I came on a pre-trip to discover a bit more about our prospective home. On a chilly February afternoon, jet-lagged and a little hung-over (having succumbed to the welcoming hospitality of some colleagues the night before), we took a whirlwind tour around a few of the common expat settlements.
As a general rule, expats with kids live on the Pudong side of the Huangpu river as that’s where the International schools are. Last time I checked we don’t have kids, so Matt and I chose to live downtown (the other side of the river).
I wanted to give a glimpse into the area we now call home – the Former French Concession in Xuhui – by sharing some photos of my favourite street: Wulumuqi Lu.
A few feet from our apartment block on the lukou (intersection) between Wulumuqi Lu and HuaiHai Zhong Lu (our street), locals gather in a small communal area. Come rain, shine or smog you will find them playing cards, dancing to music, chatting or just reading the daily paper.
The sense of community is tangible, perhaps unsurprising for a culture which still give more weight to the community than the individual. Often I will walk past here and see older people in wheelchairs, sometimes still in their pajamas, who have been brought out by their friends to socialise and participate.
I love this photo – dappled autumn sunlight through the trees, a cluster of bikes and mopeds, clothes hung out unashamedly to dry in the sun. It has a sense of stillness which belies the chaotic reality.
I mentioned in a previous blog the ubiquitous transformation of Shanghai streetscapes, with new bars, restaurants and coffee shops – especially coffee shops – opening on a daily basis. Wulumuqi Lu is no exception, actually it is a perfect example. In a couple of days I bet I will be able to order a artisanal single-origin organic drip-brewed cup of caffine at this place. Meanwhile, that guy will still be pedaling empty cardboard boxes on his rusty 3-wheeled push-bike.
Whatever you need – chances are these guys will have one. And it will cost you about a quid.
This photo (above) is typical of Wulumuqi Lu: guy sat in a shady alleyway selling fruits out of a crate next to Western-style butchers-come-coffee-shop. More scooters; more washing; a melting pot of faces.
Pretty much everywhere I go in Shanghai I find myself in prime people-watching territory. This is one of my favourite past-times wherever I am in the world, but there is something about the Chinese people – young and old- that I find transfixing.
The millennial generation are achingly fashion-savvy, carving their own identity with passion and determination, then documenting each decision on WeChat (a social media platform that is a cross between Facebook and Whatsapp). For the young appearance is paramount, but equally anything seems to go which is quite liberating!
I dare you not to fall in love with this place – seriously, I dare you.
The photo above is of ‘The Avocado Lady’, a grocery shop which is famous among laowai (foreigners) as the owner and shop assistants can speak English. The store was apparently the first vendor in Shanghai to sell avocados… and I guess also owned by a lady. Constantly buzzing with French, Germans, Americans and Brits – artisanal coffee in hand (theme emerging).
I’m not sure what this shop is actually called, but Matt and I refer to it as ‘the pancake lady’. I took this photo around midday so she will have been winding down (by night the same hole-in-the-wall is used by a guy who sells BBQ kebabs), but if you go in the morning you will find a queue at least 10-deep.
She cracks 2 or 3 eggs onto a circular hotplate, spreads them thin as paper over a ladle of batter and then scatters, herbs, chilli and some reddy-brown paste (better not to ask) on top. The end product looks like this (and tastes delicious!):
Like many areas of downtown Shanghai, Wulumuqi Road is a clash of ‘old’ and ‘new’; for now it strikes an intoxicating balance but you’d be naive to think this will last forever. The deep gravelly buzz of power-drills which accompany the constant and pervasive construction is impossible to ignore.
I’ve wandered off Wulumuqi Lu now, onto an adjacent street. The tree-lined pavements are like crack cocaine for the young and beautiful, looking for the perfect backdrop to their selfies (what did I tell you… people-watching gold!)
It’s not unusual to see couples don their wedding attire and come to these streets for a professional shoot… These two were happy for me to join their professional photographer for a quick snap! 🙂
But don’t be fooled into thinking the place is picture-perfect -you do have to side-step the odd pile of rubbish, and pinch your nose every now and again – but having got to know Shanghai a bit better over the last 6 months, I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else.