Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Backstreets of Shanghai.


From Yu Garden, my plan was for us to go to Shanghai Old Street which is located about a two block walk from Yu Bazaar. But, there were no signs pointing us which way to go so we started out just wandering without a clue.

We just so happened to come across the tourist information center and so we popped inside for advice.  The ever not so friendly woman told us to go to Fangbing Middle Road.  She got even  more impatient with us when we kept asking her to repeat her words because we had a hard time understanding what she was saying because of her thick Chinese accent.  Eventually, we go it.  Okay.  Go out the door.  Turn left, go straight, turn right.  Then she just waved us away from her desk as she returned to looking at her computer monitor.

So, we went as directed and didn't see anything that looked like an old city street.  We walked several blocks past Yu Bazaar and even go distracted with going down an alleyway.  Perhaps it would lead to the old street.  It didn't but it was interesting to see life in a back alley.  Such a stark difference in buildings here from the tall modern high rise ones that we could spot in the distance.  Seemed like this section of alleys was self contained in terms of having shops and restaurants and other small establishments needed by people to go about their daily lives here.  I was tempted to suggest we have lunch at one of the teeny, weeny alleyside eateries here but the other two didn't seem to be interested in stopping for a meal so I passed up on the idea.  I think it would've been interesting to sample the food cooked here - definitely would not be tourist food.



It was head puzzling to not only see the jumble of wires strung up overhead but the fact that people were using the wires as their laundry drying lines!  I guess there's not been an issue of electrocution or lost power due to water dripping down into a line.


Our alley walk turned out to be a loop so we ended up in the same parking lot that we had started in.  We decided to head back towards Yu Garden as I knew the old street was just nearby - I felt like we had strayed just a bit too far.

Then we saw the street sign for Fangbing Middle Road. Thinking back on what the woman at the tourist information center had told us, she was accurate in her instructions.  Had we followed them literally, we  would have made it to the intersection that divides the approximately two block long street into east and west sections.


Okay, to me, the buildings on either side of the street looked pretty much exactly like the builidings in Yu Bazaar.  I am not an architect so I am sure there are differences.  For, I just say that the architects of Yu Garden really did a fantastic job in blending the shopping complex with the older structures on the old street.

The eastern section of the old street,  aka Fangbing Middle Road, retains characteristics of residences in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and early Republican days (1911-1949).   The houses on both sides of the street are fitted with checkered windows, and shop fronts have wooden boards, balustrades, and swing doors. Their roofs have upturned eaves, protruding corners and laced drain-pipes. These residences looked very much like the architecture of Yu Bazaar. 

 We did not walk on the street in the eastern section.  Instead, we strolled along the western section which is filled with Ming (1368-1644) and Qing style architecture. Black tiles and white-washed walls, red columns, and upturned eaves showcase the style of old Shanghai.

The western section has a number of antique & curio shops, restaurants and teahouses.   We did a bit of window shopping inside the shops selling all things to do with Chinese tea.  I'm always on the hunt to add to my collection of Chinese teapots.






Basically, Shanghai Old Street is Fangbing Middle Road flanked with strutures that are centuries old but now serve as mainly as souvenir shops and restaurants.  Literally not my cup of tea.

So, we did a quick stroll down one side of the street and then back up the other and called it done.  Where to next?  I suggested the Shanghai Museum which houses a small collection of ancient Chinese art.  I am not a museum goer but I have been here and I actually enjoyed it.  So I threw out the suggestion and it got a lukewarm response, at best, from my travel partners.  So then I suggested that we head back towards the Bund and from there, cross over the Huangpu River to check out some of the tourist attractions on the other side.  I was thinking I would take them to the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower, or one of the other towers that have an observation deck, for a bird's eye view of the city.  This was something I also did in 2009 and I quite enjoyed the experience.   They were okay with this suggestion so off we went.

We made our way towards the Bund and as I crossed a street, I would glance down to see if there was anything interesting to check out.  I was on the hunt for another interesting alleyway.  In fact, I kept veering us off the main road so we would walk in the backstreets.   There's not only less vehicular traffic in these narrow lanes but walking here also gives us a sneak peek into the daily lives of the Shanghainese who live here.  It's a place that reminds you that while there are plenty of wealthy people who can afford to live in stylish apartments in gleaming high rises, there's also a group of people who are less fortunate.  For them, these humble neighborhoods are home. 


Not uncommon to see restaurant kitchens operating outdoors here.


It's how they do recycling in the 'hood.

The tailor's open for business.

As best I can tell, this vendor provides both laundry and tailoring services.

Some of the lanes are so narrow, it's not possible for cars to drive down.  Perfect place for kids to run around and play.

It was along one of the quiet, neigborhood streets that we found our lunch spot - a very modest eatery serving up noodles and dumplings.  Apparently, while Bro enjoyed the spicy noodle soup that he had for lunch, it did a number on his stomach and luckily, he was able to get some relief at the men's room inside Yu Garden.  While he was feeling better, some non-spicy noodles and dumplings were perfect for his stomach.


There were exactly two people working the place.  The man out front who did all the cooking.  I realized that was the kitchen. 


The woman worked the inside of the restaurant, taking care of the needs of the diners.  She was also the dumpling maker.   She would work on dumplings when she wasn't performing all her other duties. Her experience with making dumplings was reflected in the speed at which she could wrap the dough around the clump of meat.  The only utensil she need was a pair of chopsticks.


Inside were a few tables but luckily for us, there was a table with 3 available seats.  The menu was posted up on the wall and all in Chinese.  No pictures....argh!!  Thankfully, SK can read some characters and recognized the ones for dumpling large and dumpling small.




We didn't know the difference between dumpling large and dumpling small except for the size so we ordered one of each.  When the bowls came to the table, indeed the size was the only difference.  Dumpling small is 20 dumplings.  Dumpling large is 12 dumplings (?)  Surprisingly, they do taste a little bit different.  Actually, it's a mouth feel thing.  I think with the smaller dumplings, you get more dough to filling ratio so they were a bit chewier in mouth feel to me.  The larger dumplings were less about the dough and more about the filling.  Personally, I enjoyed both.



After lunch, we resumed our walk back towards the Bund and again, I would get the other two to take the narrow lanes that run through the neighborhoods here.

Walking through the backstreets, I was quickly struck by the sight of laundry hanging out in the most unexpected of places....like seemingly not anywhere close to where people might be living.  Hanging laundry out to dry is an everyday chore around the world but the practice is especially common in Asia, where the cost of electricity can be astronomical.




Clotheslines are strung up between any thing that you can tie a rope or a string to - telephone poles, tree trunks.  Where it's not possible to string up a line, laundry is hung from street signs, gates and even electrical wires!   We watched one woman use a long handled hook to hang up a laundered piece of clothing on to a utility line!


Modesty is also not a concern, with underpants proudly displayed for all the neighbors to see.  Shoes don't escape the need to be washed and hung up to dry.


Even stuffed toys are washed and hung out to dry.  Notice the special clips that are used to hold the toys to the thin bamboo pole.  If the clips don't work, then just tie the toy to the pole.  You have to be resourceful here.




I didn't get a photo of it but you can even buy oversized coat hangers for holding up larger items to dry like bed sheets.


I'm guessing no one steals anyone else's clothing otherwise this system of drying would not work and it obviously works well!


I really enjoyed my stroll in the backstreets and was really sad when at one point, we ended up back at a main road.  I had been trying to take as many detours as I could to keep us in the small lanes.  But....all fun has to come to an end.  The only thing that perked me up was the sight of the egg tart seller and he had Portuguese egg tarts!


We got one for each of us.  Chinese don't have that many sweets and undoubtedly, egg tarts are a popular one for many people, including the 3 of us.  This guy's tarts were not bad though I think they needed a bit longer in oven to get a slight more burnt surface.  My one complaint was that they were too small - barely three bites.  😋


The next food stop was back near one of the narrow lanes.  This guy was selling fresh cut fruit and freshly pressed sugar cane juice.  He was doing quite the brisk service so of course, that was reason alone for us to stop and see what else he had to offer.


I love sugar cane juice but after having gotten sick over it in Myanmar, I'm a little more cautious about getting it.  Had I been more thirsty, I would've had some. The other two could not turn down the opportunity so the man went to work to squeeze out the juice from a couple of canes.


I swear they were both drooling at the thought of the juice as it was being pressed from the canes.  As always, the juice is sweet and a perfect drink for a hot day when you need a bit of a sugar buzz to keep you going.


Okay, we still have to make it to the Bund.  Vamanos!