Slap bang in the centre of Shanghai is what remains of the old city.
From google earth one can still see the trace of the original city walls along Renmin and Zhonghua Roads.
This was a walled city in the fifteenth century but today the majority of houses, temples and a mosque, were constructed or reconstructed in the early part of the twentieth century.
I stumbled upon it during my wanderings as the Old City of the Guide books, is in fact the Disney version of a reconstructed and sanitised concept. The new part is in fact a laudable effort to create a modern version of what old China would have been like. Except for the lack of a soul. Here are the up and coming middle class Chinese tourists, with a smattering of expats and tourists, browsing, yes, through the hundreds of very debateable antique and bric a brac shops, and then sitting down in Starbucks, MacDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC did make slight concession in that the good old Colonel Sanders graphic looks a bit like a chinaman.
The only interesting things here are the sort of commando peddlers who have got old photographs and Mao era bric a brac on the pavement. But I watched as the police moved them on.
My photography is based very much on people, and ever since staying with the Nuba of central Sudan in 1981, I have been a sort of anthropological snapper. Consequently the new high-rise areas of Shanghai, where residents hide themselves away are in stark comparison to the old city that I had just walked into. Here life is lived on the streets, good for taking photographs and meeting Chinese people, but probably not so good for them as it implies overcrowding.
It is the most Chinese part of the city as when the surrounding areas were given over to the Concessions, the Chinese were concentrated in this old, previously walled part.
The residents here were friendlier than the rest of Shanghai and I got smiles, laughs and sometimes a pose for the camera.
I was so shocked by this I googled Shanghai and Surley when I got back to the hotel and discovered there was a contest between Shanghai and Beijing as to who was the rudest, and Shanghai won hands down. I couldn’t make up my mind whether the Shanghai’ers or the Expats were the rudest. But I suppose this had been going on for centuries, ever since the French and British forced themselves on the city.
This little bit of Shanghai with it’s small and windy streets, with open air street restaurants and people selling second-hand furniture, old vases and clothes gave it the air of a living breathing part of town.
There were few cars and here the bicycle was dominant.
There was a greater mix of people from all over China here as it is one of the areas that newcomers can find lodging. A sort of Shanghai Brick Lane. There was a Mosque and an Islamic social aid centre and temples that didn’t look like they had been ransacked during the cultural revolution.
But all this would disappear. Already next to the ‘new bit’ known as the Yu Market or Old Town Bazaar, another section had just been raised to the ground ready for development. These new quarters were being built with much wider roads which made it easier for sevices, firebrigade etc but also the authorities, still mindful to the attack to their authority during the Tian’anmen Square protests, to send in the police.
It was a real pleasue to wander round this part of the city and I was drawn back continually during my stay.