Thanks was due to a Mr Du and his colleague Miss Li. Mr Du is a high ranking customs official here in Shanghai, and someone my husband meets regularly in the course of business. We were very honoured, and surprised, when he offered to show us around parts of his city.
So at 8-45am on a very hot Shanghai Sunday we set off. First stop was very old Tao Temple which was hidden in the back streets and slowly being surrounded by modern skyscrapers. Within the walls there was an amazing sense of peacefulness. The city was shut out, it was an oasis of calm in what is a very busy, noisy and bustling place. You have to hope this haven of calm never disappears completely. The only part of the wall surrounding the temple was constructed in 1553, during the Ming Dynasty, and although originally nine miles long there is now only 50 metres remaining. This is happening very fast all over the city.
From there we were headed to the markets. It soon became obvious that this was not the markets I came across everyday, but what I think of as being "the real heart" of the city. People living, and working in the same area. Their homes tucked down back lanes allowing them to work alongside. These are homes with no inside plumbing, people visible washing clothes, and themselves in sinks situated outside their living space. They are known as lane homes.
The offerings around the market were many and colourful. Most things you would see around any local market here, although maybe not the way they were offered, or the methods employed by the vendors. We saw people sitting on the road gutting fish, piles of guts and scales lying beside them. There were ducks hanging next to drying clothes, with their innards lying on a poly bag for sale with the duck. Live chickens, pigeons and geese caged ready for the their fate when someone would come along and buy them. No back shop slaughtering here. It was all in full view.
As the temperature was in the mid 30's with the sun blazing down, you can imagine the ripeness of the air! It didn't help that people were emptying their pots of pee down the alleyways. I did find myself scurrying past some areas very quickly, fighting my gag reflex on more than one occasion. But strangely, despite this, it was a really interesting experience. We were clearly "strangers in town" we saw no other foreigners around, but we were treated well. There was always a smile and a "neha" hello in Chinese. Our request to take pictures were never turned down. In fact people were only too happy to be photographed. It is, to me, amazing how happy people are living in these circumstances. It is so alien, and so far from our expectations of living conditions. I wonder how long before these communities no longer exist, and the skyscrapers take over. They are not so far away now. I can't help thinking that conditions in the future will be better for them, however I hope their culture doesn't disappear with their homes.
As we wandered along the lanes their was something interesting at every turn. It was a photographers mecca. The "money shots" where everywhere you looked. It was such a lively neighbourhood, full of people doing what they did every day of the week. We saw them at work, at sleep and at play.
I love the way the Chines hang out their washing. All there for everyone to see. In some cases you had to literally walk through it, brushing it to one side. My neighbours in Southampton would be horrified. There was a no hanging washing outside policy there. Nobody's underwear hanging out for all to see.
Soon were heading back to the city, one more stop this time to take in a Confucious Temple, and then the all important lunch. The Chinese take their food and their meal times very seriously. Not for them a sandwich or slice of something on the move. We were seated down to a delicious meal. A lovely end to a lovely day.
However the scenes and smells of the day would stay with me. I was so happy and feel so privileged to have seen this side of Shanghai. But I do wonder where there people will end up, will they be taken away from everything, and more importantly from friends and from traditions. Looking at it as an outsider it is easy to think this would be wrong. But who knows it may well be these people are just waiting for the day when they will move out, and hopefully move on. There is no holding back progress, if that is what it is. I hope to return in a few years and see the difference in the area. I'm sure it will be very interesting.