As a way to ease the painful reality of not being on a beach somewhere during Spring Festival, I decided to be a tourist in my own city and to take advantage of this staycation. Chinese New Year was a sometimes dangerous but ultimately great time to venture out and about to explore Shanghai as the streets were fairly empty, apart from the unpredictable fireworks exploding everywhere. The result of my week-long exploration was discovering off-the-beaten path areas of the city that were both interesting and eyebrow raising.
Discovering Shanghai's urban slums
It all started with a wander to Cité Bourgogne, a shikumen-style lane house built in 1930 to house 78 families. Further down Damuqiao Lu (Dàmùqiáo Lù, 大木桥路) near the Huangpu River we discovered an amazing little park called the Xuhui Riverside Public Open Space (Xúhuì Bīnjiāng Gōnggòng Kāifàng Kōngjiān, 徐汇滨江公共开放空间; also known as Shanghai Corniche). Go check out the free climbing walls and giant industrial shipping cranes stationed at this former Nanpu Train Station site, but while you're in the neighborhood don't miss what's next to it. Adjacent to the park are old dilapidated houses, half of them demolished, and half, to our surprise, still inhabited amongst the rubble. More after the jump....
"Stubborn Nails" refuse to let the government take their homes
From a Google Earth satellite image I saw the state of this section of prime real estate prior to its meeting with a wrecking ball. Now it's hard to tell if the people still in this neighborhood are "Shanghai.
According to a New York Times article on manufacturing in China, manufacturing companies can hire as many as 3,000 workers overnight—not an easy feat in places like the US—who often relocate from their hometowns in a flash, and once they arrive need to sleep somewhere. The inner sociologist in me is very intrigued by the idea of these urban villages—who is living in these slums, where do they work, and what kind of conditions do they live in? It would be great to talk to these urban dwellers personally and get answers to all of these questions. Maybe a loyal ChinaTravel reader with better Chinese would like to accompany me to investigate further?
China's rapid development brings big issues
[pullquote]"For Shanghai, the slums like Putuo are only the worst facet of an almost overwhelming housing crisis for a city bursting at the seams with 12 million people." - Excerpt from a 1987 NY Times article[/pullquote]With China's rapid development comes rapid social change and the associated difficulties. It's not a secret that old buildings are quickly disappearing and the rapid urban development in Shanghai is unyielding. A portrait of the VPN or proxy in China to get around the Great Firewall).
Other remnants of yesteryear
While the Huangpu River slum I stumbled upon raises many questions, it is merely one of many casualties of this unprecedented economic and developmental boom. For those of you who frequent the artsy district on Moganshan Lu, you've probably noticed the graffiti wall and all the remains around it. I recently read that the colorful wall may only be around for another year or so before being demolished in favor of more apartment complexes. What a shame. It's one of the coolest things in Shanghai. Get over there and see it before it's gone. There are uncountable examples of this sort of renewal all across the city, including these remnants of a shikumen neighborhood on Jiangning Lu. Perhaps you'd like to catch a glimpse before there's no trace of the old architecture at all.
China's massive move forward seems unstoppable. One thing we can do is witness the rapid development, and then relay the stories to the next generation someday.
*Editors note:If you don't already get the Shanghai Daily text messages, I urge you all to do so (just text KTSD to 10086 on China Mobile to subscribe). For a mere RMB 3 a month, you get a text every morning with a roundup of the biggest stories, and at the end of these headlines there is always an interesting Chinese "Buzzword" of the day.