The 128-story Shanghai Tower backdrops Old Shanghai.

The 128-story Shanghai Tower backdrops Old Shanghai.

The Old City of Shanghai stands on the site of a small ancient settlement which first came to prominence when upstream silting forced the move of dock and market activities downstream in the 12th and 13th centuries.

 

Shanghai soon became one of seven ports of entry designated to handle overseas trade, and Old Shanghai grew up around the customs house.

 

The improbably large load is a common sight in Chinese cities.

The improbably large load is a common sight in Chinese cities.

 

 

 

In the 1800’s, as foreign concessions developed into new urban areas, Chinese authority was effectively restricted to the old city.

 

In the late 1990’s and into the next decade, parts of Old Shanghai were redeveloped into a high rise hotels and residences, drastically changing the streetscape.

 

 

Old Shanghai shop.

Old Shanghai shop.

 

 

The development roused controversy, since it required the destruction of several houses of historical significance and demolition of the last surviving section of the old city wall.

 

Wide, circular streets now follow the vanished wall’s footprint.

 

 

Rooftops almost touch above narrow lanes.

Rooftops almost touch above narrow lanes.

 

In 2006, the Shanghai municipal government protected the remaining 34 streets of Old Shanghai as an historic landmark.

 

The Old City has been necessarily renovated, but its ancient winding streets and hundred-year-old stores still retain the flavor of old China

 

Bamboo steamers in local take-away food stand, Old Shanghai.

Bamboo steamers in local take-away food stand, Old Shanghai.

 

Most of the buildings now standing date from the 1600’s through the end of the 1800’s.

Shops here feature an incredible array of jewelry, porcelain, jade, and silk clothing, and there are a number of antique and curio shops.

China 117 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Businessmen sit in a tea house, Old Shanghai

 

American food chains including Baskin Robbins and Starbucks have opened here, but they’re sorely outnumbered by local take-away food stands, teahouses, and noodle houses.

 

There is also a seemingly endless number of shops selling snacks and sweets in flavors unheard-of in the West.

 

The Old Shangai afternoon crowd is mostly local.

The Old Shangai afternoon crowd is mostly local.

 

Not surprisingly, Starbucks serves no Chai in the land that introduced tea to the world, but Chinese green, white and oolong teas are offered along with local specialties like a Lychee & Strawberry Mooncake or Green Tea Latte.

 

Very surprisingly, neither Starbucks or its many Chinese imitators serve decaffeinated coffee.

 

Modern ads and skyscraper make for sharp contrasts.

Modern ads and skyscraper make for sharp contrasts.

 

 

 

While Old Shanghai is quite tranquil early in the morning, tour busses filled with badged Westerners and flag-carrying tour guides typically arrive before midday to beat the rush.

 

The crowd becomes increasingly robust as the day wears on, when it becomes a people-watcher’s delight.  Couples of all ages wander the narrow lanes and teens and pre-teens hang out here.

 

 

 

Police offers stroll through Old Shanghai.

Police offers stroll through Old Shanghai.

 

There are few Westerners around in the afternoon, but foreigners have been a feature of Shanghai life for so long that they invite no second look from local visitors.

 

Several unarmed police officers walk casually through the main courtyard, the first that I’ve so far seen walking a beat.

 

Old Shanghai

Old Shanghai

 

While Shanghai, like any city its size, has its share of pickpockets and motor scooter thieves, there is no sense of insecurity when it comes to personal safety.

 

Possession of weapons – from firearms to swords – is forbidden in China and penalties are severe.

 

When shopping, don’t be surprised if purchases are not rung up, but instead totaled and displayed on a hand calculator.

 

Visitors feed the coy in Old Shanghai.

Visitors feed the coy in Old Shanghai.

 

Also don’t be surprised when a merchant who speaks little English pulls up a language translator on a smartphone and the conversation proceeds as tag-team translation.

 

Fortunately for the tourist, China’s last dynasty, the Manchus, replaced cumbersome Chinese numerical characters with the Arabic numbering system used in the West, and it has been in prominent usage within China since early in the 19th century.

 

Zig-zag bridge traditionally thwarts demons, who travel only in straight lines.

Tradition holds that the zig-zag bridge thwarts demons, who travel only in straight lines.

 

While my guide offers assurances that merchandise in Old Shanghai is the real deal, he also offers cautionary advice on shopping in other areas frequented by tourists.

 

China has a well-deserved reputation for knock-offs of Western products, so it’s “buyer beware” or your silk may turn out to be polyester.

 

Auto ownership is skyrocketing in Shanghai, but scooters are still the only transport for many.

Auto ownership is skyrocketing in Shanghai, but scooters are still the only transport for many.

 

Such retail fraud – along with change rendered in  counterfeit Chinese currency or an obscure foreign currency can be widespread in areas frequented by tourists.  It proves to be sound advice for my next 20 days in China.

 

Shanghai’s tranquilly beautiful Yu Garden is adjacent to the marketplace, and it’s the topic of my next post.

 

See also my related posts The Other Side Of The World, and Capitalist China.

 

 

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