Traversing metro line 9: a passage through time

Shanghai’s metro line 9 (the light blue one) is a surprising one to favour. It is home to none of the city’s tourist attractions, it’s a little too south to be central and it is neither quick nor well connected.

Yet on a recent day off from work, leaving my comfortable line 2 for it, I found it home to some fascinating areas. The inspiration for this camera clad wander was thanks to Time Out Shanghai’s recent feature on Xiaonanmen – so, shout out to them!

Xujiajui, a bustling commercial district, can be seen as emblematic of the ‘new’ Shanghai. Within a minute of walking out of one of the station’s 18 (!) exits, you are greeted by no less than six major shopping malls, nine large scale office towers and three massive supermarkets.

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One of Shanghai’s main shopping districts, Xujiahui is known for electronics but is also home to literally anything one could want. Always growing, this will only continue to be the case as yet another sprawling shopping centre is set to open in 2016. IMG_1642

Xujiahui is both intimidating and awe-inspiring; pedestrians, motorbikes and taxis constantly jostle for space on the vast, noisy junctions. The area is a testament to the fast-paced, ambitious growth that has led to China becoming the world’s biggest economy.

Travel six stops east on line 9 and you find yourself at Xiaonanmen, one of the last remaining pockets of old Shanghai to exist in the constantly developing cityscape. IMG_1660

Xiaonanmen is very close geographically to the rest of the city, the Shanghai Tower can be seen from pretty much everywhere. Yet, it feels poles apart.

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Of course it is not uncommon in Shanghai to find residential side streets that are a little more run-down, with clothes hung out to dry. The side streets of Jiangsu Road, near where I live, are full of them.

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What struck me most about the area was its slower pace of life. Wandering around it felt like stepping back in time; women lazily displayed their wares in makeshift, outdoor markets and men spent hours poring over mahjong.

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This is not to say the area seemed downtrodden or depressed. It was just different; a throwback to an era that Shanghai has nearly completely eradicated with cranes, bulldozers and sleek high rises. IMG_1685

The streets were thronged with bicycles and motorbikes, and pretty much anything could be purchased from the plentiful stalls and garish shop fronts.

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The marketing mentality seemed to be one of shoving as many random objects as possible into a store window and hoping for the best. It was charming in its chaos. IMG_1676

The area’s state of flux was apparent immediately. You can literally see Shanghai’s urgent quest for development as it eradicates swathes of the neighbourhood before residents’ very eyes.

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Low rise alleyways cowered in the shadows of shiny, new apartments. Some streets were simply reduced to rubble.

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The atmosphere was one of calm resignation to its destiny. Those who adapt will be fine, those who don’t, won’t. IMG_0963

Shanghai is no different to other rapidly growing cities. It is no new phenomenon to push poorer residents out of old neighbourhoods in the mission for modernity.

The neighbourhood is epitomised by this building site promising swanky skyscrapers, which sits right next to the modest, soon-to-be demolished homes and market stalls. Seeing it so clearly, you cannot help but begin to mourn the disappearance of old Shanghai.

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If that juxtaposition was not stark enough, then just look at the view I was greeted with a five minute walk down the road from Xiaonanmen.

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Oh Shanghai, you never cease to bewilder and amaze.

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