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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The streets were thronged with bicycles and motorbikes, and pretty much anything could be purchased from the plentiful stalls and garish shop fronts.
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.
Low rise alleyways cowered in the shadows of shiny, new apartments. Some streets were simply reduced to rubble.
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.
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.
Oh Shanghai, you never cease to bewilder and amaze.