“Congee with job’s tears, almonds and lotus seeds!”
“Rose sugar cake!”
“Shrimp wonton noodles!”
“Tea Flavored Boiled Eggs!”
Shout the snack dealers around the alleys in Zhabei four or five years ago. If all are recorded, it’s likely to be around thirty rows. (Lu, 1935)
The modern view of the Xia Fei Road in the 90s might be familiar to you.
Just like the sunset of Huangpu Beach, the summer bike trip on the Hengshan Road, and the fallen leaves on the Wuknag road. With that being said, the prosperity of modern Shanghai never seems to shine into this ancient city, still stuck in a different time.
A few days ago, invited by friends, I passed through the old alley. The hot summer sun irradiates its heat through the leaves and branches of the sycamore trees, shining on the small building projecting mottled shadows. With only a few steps, I passed through the alley.
As a native Shanghainese, Shikumen had always been a part of my childhood.
The alley, a “residential form” specific to Shanghai, was full of indivisible memories from my childhood. It represents the so-called “civic culture” in Shanghai, which is not only different from the traditional residential buildings in the south of China but also far from Western architecture.
Beijing has its hutongs, Sichuan has its alleys and so does Shanghai. Every Chinese city has its own historic building that embodies its unique urban character.
Just as the chapter of “Winning the Championship” in the blockbuster movie last year, called ” My People, My Country”, the scene of all the alley residents gathering together to watch a game impressed many viewers.
Same as the movie, in real life, all residents live the same way.
During my childhood, if the parents came back home late, our small “gang”, always with an ice-cream in hand, would rush back home with all our mouths cleaned before entering the door.
Our grandparents instead, would always chat with the shopkeepers, but just a few words about the family.
For example: the graduation of their grandchild and the wedding of their kids. And all these news always gets spread around, in the bat of an eye.
Time flies by, and when they notice the sun almost falling down, they hurry back home to cook.
Last time I came back to the alley was during the 12th Shanghai International Youth Interactive Camp, with an invitation from Rosie, one of the campers from Italy. With her, an adventure around the alley started, and we explored during the trip a few local restaurants.
Rosie was a young Italian girl participating in the interactive camp. Instead of putting butter on her bread, she fell in love with Shanghai Cuisine.
In the short ten days she stayed, she went to the local restaurants, visited the market, enjoyed the flavours, smells and tastes of the most popular local dishes.
Not only was she interested in the slightly sweet Shanghai food, but she also learned some interesting daily Shanghainese by communicating with the local residents and other Chinese campers, falling deeply in love with the taste of old Shanghainese.
Who can imagine that the small Shanghainese, Shanghai cuisine, and the Shanghai alley secretly gave birth to our profound friendship? All because of the surprising feelings and emotions brought on by the local atmosphere.
On behalf of the Chinese campers, I feel so lucky to have been able to ask the foreign campers about how they saw Shanghai in their eyes.
They always replied to me:
“Oh!! Shanghai, a place of all kinds of interests and with much vitality.”
“Summer in Shanghai is so hot!! But that’s been one of the happiest times to visit for me, with delicious food and kind people.”
After hearing these comments, I was astounded with joy. The Shanghai international interactive camp is always a big show for Shanghai. It puts the city on the world’s stage, giving us an opportunity to spread our cuisine, culture and urban character to the world.
However, it is of great significance to build a positive image in the eyes of our global youth, who will once come back to their homeland loving their city, spreading this love to the future generations.
As one of the most developed cities in China, Shanghai adheres to the Shanghai style culture of “embracing all rivers and embracing everything”, welcoming new guests and making new friends.
The concomitance of the SPAFFC and the People’s Association For Friendship of all countries helps to build a friendship among teenagers all over the world, and provides a platform for people from different countries and with different experiences to understand our great city, creating together memories full of human emotions and weaving dreams of bringing these feelings in the future.
I wanted to share with you, these messages I received in the quarantine time:
“Although the new coronavirus limits us, we have always been together. Be positive and go ahead.”
“I hope one day to come back and meet with you again, and to go eat the Chaipan dumplings.”
These messages really made me feel warm and I believe the pandemic never managed to cut the spreading of our culture’s “cultural communication”.
At such an unusual time and in the face of a public health crisis, all countries should work together to face all the difficulties.
As a girl in Shanghai, I hope people of all countries can be united together like the dear neighbours in the alley and respect, help, communicate and trust each other, living in harmony in this interconnected world. We resist together the wind and rain, protect our homes, and pursue and imagine a better life and future. I believe that, even though we’re oceans apart, Shanghai architecture and Shanghai cuisine can resonate with Gothic architecture and Italian pizza, forming a relationship of “Long distance separates no countries in tune with one another. We are looking forward to seeing each other again.”
China and Italy both have splendid civilization, and we often go back to the long river of history to absorb its nutrients. So much so that in 2013, the “Belt and Road” initiative was launched to make the world interconnected.
An initiative that opens a window for more people to know about China and Shanghai, and more and more about Chinese culture and even the local culture of Shanghai, so that it can be known throughout the world.
At the same time, Shanghai alleys with their doors widely open welcome more “worldwide guests”, and the charming Shanghai regional culture also adds different colors to this global culture.
With deeper and wider communication between Shanghai’s rooted culture and the global one, the world is paying more attention to Shanghai.
With the increasing development and deepening of cross-cultural exchanges, the pioneers of Chinese culture and global culture are supporting each other with unprecedented new vitality, to create a stronger and more vigorous future together.