During my years in Shanghai, I learned to go beyond the normal places visited by most expats. Most people tended to stay in the Xintiandi, the French Concession, Nanjing Xi Lu etc. There is nothing wrong with these places, however, there is a city that exists beyond these areas with the glittering lights. And, Shanghai has lots of glittering lights.
Shanghai is a vibrant city. There is a constant buzz of life and activity. It has an extremely active night life, and the city seems to acquire a new life as the sun goes down.
Then, you have places like FuZhou Lu. Looking at the building, a stranger would be tempted to ask - what is so special about Shanghai? It looks like any other grubby, Chinese city.Yet, is in this contrast that Shanghai's charm really lies. The normalcy beyond the glitter and the glamour.
FuZhou Lu is quite accessible, really. It was only ten minutes walking distance from my office of the time, which was at Yan An Dong Lu (Yan An East Street). I went there, when I was searching for books in English. At that time, the only bookstore selling English Language books was the Foreign Language Book Store. Western books were available only on the top floor, but it has a surprisingly good collection of books. Over the years, as I wandered around even more, I discovered that FuZhou Lu was, is, and excellent place to buy stationery of all sorts. Whether you wanted art material, normal books, normal stationery, wrapping paper, FuZhou Lu was the place to go. The range of stuff available is quite surprisingly good. Prices were good; the shopkeepers were helpful; and the quality of merchandise was outstanding. Very good value for money is to be found beyond the glittering lights!!
As I wandered with my camera on that cold winter morning in January, I took this picture of the local folks engaged in a game of Mahjong - or, Go - at the corner of the street. The day's events passed them by, as they were all engrossed in their game. They were, I must say, quite oblivious of my presence as I clicked happily. Sadly, I never went beyond beginner level in the game of Go, or WeiQi (围棋), as the Chinese call it. This is one deceptively simple game. It's an old game, about 2,500 years old. It survives in pretty much it's original form, and requires the player to think strategically.
Maybe, I should go back to learning the game. Maybe.
People live normal lives. In places like Bombay, Shanghai etc, where they have small homes, their lives are sometimes played out on the street. The expression of this "life", is different in each city. The street life, and the street food sometimes gives you a deep insight into the culture of a place. However, you need to keep your eyes wide open for the signs.