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January 9, 2012

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Strolling down memorable lanes

GRANNY Xue is huddled in a red coat and hat, selling her smelly fish in front of a gray wall covered with dirty towels from a nearby foot massage store.

"Soon I will lose my bread and butter and I have no idea what I can do since I'm an old lady," says 72-year-old Xue, who declines to give her full name.

She's one of the remaining residents of run-down Hongzhen Old Street in Hongkou District, notorious as a squatter settlement with a gangster past from the 1980s.

The area is being redeveloped, residents have been relocated, tall buildings are rising and in five years the street is expected to be gone. It's not one of those quaint old streets with historic architecture, it's an eyesore, but it is colorful.

What's left of Hongzhen Street itself is a stretch of around 500 meters running east from Xingang Road and west to the intersection of Hongzhen Road N. and Feihong Road.

Now it's a sprawling, noisy, messy open-air market, filled with peddlers, food vendors, people cooking meals and shoppers. There are office ladies, housewives, businessmen and others who come for low prices and fresher (they claim) vegetables. Some grew up there.

"I have sold fish for years on Hongzhen Old Street and now I am full of doubt since I heard this last remaining street will be gone in five years," Xue says.

Redevelopment began in the 1990s. District Director Wu Qing says 2,850 families were relocated and 114,000 square meters of old buildings were demolished in 2011 and in five years redevelopment will be complete.

Hongzhen Old Street once was part of Hong'an Town, a trade market in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

In the 1930s, there were still farmlands, cattle farms and villages in the area. Starting from 1958, paved roads were built and river land was filled in for construction.

In the 1980s the street was famous for hooliganism and big gangs.

A famous bank robbery, said to be Shanghai's first, was committed by a bus driver from Hongzhen Street in November 1987. Driver Yu Shuangge stole a gun from a police station and held up a Hongkou bank.

His girlfriend Jiang Peiling and friend Xu Genbao covered up for him and helped Yu escape to Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, where he was arrested by police on November 23. He immediately turned in his girlfriend and buddy as accomplices. They all went to jail and Yu's trial is believed the first to be televised in China.

The neighbors still resent Yu for his betrayal and felt sorry for his girlfriend and buddy. There was a common saying at the time, "better to have a girlfriend like Jiang Peiling and friend like Xu Genbao."

"I enjoy walking in the old streets because each has its own history. We are caught up in a fast-moving society and instead of learning about the old streets and old times, people prefer rushing around dazzling buildings and enjoying nightlife," says history professor Gu Xiaoming from the Cultural Heritage Protection Department of Fudan University.

Qibao Old Street

Though Hongzhen Old Street is vanishing, there are better preserved historic streets that are worth a stroll, such as scenic Qibao Old Street in Minhang District and Shanghai Old Street in the Yuyuan Garden area. Both are tourist attractions.

Professor Gu prefers Qibao, built on a canal, because he says the food there is better. High-quality food, good service and supervision are important in making old-time streets viable today, he says.

Qibao Old Street is renowned for its water scenery and many delicacies.

"My kung fu rice cakes are the best on the street," says Tao Genyuan, who runs a small hand-made rice cake shop in Xujia Alley. "Laowai (foreigners) always give me a thumbs up when they taste my cakes.

"I devote all my time and energy to making rice cakes but many stores sell factory-made cakes that claim to be handmade," he complains. A reporter found out he's right; many shops pay more attention to selling quantity than quality.

Still, it's very appealing. There's an old saying that the Bund reflects 100 years of Shanghai's history, while Qibao Old Street reflects more than 1,000 years. It dates back around 2,000 years.

Qibao means "seven treasures" in Chinese and legend has it that the area once contained a golden lotus scripture written by an imperial concubine in the 10th century, a magical, thousand-year-old tree, a bronze bell, an iron Buddha, a golden rooster, jade chopsticks and a jade axe.

The street is famous for many snacks and dishes such as stinky bean curd, tangtuan (rice balls or sweet dumplings), chopped sheep entrails and ox soup.

In addition to food, Qibao attractions include the memorial hall of artist Zhang Chongren, a clock town, a cotton textile weaving house, a calligraphy studio, a cricket house, an old trades center, a miniature carving house and a pawn shop.

The textile house is where weaver Huang Daopo lived; she innovated spinning and weaving techniques.

The cricket house attracts people of all ages. It showcases everything about cricket culture, fighting crickets, raising crickets and cricket arts such as painting and calligraphy.

The old trades center on East Street features blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, weavers, potters, fortune tellers and other old-time tradesmen.

Shanghai Old Street

Shanghai Old Street is a well-known tourist attraction reflects the appeal of ancient Shanghai. It runs from Shiliupu to Yuyuan Garden and once was near the city's old East Gate, which has been torn down.

The street features a flourishing market with an old-style Chinese private bank, a gold store, a silverware shop, a tea house, an opera house and a trading store.

The 825-meter-long street runs west from Henan Road N. and east to Renmin Road.

From west to east, it shows through its architecture the historical and cultural evolution from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to Qing Dynasty through the influx of Western culture.

The buildings on both sides have various floral-design wooden window carvings, balustrades and swinging doors.

Many buildings have white walls and black tile roofs.

The street is home to famous stores such as Tonghanchun drug store, Laotongsheng food store, Wuliangcai glass store and Wanyouquan food store.

Twisting Kangjia Lane contains interesting old Shanghai residences, such as the Tile House, which is covered by tile.

Shanghai Old Street has become a landmark.


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