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June 4, 2020

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When the sun goes down, the fun begins

THIS “city that never sleeps” is reawakening after novel coronavirus stopped social and commercial activities for months. Nightlife is returning, much to the relief of so many people tired of being cooped up at home.

The popular Green Escape street night fair on Anyi Road, hailed as the trendiest of its kind in Shanghai, was jammed with visitors last weekend as it reopened after a 138-day closure.

Some 47,000 visitors came to greet its return, up about a quarter from its first opening last October outside the Kerry Center in Jing’an District.

“The pace of business resumption has been going much faster than we expected,” said Huang Ning, deputy general manager of Kerry Properties Development (Shanghai) Co.

He anticipated fewer visitors on Saturday’s opening because of heavy rain. “I underestimated how much people love this fair,” he said. “True love!”

Local resident Xiang Xing visited the fair for a second time.

“Besides food and drinks, more interactive experiences have been added to this year’s fair,” she said. “I love the yard games like mini golf. But what I like most are the live performances.”

Xiang said she has been to night fairs in other parts of China, where enjoyment doesn’t come with high costs.

“Green Escape does cost a bit more,” she said. “It is no doubt more high-end and stylish, with well-dressed office ladies and foreigners drinking and chatting. It demonstrates the city’s spirit.”

She said she would like to see more local favorites added to the fair, like the popular shengjian, or pan-fried pork buns.

Chen Zhe, who runs an ad company in Jing’an, also loves the trendy vibe of the fair. He and his friends enjoyed beer and attended a dance party there last weekend.

“I didn’t visit the fair last year, but I’ve heard a lot about it,” he said. “I was curious why it stood out from other night fairs. Truly, it’s very stylish.”

The fair has more than 40 stalls, and nearly half of them are newcomers like the Taiwan-based bubble tea chain Machi Machi and jewelry designer Mu Yu from the city of Suzhou.

“We will adjust the stalls from time to time to give visitors fresh offerings,” said Huang. “We want to create a place where art, nature and commerce mix, and where people can explore trendy things and experience the city’s charms. Like Bryant Park in New York and Covent Garden in London, we want our fair to be unique.”

Machi Machi became an instant hit because pop singer Jay Chou’s MV made its night fair debut at the stall.

The tea chain said it was pleased to be invited to the fair because of its reputation for high quality. Despite an afternoon downpour, Machi Machi’s signature drink was sold out within two hours last weekend.

The Jing An Shangri-La, West Shanghai, for the first time, operated a stall in the fair.

“We are here to sell snacks such as French fries and crispy shrimp rolls,” said Li Xiaochun, the hotel’s catering marketing manager. “We hope to reach more people and demonstrate that the luxury hotel’s food is not only good but also inexpensive.”

Japan-based beauty portal @cosme was also there, with a flower-themed exhibition. Last year, it decorated its stall as a Christmas train, and in two weeks, the number of customers at its online mall doubled.

“Of all the night fairs in Shanghai, only Green Escape shares the same characteristics and customers as us,” said Ken Zhao, who was in charge of the stall.

Florist Aura Lab, which opened its first store in Kerry Center and now operates eight outlets in Shanghai, has become a popular spot at the fair.

“Previously, most of our customers at the shopping mall were office workers, but after we opened the fair stall, people from all age groups have become customers,” said Peng Xiaowei, an official with the brand.

Last year, the florist sold only flowers, but it has now opened a workshop nearby for people to learn flower arrangement.

In accordance with post-pandemic health and safety guidance, the hourly number of visitors at Green Escape is restricted to 3,500. Stallholders are required to have their temperatures taken, present health QR codes and list their whereabouts for the prior 14 days.

“To be honest, I was a little bit worried about the novel coronavirus epidemic,” said visitor Chen. “But I still chose to have a look around. And the only way to protect myself was to wear a mask at all times.”

Visitor Xiang shared the same concerns. She said she used hand sanitizer before eating.

More street fairs

Not to be outdone by Green Escape’s success, nighttime street fairs and other activities are popping up across the city.

The new Fengjing Road Night Market in Huangpu District may be a nostalgic throwback for many locals.

The cheerful grassroots stalls — known as dai pai dong in Cantonese — once thrived in the city and were popular with residents. However, that popularity faded amid some complaints from nearby residents.

From Saturday through the end of the year, a 150-meter-long stretch of Fengjing Road near the Bund Finance Center will be closed to traffic from 10am to 10pm every weekend for the fair.

The venue will feature over 110 street stalls as well as performances. Both Fengjing Road and paths around BFC Square will be flanked by stalls operated by local eateries and bars. On tap will be barbeque food, beer and snacks. Other stalls will sell a variety of products and offer games and performances.

“We’d like to develop the night bazaar into a new calling card of Shanghai, where customers can enjoy the Bund architecture and taste delicacies from across the world,” said Yang Bokai, who is in charge of the project.

To highlight the riverside scenery on the Bund, a road section near Zhongshan Road E2 has been designated as a bar zone, Yang said. Some pop-up performances and magic shows will entertain visitors.

“The bazaar will bring together a lot of popular food and products,” said Lu Qing, an employee working for an Internet company near the Bund. “It may take a whole day to experience everything there.”

Zhao Yun, a local civil servant, said she hopes the new night market will offer a variety of art and cultural events and services beyond just food and drink.

“I may bring my daughter to the night market if activities for children are available,” she said. “I would also like to see services such as shoe repair, key cutting and umbrella repair provided, too. The things we don’t have time to do during the day.”

Several blocks away, the 18:30 Night Market has opened in the Yuyuan Garden bazaar area, featuring venerated Shanghai brands and art exhibitions.

Popular Yuyuan eateries are offering discounts, including the century-old Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant, the Shanghai Classical Hotel that opened in 1875, Chunfeng Songyue Tower, the oldest vegetarian restaurant in Shanghai, and Ningbo Sweet Dumpling Restaurant.

Performers from local troupes will be presenting outdoor concerts, dance, traditional Chinese opera, talk shows, magic shows and musicals at every corner of the area.

In another area of downtown Shanghai, the historical Sinan Mansions area is hosting a nightlife event that features food stalls, art exhibitions and other cultural events every weekend in June.

The Sinan Night activity will be held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from afternoon through 10pm. It will include concerts, reading activities and museum events.

The venue, the city’s only wholly preserved historical garden villa complex, includes more than 50 historic villas in various styles. Many were former residences of celebrities such as poet Liu Yazi (1887-1958) and Peking Opera master Mei Lanfang (1894-1961). Some villas have been converted into hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops.

Night markets aren’t confined to downtown areas. Outlying parts of the city are also developing vibrant nightlife.

Fengxian District, for one, has launched its first night food street.

It features 35 food carts selling authentic rural specialties alongside dishes from around the world. There are street performers, fashion shows and exhibitions of local folk arts.

The three-month night fair operates from 11am to 11pm. Shuttle buses are available to ferry people from nearby Nanqiao Town to the venue.

Gu Yi, deputy director of Fengxian, offered food festival coupons valued at 400,000 yuan (US$56,180) during his debut livestream broadcast.

“The festival is expected to drive the trend of night markets and help businesses greatly affected by the novel coronavirus outbreak,” he said.

In the suburban district of Minhang, the Seoul Night Market reopened in mid-April in Korean Town around Hongquan Road after a three-month hiatus due to the epidemic. It now operates every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Located behind Jingting Plaza, the market has 10 carts offering Korean dishes, deserts, snacks and beverages. In front of each cart is a covered area of tables and stools where consumers can enjoy the food and passing night life. It is a typical scene from South Korean night markets.

The Jingjiang Amusement Park in the same district has reopened with its annual night market. More than 50 food stalls offer some 150 delicacies from across China. In addition, a European-style night market has opened, offering ice cream, hamburgers, crepes, seafood and barbeque food.

Also in the district, Ala Town will open its Qingshan night market on June 19 with a beer festival. Another market will open in Qibao old town later.

Consumer spending

Developing a prosperous nightlife is among Shanghai’s priorities as part of the campaign to increase consumer spending and help the city economy.

“Last year, the Green Escape fair helped the Jing’an Kerry Center report double-digit growth in sales,” said Kerry’s Huang. “More importantly, nearby shopping centers and department stores such as Reel, Jiuguang and Plaza 66 also reported sales increases. The nightlife economy truly spurs consumption.”

A section of Hubin Road in downtown Xintiandi last year was designated a pedestrian-only area from 8pm on Fridays to 5am on Mondays.

The trial run was deemed successful and the road has become part of the local nightlife scene. It hosted some 190,000 visitors during initial operations from August 17 to September 8 last year, according to the Huangpu District government.

However, Shanghai is proceeding cautiously with nightlife promotion, anxious to avoid the boisterous scenes of the past that marked some bar areas and resulted in venue closures.

“Noisy late-night bars and eateries have been forced out in recent years in response to residents’ complaints,” said Lin Xiaojue, director of the Jing’an District Commission of Commerce. “We are now trying to find the best ways to revitalize nightlife without disturbing nearby residents.”

She added, “In Jing’an, many bars have opened along Jiaozhou Road, and expats love to gather there. The bars have installed huge windows that allow customers to sit face to face inside and outside. It satisfies the need to breathe fresh air without causing undue noise.”

Lin said night fairs will also start soon on Wujiang Road and at the HKRI Taikoo Hui mall.


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