Looking for Old Shanghai

I’ve always liked old things. Old people, old houses, and all the old things that come with them: yellowing letters, faded photographs, dented tin cans that once held fragrant cigarettes. Perhaps it’s a psychological byproduct of being born in a young nation (Taiwan turns 100 this year) and then becoming a citizen of a nation only slightly older. Or perhaps it’s that old saying, “The grass is greener on the other side…”or in another time. Maybe it’s all the movies from the American 40’s and 50’s. Or the beautiful, rosy posters of China in the 1920’s.

Back then women did their hair, painted their lips, wore stockings and garters and painted their nails. Lights were softer back then, as were their figures and voices. Chinese Bergens and Bardots. But it’s not all glamorous. Sometimes, it really is just about the age – the forgotten time when people lived and thought a certain way.

Now, I take photos and have a penchant for overdoing the “antique” effect – I can’t help it. It brings me back to a time I will never know except from letters, books, movies…and even then, who knows if they’re accurate? But I can’t go to anywhere without trying to see it: the time on the cusp, when the city or the country was on the verge of entering the “first” world… where is that line drawn? When does a place make the leap into now? I’ll never know. Shanghai’s nearly completely there, but it’s still got at least a pinky toe in the past… I hope all cities keep at least that.

The irony here is this photo was taken at Tian2 Zi3 Fang2, a relatively new establishment made to look old.

Some things never change. Chinese people believe the sun is the world’s best dryer. I agree.
Wang Ying, my cousin, took me to Qi Bao or “Seven Treasures,” a bona fide government protected old village.
Qi1 Bao3 means “Seven Treasures.” Chi1 Bao3 means “to eat until full.” The Shanghainese say, “To qi1 bao3 to chi1 bao3.”

Young people in a crowded room, making famous soup dumplings from a very old recipe.

On their lunch break, before lunch.

Upstairs at another dumpling shop, an efficient if questionable refrigeration system.
I love old furniture. But those benches are quite uncomfortable.

It’s hard to imagine how Qi Bao looked years ago with all the brightly dressed modern tourists (myself included), but I imagine the sounds and smells are the same.

Bamboo strips waiting to be woven into baskets to steam dumplings in. Sometimes the old methods are the best methods.

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