Using the powerful presets and tools that come with VSCO X, we’ve put together a photo essay that showcases Shanghai through our eyes. This is Neocha’s tribute to a city that we keep falling in love with over and over again.
When most people think of Shanghai, certain sights might immediately come to mind: the lively crowds on the riverside promenade; the hyper-futuristic skyscrapers rising above the Lujiazui skyline; and a legion of mopeds, bicycles, and cars whizzing every which way through downtown. While these sights are representative of Shanghai in their own way, for many, the allure of the city lies in its internationalism, open-mindedness, and reputation as a place of endless opportunities. But beyond these obvious qualities, the city’s rich history and traditional roots form the Shanghai that we know and love.
In our eyes, Shanghai is a petite and elegant city. Being the most populated city in China, some might find “petite” as an absurd adjective to describe the megalopolis. Even prior to Shanghai’s frenzied development, land was considered to be a treasured commodity. This is reflected in the Shanghai’s older streets, which look quite dainty when compared to the streets of other Chinese cities. Many of Shanghai’s older buildings are designed with a similar mindset of maximizing the most of a given space and are equally charming in their “petiteness,” such as the wedge-shaped Wukang Mansion in the French Concession. However, despite limitations, many of Shanghai’s older buildings were constructed with attention to details: Buildings from the Republic of China period best represent this, with Art Deco designs, ornate wood and stone carvings, and beautiful terrazzo flooring being some of the city’s most overlooked gems.
However, the true essence of Shanghai can be best observed in the city’s shikumen lanes or longtangs, which are narrow alleyways that often can only fit two people shoulder to shoulder. Residental areas like these are abuzz with activity: Recyclers are busy at work, collecting and sorting out salvaged goods along the street; vendors lay out a selection of fresh produce and barter with passersby; and repurposed homes serve as convenience stores, hawking everyday essentials to nearby residents.
In these close-packed living quarters, the distinction between public and private is often blurred as neighbors are constantly exposed to each other’s lives. It might seem bothersome to know what your neighbors are arguing about or having for dinner, but for many locals, these living conditions have ultimately contributed to a strong sense of community.
To this day, many of the older generation Shanghainese are content with a traditional lifestyle filled with simple pleasures. When the weather is fair, they can be seen hanging laundry out to dry on streets and from balconies; tending to their beloved potted plants; or simply being out and about, soaking up the sun, casually knitting, and chatting the afternoon away.
With much of the cityscape and local lifestyle still interwoven with traditions, it’s to be expected that the regional cuisine similarly follows suit. The four breakfast staples, dubbed as si da jin gang (or “Four Heavenly Kings” in English), is comprised of soy milk, Chinese fried churros, baked pancakes with sesame, and stuffed sticky rice rolls. Everything, with the exception of the fried churros, can be made sweet or savory. Another popular snack choice is Shanghai-style tea eggs, which are made with aniseed, sugar, cinnamon, soy sauce, and of course, tea leaves. For dessert, steamed rice cake, garnished with strips of sugar-soaked papaya and orange peels, is a popular with locals. While many of these culinary delights have been glorified under the pen of legendary author Eileen Chang, some have become increasingly harder to find. As the city marches towards the future, a collective nostalgia battles on against the unforgiving nature of time to keep these Shanghainese flavors and memories alive.
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