Let me introduce you to Yongkang Lu, a perfectly lovely old street that has been right under my nose all along, but I’ve only recently rediscovered. Thanks to friends living nearby, I’ve been kept me up to date about the addition of a wonderful boulangerie/fromagerie and a boutique beer vendor, and the opening of quirky new shops and cafes. They’ve all moved into Yongkang Lu since I last visited for the specialty foods festival at Chinese New Year, and the whole street has the aura of revitalisation and excitement. I’m going to feature some of them over the coming weeks.
Yongkang Lu runs east-west, from Taiyuan Lu all the way to Jiashan Lu, itself a vigorously lively street with a daily riot of fish-gutting, vegetable chopping, card games, street barbers and angle grinders. Halfway along its length Yongkang is bisected into neat and quite opposite halves by Xiangyang Lu, a street struggling to become trendy but thanks to constant hammering roadworks and a cartel of noodle and snack stalls has been able to resist gentrification for now.
The west side of Yongkang Lu is lined with leafy plane trees, and this end of the street is quiet and relaxed with small local shops selling dumplings, stationery, fruit and vegetables. It’s a lovely street to walk along, busy without being overwhelming and with very ittle road traffic.
As I cross over busy Xiangyang Lu the ear-splitting sound of firecrackers reverberates along the eastern end of Yongkang Lu, the noise ricocheting between houses hung with washing. It’s the middle of the day but that doesn’t mean anything particular, firecrackers can go off anytime, anywhere, for anything.
The eastern end of the street has a totally different appearance, with closely packed apartments overhanging a street almost devoid of greenery. Further along the red firecracker papers litter the middle of the road, and I walk there to see what’s happening along with a bunch of other onlookers.
It’s a wedding! A white stretch limo is parked on the street, the bonnet festooned with flowers attached with adhesive tape. I can’t tell if the bride and groom are inside the car because the windows are too heavily tinted. They may be visiting the groom’s parents in one of the nearby houses, a wedding tradition.
More eye-catching is the second wedding car, a fanta-orange fantasy of an Audi with more restrained decorations, just two small corsages taped to the door handles.
Without warning another round of firecrackers is set off in the middle of the road, drawing all the neighbours (many in their pyjamas) out to watch. Nobody tries to protect the Audi from the small explosions. By the time the crackers are finished the road is carpeted with shreds of red paper and the air is full of sulphur.
It seems, after a while and some discussion from the crowd, that the bride is in the back of the stretch limo after all, and the groom soon comes dashing out of the nearby dry-cleaners (his parents’ home and business?) before jumping in the passenger seat and taking off to the next round of festivities and pyrotechnics.
The neighbours watch on as the limo pulls away and normal traffic is restored.
Nothing left to do but have some fun with all that lovely sulphurous red paper! Now isn’t that just the sort of thing you like to see when you go for a Sunday walk along your favourite street?
Do you have a favourite secret (or not so secret) street in Shanghai? Please tell!