Postcards to my Baby: Shanghai’s Old Town

Dear A.

One day, you’ll see China for yourself and understand why I can’t describe it very well in one postcard. It is a land of opposites, complications, and yet… simplicity.

On one hand, the bureaucracy to do anything at all is intense, and often requires an app which only mostly works in English, until you’re trying to do anything complicated. On the other, in rural areas, life has never been burdened with problems like technology, literacy, money or germ theory. Truly.

The nuances across this vast land are stark. This postcard is of the old quarter of Shanghai. It might not be a quarter. Vendors sell whole fried squid on a stick and tourists line up down the street to buy them. In the narrowest alleys, people hang their washing on the electrical wires and they look like a canopy of multicoloured trees above a rusty rainforest of decay, but no birds venture here. The sky is white with pollution.

What no photo can ever convey is the smell. This area stinks of fermented pig urine. In the distance, skyscrapers loom. The clean, sleek future, eclipsing the murky past. Even during the Mid-Autumn lunar festival, few tourists venture down these side streets, funneled away by mapping apps and official, approved guides.

When you get here, this urban wilderness might be gone; replaced by more skyscrapers filled with things China wants to be known for, instead of what it is. A land leaving its winter, its identity is as changeable as the tide. I hope you will see it in Spring, once the sakura blossoms.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, you will see me in my Springtime, too.

Lots of love,

Mama Adventure

This is part one in a series of postcards I have written to my baby while I was still pregnant, telling them about what we did before they were born.