A short taxi ride north of the centre of the city is the Yangpu district. Forget displays of wealth and civic ego; this is quite different. Even though there’s a sense of community, and people seem happy, one might raise an eyebrow at the contrast in this nominally communist country.
We’d arranged a tour with Hilary’s friend, Lisa. First stop was at the home of one of Lisa’s friends. There’s not much privacy in this part of town; multiple families share each building and you can often tell how many by counting the sinks in the shared kitchen, or the number of electricity meters on the wall. Even when you’ve climbed the narrow, dark, stairs and passed through dimly lit communal corridors, you end up in a one-room apartment that the family live in. In the case of Lisa’s friend, who was a very kind host, the family was a couple with their grown-up son.
Next stop was the ballroom, above a snooker hall, but don’t confuse this with anything you watch on TV on a Saturday evening. The lights were dim, the music loud, and the air smoke-filled. The first session of the day is at 6:00 AM. I didn’t take to the floor – even in the darkened room I didn’t want to embarrass myself.
Back out in the street we stopped at Ali’s street stall for something to eat. Ali’s a Muslim, 20 years old, come to Shanghai to make some money. His pregnant wife was back home – “we get married young”, he said.
The evening was completed in another smoky room, two tables set up behind a curtain off a dark alley for players to enjoy a game of mah-jong. Indeed, the games go on all night. The outcome is made more interesting with a few Yuan as a stake. It’s illegal to gamble in China but the authorities aren’t going to worry about this; they’d be fighting a losing battle if they tried, given the prevalence of mah-jong. I’m not sure, but I think I won a couple of games.
And as a bonus, I couldn’t resist posting the photo below. It looks as if you can buy your pig’s head with the eyes left in or removed.