Your Zhōngguó is our weekly Friday piece in which our users share their China stories. As Sherpa’s continues to serve hungry people across Shanghai, Beijing, and Suzhou, it’s only right that we get to the people we’ve been feeding!
What brought you to China? What has kept you here? Where’s your favourite place to visit? How do you spend your free time? What’s an exciting or funny story you want to share?
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Secret Lives Behind the Bund
by Yafei Grace
One cloudy afternoon, I kept walking going on Fuzhou Lu & Jiangxi Zhong Lu — towards the Bund, and I saw an entrance to one of the buildings. I felt pushed by an unknown force to enter the building, and before I knew it, I was already inside. I sneaked into the elevator, pressed the button to take me to the highest floor, and there I saw the Bund from the window.
Standing here, I’m taken back to an earlier time in Shanghai and imagine the people before me who have looked out from this window, maybe 80 years ago. Pudong was just a grassland then. It’s as if all that time between then and now disappeared.
And that’s what remains with me, as I go up and down the stairs. Many doors are closed, and so too is the rooftop: people live there, lived here. Rooms filled with love, quarrelling. Births and deaths took place in this building.
Each step of the stairs is a year, as I go back in time. I look at the beautifully carved stone railing and realise the building is a composite, built across several decades, by generations of builders and several interior designers and architects. And the structure is just as contradictory as Shanghai itself.
On my way, I met an aquarium with fish in them. Not common goldfish, but flat and with wide eyes. Who feeds them? Who brought them here? Where were they born? From where did their species originate? What are their names? Who is their owner？ A mysterious master of some kind?
There are some drawings in the corridor too; some Chinese style painting, some western style paintings, some look like drawn by kids, some are quite skilled. Who has set up this art gallery?
And when I walk, I realise that with the dim light and the squeeze sound of the wood floor on the corridor, this stylish gallery is a perfect spot to kiss someone!
I take other stairs up, covered by dirt and dust. I discover a garden with a chairman Mao statue. Then I saw some shelters on the roof, where people live! And I think that this building stands for a reflection of our whole society; some people live high up in the castle, most live in the apartments, and there are poor live in the temporary shelter in the middle of Shanghai.
It’s an astounding experience walking through this constellation of houses; of families living in them — even if I cannot see them. And it’s all lies just behind the Bund, where so many people take their pictures of the skyline, unaware what is behind the facade.
If you go behind the Bund a little, it’s not just cold stone buildings display items I can’t afford or luxury hotels I’m intimidated to go in anymore. It has a sense of real life; it may be dirty, it may be noisy, it may be dark, but it’s more interesting. It’s not in any tourist guide book, but real places never are.
“If China was a tree, when you visit Shanghai you see the canopy of it, when you go to Xi’an you see its roots.”
Yafei is a Xi’anese woman who lives in Shanghai, and is not your typical Shanghai tour guide, taking her companions into real places and distancing them from the more classic tourist spots to uncover the traditional, historic Shanghai.