Part 3: Modern City Center
In the city center there is an area called 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang), a place of deep historical significance. Now, “deep” describes how the tofu and potatoes are fried at the street food stands there. I once tried their Changzhou style xiao long bao, having been unaware that more than one kind of xiao long bao exists. The area surrounding 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang) is filled with shopping malls. It’s also next to a long pedestrian shopping street called 南大街 (Nan Da Jie). There are rows and rows of ebikes parked wherever people think it’s safe to leave ebikes. It’s easy to succumb to information overload.
One day, a coworker took me to 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley), formerly 千果巷 (Qian Guo Alley), which is another location of deep historical significance some 400 meters from 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang). I had no idea this was on the itinerary, so the only camera I had with me at the time was my iPhone. I was so fascinated by this place that I went back another day alone with my DSLR. Not having had company the first time, I would have stopped short of the unlit narrow urine scented passages that connected the alley to the cluttered courtyard in the pictures.
Partially abandoned places in China are different than those in North America. If I stumble upon an accessible abandoned house in Canada, I expect to encounter one of three scenarios: 1) squatters, 2) people who think it’s a good place to get high, 3) a trespassing charge. In China, people don’t care. It turned out that someone was residing in the house attached to the cluttered courtyard. You can see her in the picture washing something in the sink. She took no notice of me.
The local government wanted people to vacate the homes in 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley) so they could develop the area, but the plan was scrapped after the new mayor rose to power. Many people have vacated, and I don’t blame them for wanting to live somewhere with more advanced housing features, but some have, for whatever reason, stayed. I’m intensely curious about the scenes that went on in these now abandoned living spaces. Who lived here? Why did they leave? Those calendar characters that are still hanging on the walls, what have they seen? Not ever knowing only adds to the mystique surrounding the place.
Emerging from 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley), you end up on 公園路 (Gongyuan Road), the road connecting 雙桂坊 (Shuang Gui Fang) and 青果巷 (Qingguo Alley). On one side of the intersection is a hotel with a clock tower. On the other side lies the memory of 1581.