In Wang Qiyao’s eyes, the most romantic corner theater is Cathay Theater where Eileen Chang lingered without any thought of leaving. The story of a girl named An Ni known as a “flower of Huaihai Road”, written by Tang Yin, were performed publicly or secretly for many times in old days. Huaihai Road is women’s world and Shanghai’s face, like the Fifth Avenue to New York and Champs Elysees Street to Paris; however, the style is unique just as Eileen Chang once said that even if you don’t buy anything, just to look at it will content you.
Shanghai Style of Huaihai Road
The so-called dynasty changing is merely another season’s fashion.
Huaihai Road is always compared with the Champs Elysees in Paris or the Fifth Avenue in New York, with which it enjoys equal popularity.
When describing Huaihai Road, one word is fair enough—western flavored. 911 sightseeing buses travel back and forth in the splendid dream of Huaihai Road. Once you step into this street, everything becomes brand new.
“In Shanghai city, girls on the Huaihai Road have the best look. The dressing is the practice of life aesthetics.When you see that straight hair curling at the end, those shirt collar edges out of the blue-cloth coat, the way they tie the scarf, the little flower on the shoe lace, you will be touched by their hard work on fashion. ” This was the description of Huaihai Road several years ago by Wang Anyi. After completing Chang Hen Ge, Wang Anyi exerted his energy and said farewell to Huaihai Road. That’s the indescribable beauty in the memory.
In Eileen Chang’s mind, Huaihai Road is a place for little ladies to live and play. Cathay Theater is one of the places Eileen Chang went to the most. Her uncle used to live at the Avenue Joffre (It was not called Huaihai Road then). Eileen Chang used to live with her uncle’s family in Weida Hotel (No. 993 Middle Huaihai Road nowadays). She liked to walk on the Avenue Joffre with her close cousin Yan Ying: in the showcase, the beauty mannequin leering and wearing a hat slantingly with a few feathers sticking in casually. It was a cold day; Eileen Chang drew back her neck and took a closer look at it; her warm breath turned into mist on the showcase glass. They didn’t mean to go shopping but window shopping. In the Kidnapping Eileen Chang hand-printed version, Li Tonghao mentioned that “It takes hard and long consideration to buy a dress; Even when you are about to pay, you will think over it again. The process of contemplating has both misery and joy. The rich needn’t hesitate to buy a dress, while the poor one won’t think about it at all. My bittersweet in purchasing belongs to petit bourgeoisie.” This was a perfect monologue of flower ladies on Huaihai Road. Li Tonghao believed that, no matter it is called Huaihai Road or Avenue Joffre, shopping is shopping. Men rewrite history at one time, while women perform a revolution of low-waist trousers and high heels. The so-called dynasty changing is merely another season’s fashion.
Thus in his mind, where there is shopping, there will have best girl friend culture. On Huaihai Road, you will see pairs of best girl friends like Yan Ying and Eileen Chang passing by, who bargain in the store, queue up in front of the Cathay Theater, and feed each other with sweetmeat and ice cream at Fuxing Park.
In Chen Danyan’s eyes, Huaihai Road is a salon without the roof. “Miss Du walks to the office, since the office is close to Middle Huaihai road and that’s the one reason she likes her office. She crosses a road and arrives at Middle Huaihai Road. The winter sunshine penetrates through bold branches of big and tall phoenix trees; buildings and houses stand at each side orderly; Passersby have polished shoes. This is the face of Shanghai with the most luxury stores, best-looking goods sparkling here. It is often to see tall and slim beauties carrying the kraft bags of luxury shops; some of them seem like walking down from fashion magazines. As walking on Middle Huaihai Road, Miss Du feels more comfortable and natural.”
Back then xiaochilao (meaning a gang of naughty boys in Shanghai dialect) did break dancing on the Avenue Joffre; their sunglasses reflected the bright light from the showcase window and they regarded it as a style. Drinking coffee and wearing tight flares were considered fashionable; who would agree that eating garlic and wearing cotton wadded trousers were in style. Still, Chen Danyan had fierce eyes, so she said: “there seems a hand coming from their eyes which is the weapon for beautiful ladies on Middle Huaihai Road. Those girls who have abundant upper-class social experience and those girls used to drift with the wind will not care so much about the thrilling walk on Middle Huaihai Road. However, other girls between those two kinds usually dress up and make up with a heart full of uncompromising vanity; they take a walk on Huaihai Road enjoying other people’s staring and looking at others.” It seemed that these girls were not into dressing and making up; actually they cared about others’ attention.
Huaihai Road was called “Avenue Joffre” in old days. In the 20s and 30s of the twentieth Century, this place was appreciated as the headstream of fashion in the city of Shanghai. At the beginning, the 4-kilometer business street had luxury stores and goods collected here. Some were overseas Russian old stores which made the bourgeoisie atmosphere staining in nowadays Shanghai. There was a period when a style called “petit bourgeoisie” was popular and was then altered to “literary youth”. The Champs Elysees in Shanghai, with coffeehouses, western cuisine restaurants and cinemas, was only afraid of being unfashionable.
And then, it was the world of the writer Annie Baby. In her love novels, she has mentioned the Parkson store repeatedly. “Cheng is waiting at the entrance of the Parkson. He is that kind of silent and vaguely acute man when you see him through the crowd distantly”. “They walk into the Parkson. Nuan Nuan walks up to the jewelry counters and looks up at him cutely: no matter what I like, you will buy it for me, ok?” The freedom and easiness in a romance have nothing to do with any street forgetting to wake up in the morning. She possesses the awareness in a world full of material desire and reminds us that many things are priceless.
After Lu Xun passed away, Xu Guangpin moved to the Joffre House on Avenue Joffre. To avoid searching, she hided Lu Xun’s million-word manuscripts at the back of a pile of coal in the kitchen; and then the first edition of Lu Xun Complete Works was edited and published here. Ba Jin’s Spring and Autumn and Cold Nights were also completed in his old home on Avenue Joffre. Lu Xun and Ba Jin seemed like being unwilling to go to the coffeehouse, and they would rather stay in the tea house and catch some inspiration in the jokes of town people. Women on Huaihai Road must dislike folk jokes for they were dreaming of sitting in the coffeehouse for a whole day.
Wang Qiyao had seen the Red House behind those trees; thinking that the name was really good to avoid making people feel old. At this time, the street lights were on and the yellow light reflected the dim light of the sky, like the sky being covered with thin mist. Summer nights were long and I was enjoying the coolness in the living room while peeking at the girl making up in the neighborhood. Those modern girls on 1920s and 30s old pictures are so charming which is beyond reach in nowadays.
Shanghai Luxury of Huaihai Road
Hengshan Road has foreign-style houses while Huaihai Road has shop windows. Walking along the Huaihai Road, you will be attracted by the showcase; if you like looking yourself in the mirror, it will be too hard for you to move one single step. At this moment, to buy or not to buy become a divide.
In those days, upper-class people in Shanghai were proud of having the “Kaisiling” cakes and candies from Russian “Harbin” candy store at Avenue Joffre. Huaihai Road is always the origin place of fashion. At that time, stores on Huaiai Road were more popular than any other store in Shanghai French Concessions; those stores adopted European Style and represented the high-end consumer goods synchronizing with developed cities in Europe and the U.S. The dress and makeup of White Russian women suddenly became the fashion icon at that time.
Before 1985, the whole business area on Huaihai Road was only 28 thousand square kilometers; now, there are 800 thousand square kilometers business and commercial areas just on East Huaihai Road, equaling 28 previous Huaihai Road commercial areas. Huaihai Road has celebrated its 110th anniversary; the orange sunlight elongates the shadow of old cane chair; she is going to make an amazing turn since luxury is like a gorgeous rope. If there is no Huaihai Road in Shanghai, people in Shanghai will lose the elegant and bourgeois living passion. Now, Huaihai Road, the most prosperous commercial street, is preparing for a perfect combination of depth and width to elaborately create several “Golden Cross” blocks, which will add more taste to Huaihai Road. And there must have some front-line flagship stores in these golden crosses.
The Central Plaza contrasts with modern tall buildings next to it. Its red roofs, dormer windows, thick red brick wall and the exquisite texture of the cornice are telling people its unique identity—Shanghai Excellent Historical Architecture. You may have ceremonial feeling when you go shopping here. As Zhang Ruogu described his life when he was in the Balkan Coffeehouse on Avenue Joffre, “he talked about “Pian leski” to literature, current affairs, famous people, nations, the world…” During the shopping tour, the unexpected absence of mind makes those stores look more friendly and poetic.
Over the past year, Louis Vuitton, Ermenegildo Zegna and HERMES have settled on Huaihai Road in succession. There was one time when celebrities were tired of cutting the ribbons. The Champs Elysees in Shanghai is really fortunate. Even after several turbulences and setbacks, it hasn’t suffered from any historical damage. So when decorating those front-line brand showcases, they can make the best use of the heavy-flavor European architecture; the wall, color, light may retain the origin style and features.
Cartier’s flagship store is one of the must-go places for young people to buy wedding rings. Tiffany’s flagship store has 600 square meters and displays its best diamonds and silver accessories. And Coach didn’t unveil the cloth for several months when it started business here. Ermenegildo Zegna, the Italian men’s clothing brand, launched its first global concept store on Huaihai Road in China; the store has 1,200 square meters. “Hermes Maison” had settled on Huaihai Road before the EXPO opened; there were only three “Hermes Maisons” in the world before and the new store has the most complete variety of Hermes. Shanghai has awaked from the bourgeoisie dream and realized that it is a globalization age.
Searching for the collective memory of Shangzhijiao
Shangzhijiao has coffeehouses, creative product stores and creative stores, which always has the petit bourgeoisie flavor in Shanghai.
In old days, these stores were tailor shops, pawn shops, lining and button stores and a fruit shop selling candy and soda water in the turn corners. Starting from here, you will step into the spiritual noble zone in Shanghai, which is known as Shangzhijiao.
People often come here to enjoy the scenery rather than to eat something. One drinking a cup of coffee in the balcony will greet with the camera shots from all directions. Although it is a coffeehouse, it also sells antique furniture. Those old Shanghai people steeping themselves in the aroma of rosewood have no immune to furniture and dessert. The coffee and desserts are made by the coffeehouse itself, so the flavor is exclusive here. If you’d like to have the only seat in the balcony on the second floor, you need an early reservation. People come back and forth on the Si’nan Road, sometimes with sunshine or drizzle. As the dusk falls, the scene brings people in reminiscent of the 100-year-ago Avenue Joffre.
44A Si’nan Road
Citta’ Enjoy Coffee (Middle Huaihai Road Store)
People having come here would say this is really a coffeehouse. However, the new style is quite different from fashionable senior citizens’ impression of coffeehouse. This is an open store; customers clutter and chat in groups. It would be more like a library than a coffeehouse; Huaihai Road is advancing with the times.
835 Middle Huaihai Road (close to Maoming Road)
QQ Master Balloon House
You are the one who know me: I’m like a wild animal trapped in the skyscrapers yearning for freedom; will the balloon get me to find the freedom? This shop is cluttered up with all shapes of hydrogen balloons like exaggerated cartoon shape and heart shape. All these balloons crowding with each other makes you feel like walking into a fairyland. On the multi-layered shelf, jars of colored rubber bubbles will make you hard to put them down; print your favorite pictures or words on your own balloons and you won’t lose your way even if your balloons fly away.
2nd floor South Building of Hong Kong Plaza No. 283 Middle Huaihai Road
When renowned tailors in Shanghai have retired or passed away, the era of haute couture has gone. In my impression, in Hongbang Tailor’s Shop is an old man with a tidy hairstyle, a kind face, a little bit swollen belly, tape measure hanging around and glasses on his nose. But the tailor of this men’s wear custom-made shop is a beautiful lady. It is said that Andy Lau, Simon Yam, Chen Kun had ordered suits here.
700 Middle Huaihai Road
Red House Restaurant (Huaihai Store)
Wang Qiyao brought her daughter Weiwei and her boyfriend Xiaolin to Red House Restaurant to celebrate for Xiaolin passing the examination. How long this custom has lasted! Red House Restaurant used to be the most famous western restaurant in Shanghai; after redecoration, it stills in style. In these years, the menu stays the same: Char-grilled Steak with Pepper Sauce, French baked escargots, foie gras, borsch, Italian ice cream and you should try all of them. If you go there in the evening, little decorated red lamplight will make you feel like entering a pub.
845 Middle Huaihai Road
Snaps shop (Huaihai Store)
Creative shops on Huaihai Road seem like enjoying themselves. They usually hide themselves in an ordinary timber door; one should open the door cautiously to avoid awakening that pot of tulip. This Snaps shop is in an old residential building on Yandang Road. You need to reserve before you go there and before you enter the shop you need press the password. Behind the heavy burglar-proof door, there are all kinds of trendy cameras such as LOMO, FUJI, HOLGA, and Polaroid. This is the headquarters for Snap shooting players. Besides the renowned photographers’ photo wall, once in a while, Willie the owner will plan some photo exhibitions with different themes like “living in the half-frame” and so on.
Room 1 No.497 Middle Huaihai Road
ShanghART Gallery 796 Zone
As the forth exhibit room of ShanghART, the Shanghai modern art gallery, the 796 zone is hided in the Twin Villas on No.796 Huaihai Road and neighbored with “Dunhill” and “Vacheron Constantin”. The 796 zone has French windows with the shadow of bamboos, spacious room and broad vision. Compared with other warehouse-style gallery, the 796 zone has less roughness but more elegance and grace of old Shanghai style.
796 Middle Huaihai Road
This is the first Lounge bar themed with chocolate in China. The tiny store is always crowded with people and they are drowned in aroma and sweetness. Specialties are Orange-flavored chocolate puree and Madagascar chocolate Mousse; there also has fruit-flavored cocktails.
No.30-1 Si’nan Road (close to Middle Huaihai Road)
Fengguo Box (Infinite store)
Fengguo Box is a creative market held at a permanent place every day. You can exhibit your works here with a low rent. No matter how you decorate your box or what price you sell your works, it’s ok. However, the design works for sale must be original and non-volume production. After seeing those works you will be filled with admiration for handcraft works.
208A No. 138 Middle Huaihai Road
Although it is opposite to “Da Vinci” furniture store, this low-profile boutique furniture store makes you want to stay and appreciate. There are Austrian glassware with different colors, German fine porcelain, and Canadian high chimney fireplace. They are placed on thick fur cushions and matched with each other. And there goes European boutique variety shop style.