Un­der the young’s watch and pro­tec­tion

Tea­house own­ers who ded­i­cated them­selves to old parts of city are joined by oth­ers

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By TAN YINGZI in Chongqing tany­ingzi@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Climb­ing the stone steps by a hot­pot restau­rant onto the bustling Nan­bin Road, walk­ing up the hill for five min­utes felt like trav­el­ing back in time to a sim­pler era.

It was a sunny af­ter­noon, with hardly any peo­ple walk­ing about on the paved street. Only some cats and dogs were milling around. Though the tra­di­tional houses with gray tiled roofs were a bit tum­ble­down, the street was clean with lots of trees and lush plants.

Xi­a­hao Old Street, now a tran­quil and his­tor­i­cal res­i­den­tial block on the south bank of the Yangtze River, has be­gun to draw peo­ple’s at­ten­tion as a place to go and rem­i­nisce about the past.

Chongqing, the moun­tain­ous metropo­lis by the Yangtze River in South­west China, has long been fa­mous for its unique land­scape, stun­ning night views and spicy hot­pots. Many tourists are amazed by the num­ber of high­rises in the down­town area and the pace of ur­ban­iza­tion of this his­toric in­dus­trial place.

But the an­cient city with over 3,000 years of his­tory has many lega­cies that should not be for­got­ten.

Xi­a­hao Old Street, which winds from the river port up to the foot of Nan­shan Moun­tain, dates back to the Qiao­long Pe­riod (1736-95) of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911). Thanks to a once-boom­ing port busi­nesses, Xi­a­hao be­came one of the ma­jor busi­ness ar­eas in Chongqing. Now it has the only re­mains of stilted wooden houses in the city.

In 1890 when Chongqing was forced to open its ports to for­eign busi­nesses, Xi­a­hao wit­nessed the es­tab­lish­ment there of many in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies.

Dur­ingWorldWarII,Chongqing was the wartime cap­i­tal of China. Wuhan Univer­sity was re­lo­cated to Xi­a­hao. Af­ter the Peo­ple’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, more changed. The coun­try’s cen­tral bank, the Peo­ple’s Bank of China, used to op­er­ate in this area.

In the 1990s, when the port busi­nesses in the south bank de­clined and then even­tu­ally closed down, Xi­a­hao was left be­hind as many young peo­ple moved to the new ur­ban ar­eas.

Now only about 300 fam­i­lies still live in the block; most are se­nior ci­ti­zens who refuse to leave their com­mu­nity.

But Xie Peisong is an ex­cep­tion. The young ar­chi­tect was born in Xi­a­hao in 1983 and stayed with his par­ents in a sixfloor build­ing un­til 2003. He now lives in a high-end apart­ment nearby, but his heart still re­mains in Xi­a­hao. Last year he and his cousin Xie Ran­ran, another ar­chi­tect, re­turned to the area, rented a ru­ined house by his for­mer home and turned it into a quaint stu­dio and tea­house called Xiao Guan — mean­ing in Chi­nese, a small place.

“When I heard that Xi­a­hao Old Street was go­ing to be pulled down soon, I de­cided to do some­thing to keep it alive as long as pos­si­ble,” Xie Peisong says.

The house has a tra­di­tional East Sichuan style with Chuan­dou struc­ture, a dis­tinc­tive wooden frame to sup­port the roof, a per­fect model for Xie’s trans­for­ma­tion project.

It took them three months to fin­ish. They made most of the dec­o­ra­tions them­selves, from

It is recog­ni­tion of our city and our cul­ture.”

Xie Ran­ran,

ar­chi­tect

ma­te­ri­als col­lected from the com­mu­nity.

Xiao Guan was soon dis­cov­ered by pho­tog­ra­phers and tourists, in­clud­ing a pho­tog­ra­pher work­ing for the Chi­nese edi­tion of the Na­tional Geo­graphic magazine. Now its a pho­tog­ra­pher’s hot spot in Xi­a­hao.

On the wooden shelves are piles of books do­nated by the lo­cal li­brary and any­one can bor­row them for free.

“Xiao Guan is our work­ing stu­dio as well as a place for peo­ple to read and re­lax,” says Xie Ran­ran.

They are en­cour­aged and happy to see more and more young peo­ple at­tracted by these nos­tal­gic me­men­tos. Some cou­ples now even choose to take their wed­ding pho­tos in Xi­a­hao.

“It is recog­ni­tion of our city and our cul­ture,” she says.

They are plan­ning to con­tinue their renovation project of old houses in Chongqing and call for more pub­lic recog­ni­tion of the city’s rich and evoca­tive past.

The good news is that other young peo­ple have be­gun to join Xies’ re­vi­tal­iza­tion project of Xi­a­hao Old Street. A group of artists vol­un­teered to paint the out­side walls of the old houses with images and graf­fiti, lend­ing the block a mod­ern, cre­ative feel.

Xiao Hao Lane and Frozen Green House are other tea­houses that opened in this old block.

Ao Wei, the owner of Frozen Green House, is a free­lancer. She has ded­i­cated her­self to pre­serv­ing the old parts of Chongqing for years and writ­ten ar­ti­cles about the old town.

In­spired and touched by the young peo­ple’s ac­tions, the res­i­dents feel they should do some­thing too to make their com­mu­nity more beau­ti­ful.

Wang Zhao­qun, who runs a mahjong par­lor, has placed dozens of pots with col­or­ful plants along the street.

“So many tourists come to visit our com­mu­nity now, so we should make the place more wel­com­ing,” Wang says.

Shui Bi­jun, a grad­u­ate stu­dent at Sichuan Univer­sity of For­eign Stud­ies in Chongqing, was on a photo shoot with her class­mates in Xi­a­hao.

“I read about it on blogs and it is much more in­ter­est­ing than those mod­ern sight­see­ing sites,”she says.

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