WHERE EV­ERY­BODY KNOWS YOUR NAME

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - CITYPAN -

Ru­mors per­vad­ing Shang­hai’s ex­pat F&B com­mu­nity for the past year claim that the street will be bull­dozed. The gos­sip was sparked af­ter a lo­cal of­fi­cia said in a Septem­ber me­dia re­port that each es­tab­lish­ment lo­cated along Laowai­jie has in fact been op­er­at­ing with in­valid and out­dated per­mits since 2005.

An anony­mous lo­cal of­fi­cial con­firmed with the Global Times that all ex­ist­ing com­mer­cial build­ings along Laowai­jie are tech­ni­cally “il­le­gal” ac­cord­ing to city plan­ning, which orig­i­nally in­tended the spot as a green space. But hope is still in the air, as it has not yet been for­mally de­cided whether Laowai­jie will re­main stand­ing or get lev­eled. He Fengchen, di­rec­tor of the mar­ket­ing de­part­ment of the street’s man­age­ment com­pany, told the Global Times that he has not re­ceived any of­fi­cial word about the dis­man­tle­ment of Laowai­jie.

But as Laowai­jie is also the source of nu­mer­ous com­plaints by lo­cal res­i­dents in neigh­bor­ing res­i­den­tial com­plexes, the odds are stacked against it. In a let­ter shared in Au­gust on the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment web­site of Min­hang district, a res­i­dent com­plained that lo­cals were be­ing “tor­tured” by the noise and fumes of the for­eign­ers pa­tron­iz­ing Hong­mei Road’s F&B es­tab­lish­ments. Ac­cord­ing to He, to bet­ter main­tain a har­mo­nious neigh­bor­hood re­la­tion­ship and meet the rec­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments from au­thor­i­ties, his com­pany took im­me­di­ate mea­sures, such as or­ga­niz­ing restau­rants and bars to in­stall sound­proof win­dows, en­cour­ag­ing fume con­trol, de­creas­ing light pol­lu­tion and set­ting up deci­bel de­tec­tion de­vices. “We care about the well-be­ing of neigh­bor­ing res­i­dents, so we have been ac­tive about rec­ti­fi­ca­tion and up­grades,” said He. He ad­mit­ted that his com­pany also of­ten re­ceives com­plaints from lo­cal res­i­dents. For in­stance, some drunken for­eign cus­tomers, af­ter an evening of drink­ing at Laowai­jie, tend to be es­pe­cially noisy. “We re­spond to all com­plaints and then get feed­back from the res­i­dents,” said He, adding that due to his mea­sures, the num­ber of com­plaints has dropped about 20 per­cent com­pared to last year.

Valu­able land­mark

Ac­cord­ing to He, Laowai­jie used to be a train sta­tion for the pri­vate rail­road of China’s late leader Mao Ze­dong. It was dis­used and de­serted for sev­eral years un­til 2002, when it was trans­formed by de­vel­op­ers into a com­mer­cial prom­e­nade. Around 2010 it was of­fi­cially named Laowai­jie to tar­get for­eign­ers. He be­lieves that Hong­mei Road has be­come the pref­ered place for peo­ple of dif­fer­ent cul­tures in Shang­hai to gather and in­te­grate, thus mak­ing it a valu­able land­mark. The street is now home to 35 restau­rants and bars pro­vid­ing cuisines and bev­er­ages from over 10 coun­tries and re­gions in­clud­ing China, Ja­pan, the US, Greece, Italy, France and Spain.

He said that about 70 per­cent of the street’s F&B own­ers are ex­pa­tri­ates, 70 per­cent of their cus­tomers are ex­pats and 70 per­cent of their pa­trons are “reg­u­lars.”

The street also hosts many hol­i­day ac­tiv­i­ties for for­eign­ers, in­clud­ing a Hal­loween event and a Christ­mas party. “Via these ac­tiv­i­ties, vis­i­tors can feel the cul­tural di­ver­sity of this place,” He said, nam­ing the an­nual beer fes­ti­val held by a Ger­man res­tau­rant there as one of its most pop­u­lar events.

This year, Laowai­jie was also listed as one of Shang­hai’s nine fea­tured night con­sump­tion ar­eas which ex­cel at in­ter­na­tional cui­sine, tourism value, sound man­age­ment, con­ve­nient trans­porta­tion and night con­sump­tion. Thus, He be­lieves that its fu­ture is still promis­ing.

A good na­ture

Sev­eral F&B staff work­ing on Laowai­jie shared with the Global Times their sto­ries and ex­pe­ri­ences. An Ital­ian chef named Al­be­nio said he likes the street sim­ply for its abun­dant choices of food and drink. “When peo­ple fin­ish work, they can come to have a re­lax­ing evening with friends and fam­ily,” he said, adding that he per­son­ally prefers Ger­many food and beer be­cause it is “good in qual­ity and taste.” Al­be­nio also con­fided that he hopes to open his own res­tau­rant in China some­day, “but not in Shang­hai, be­cause there are a lot of sim­i­lar restau­rants here. China is big. I want peo­ple to know my food, tra­di­tions and fam­ily val­ues.” Dave from the Philip­pines came to Shang­hai for a va­ca­tion last Jan­uary, but af­ter fall­ing in love with the city he re­turned to work at a Mex­i­can res­tau­rant on Laowai­jie. Ac­cord­ing to Dave, 80 per­cent of his res­tau­rant’s guests are ex­pats from the US, Canada or Euro­pean coun­tries. He said Laowai­jie’s di­ver­sity makes him feel happy. “I am also a for­eigner, so I would like to talk with for­eign­ers as well,” he said.

But Dave is not con­cerned about the ru­mors of Laowai­jie’s dis­man­tle­ment. “I read some ar­ti­cles. I will just go with the flow; what will hap­pen will hap­pen,” he said.

Yu knows Laowai­jie very well, as he has been work­ing in a Chi­nese res­tau­rant there for over seven years. His es­tab­lish­ment pro­vides An­hui Prov­ince-style cui­sine and is one of only four Chi­nese restau­rants in the area.

“I like this place be­cause it has a strong at­mos­phere. There are many in­ter­est­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, like live mu­sic bands. And un­like other scenic spots in Shang­hai, the food prices here are rea­son­able,” said Yu.

Yu con­tends that, com­pared to, say, shop­ping malls, Hong­mei Road is wide open due to it be­ing out­doors, which is why so many for­eign­ers en­joy it. “Some de­tails need to be im­proved, like park­ing trou­ble, but I think this place is promis­ing,” he said.

Yu said he has no­ticed all the ef­forts each res­tau­rant and bar has made to avoid dis­turb­ing lo­cal res­i­dents. “I don’t think this place should be closed down, be­cause it is al­ready in­te­grated with the sur­round­ings,” Yu added.

“On week­ends, chil­dren from in­ter­na­tional schools come here and hold char­ity sales. There are also adop­tion events for stray cats and dogs, which does good to the sur­round­ing area,” Yu said. “This place has a good na­ture.”

Pho­tos: Yang Hui/GT

(Main) A road sign for Laowai­jie; (Clock­wise

from top right) A sign dis­suad­ing vis­i­tors from mak­ing noise; Lo­co­mo­tive in­stal­la­tion out­side Laowai­jie; Restau­rants dec­o­rated in a va­ri­ety of styles from dif­fer­ent coun­tries and re­gions

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