Shangxiajiu Street is a stretch of shop houses in the heart of Guangzhou, reputedly the richest city in China.
The district was given a well needed face lift in the runup to the 2010 Asian Games. Storefronts were repainted, power lines were put underground, and attractive new pavements were laid.
I first saw the street, which is Chinese for Upper and Lower Ninth Street, several years ago, when tourism officials told me that it was going to gussied up. I saw it again in the runup to the Asian Games, when the thoroughfare had been torn up and scaffoldings were covering many of the store fronts. And I saw it again just before Christmas 2011.
As a heritage buff, I have been wondering how things turned out. So I traveled to Shangxiakiu Street by underground to find out on my last trip to Guangzhou.
Good News, Bad News
The facades appear to have been re-plastered, and they now appear neat and tidy. The pavement stones are classy, and at night, those lovely stained glass windows on the second and third floors are beautiful.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that practically every single building along the strip has been painted the exact same way: gray walls, white trim, and brown shutters. Pretty unimaginative, if you ask me, and not exactly the most beautiful colour scheme of them all.
It gets worse. With the exception of a couple of stylish eateries, which do these stately old buildings justice, most of the street level businesses are either chain stores or stalls selling very, very shoddy goods.
Saving Money on Clothes
I have never seen so many shops and stalls selling this many ugly clothes and accessories in all my life!
When I was riding on the underground on my way to Shangxiajiu Street, I couldn’t help but notice how poorly dressed most of the passenger were. I wondered where they found such hideous duds. I came to the conclusion that they must do their shopping in this part of town.
“If I lived in Guangzhou, I would save so much money on clothes,” my Hong Kong Chinese traveling companion commented as we ambled past yet another shop selling the most shockingly atrocious clothes imaginable.
“Because I wouldn’t be able to find anything here that I wanted to buy.”
Perhaps this explains why stylish mainlanders like to do their shopping in Hong Kong . . .
We stopped for coffee at a sidewalk café at the square that divides Shangjiu Street from Xiajiu Street, which is pictured above. And I can assure you, it looks MUCH worse in person than it does in this picture. For starters, the highrises looming overhead appear to have been air brushed out …
Hideous residential blocks towered over head. The monotonous gray, white, and brown facades had given way to a cacophony of shiny metal, multi-coloured plastic, and flashing neon signs. The KFC that used to look out over the square had been replaced by a McDonald’s.
As I surveyed the scene, I couldn’t help but make the following comment to my companion: “I’ve read that within 10 years China will be the world’s number one destination for inbound tourism. But when I look at a scene like this, I can’t help but find that very, very, very hard to believe.”