SHANGHAI NOIR - LILONG BY NIGHT
In and around Shanghai’s former French Concession, accessible by gated entries off the busy streets, lie intricate old residential developments known as lilong. With a grid-like pattern of laneways and narrow three-storey buildings, their design is a fusion of European row and Chinese courtyard housing. Built mostly in the period from the 1920s through until early 1940s, they provide a fascinating blend of old lifestyle set amid the clamorous new developments by which they are threatened to be engulfed.
A peak into the confines of the lilong offers the visitor an alternate reality. Within is traditional family life, crowded but peaceful. Extended family living, shared kitchens with the aroma of Chinese cooking, bamboo poles stretching from windows with the days laundry hanging to dry, a lady tending her pot plants, a man tending his bicycle repair stall. But by night they have an altogether different allure. With the light cast by tungsten lamps, and the flickering of neon, shadowy figures roam the realm and the boundaries between present and past blur. This is when the lilong become the backdrop to another period in the city’s vibrant past - the period in which they were built - this is Shanghai noir.
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