One of my favorite ways to experience any city is to wake up early and observe the locals stirring from slumber. Especially for crowded and busy cities, early morning is perhaps the only time you’ll see a quiet public space or streets free of the usual chaotic traffic. How do the locals start their day?
7am in Shanghai, the city was just waking. Stepping out into the early morning sunlight, the shutters were down on businesses that had been open ‘til late night, the streets bare with few pedestrians and only the occasional beep of a passing car or motorcycle.
Street carts and hole-in-the-wall eateries were starting to fire up their burners to put out all kinds of delicious tid bits. And so our grazing began. Stopping at this stall, then one a while later, and then another a while after that. Just to try it out, find out what it is. If the locals are queuing for it, it can’t be half bad.
Meat, vegie and tofu dumplings while perched on a bench in an almost empty Nanjin Pedestrian Street, watching locals doing martial arts and dances in groups with music and swords to boot.
Walking further along, more and more locals are getting out and doing their morning exercises, some in organized groups with their BYO boom boxes, or grandfather and grandson having some badminton practice in the square, friends gossiping over morning stretches.
My favorite by far was the large gathering of people waking up with dance. Just rock up in your jeans and sweater, grab a partner and dance a good start into your morning.
Down in People’s Park, the badminton and group exercises continued along with slow and solitary tai chi, carried out with precision and silence in pockets of quietness that would soon burst with the roar of a bustling metropolis. We ponder if this early morning display of targeted energy is cultural or out of necessity in a crowded city?
The city was out of bed now, rubbing its eyes with a yawn. Windows being cleaned, streets swept, a flask of hot tea in hand.
Shutters begin opening, at first intermittent rattles here and there until it becomes a rhythm, a city beating to the sound of its own drum.
Mmmm, warm egg tarts. Better get some of those. Those dumplings were an eternity ago, when the city was still under the covers. The benches are getting busier now but someone leaves and we can claim this prime people watching spot while enjoying the flaky pastry and creamy, custard-like centers.
Just a little more time, a few more side street detours, and the city is now out of its pajamas and wide awake. With it comes sound, movement, increasingly tighter pavements and check-out time. See you stirring under the sheets next time, Shanghai.