About a year prior to the time of writing, my daughter Mei and I began making mini expeditions to parts of Shanghai we hadn’t seen before. Though we moved here at the end of 2014, between adjusting to a new place, new people, new school, new sibling, etc., it took a while before we’d felt settled enough to relax a little and seek out new adventures. I didn’t want these trips to turn into my usual deep research projects, so other than a quick check of Baidu Maps to get oriented, I forewent the usual prior planning. We just picked a spot on the map, put on our shoes, and went.
Minhang Development Zone
On this outing we have two destinations, the southern terminus of Shanghai Metro Line 5, then a stop in Xinzhuang on the way back.
Xinzhuang is also where we change from Line 1 to Line 5 on the outbound trip.
From the train we see freshly built xiaoqu—gated communities of residential mid-rise and towers—but unlike those closer to the city center, which are integrated into the urban fabric and have access to a network of facilities and services, these exist as islands in the midst of widely dispersed suburbs and industrial areas. Roads are wide and there are very few commercial storefronts. Buying an apartment way out here is lower cost upfront, but at the expense of a longer and often car-dependent commute. It’s not unlike the “drive until you qualify” pattern found in other countries.
While we’ve made it to the end, it’s the end of July and very hot.
We make a pact to not walk too far from the train and try to return before we get cooked.
Minhang Development Zone was established in 1986 to facilitate clustering of technology and advanced manufacturing firms. At this point in time, the Shanghai government has all but completely pushed heavy manufacturing to outlying provinces.
Though we could see manufacturing plants from the train ride, around the station are mostly residential blocks. Administratively, this is still well within city limits, but it’s very different from the dense core most visitors are familiar with.
We find a few signs of life on the roadside, but even in the shade it’s a struggle to stay cool.
We make it to this indoor market, but we’re roasting and decide it’s good enough to take a photo of it and head back to the station.
After being out in the middle of Minhang, coming back to Xinzhuang feels like re-entering Shanghai’s orbit.
There’s a cluster of commercial buildings anchored by a large shopping mall on the far side of the rail corridor that passes along the south side of the metro station. This covered pedestrian bridge facilitates direct access from the station and is a great place for trainspotting.
The first few years we lived in China, particularly during our time in Beijing, we often found ourselves in shopping malls to have places to walk while avoiding direct exposure to the smog. Since we moved to Shanghai, air quality here has measurably and consistently improved. It still doesn’t meet US or WHO clean air standards, but most days it is acceptable for walking around without a mask. Now we just hide in malls to get out of the summer heat.
As the sun gets lower in the sky, the heat eases up enough for us to enjoy watching the trains passing under the bridge for a while. We meet our first Chinese railfan, a guy with multiple cameras strapped to his body and a radio receiving train control communications that he uses to prepare shots for incoming trains, shuffling from one side of the bridge to the other.
When my wife calls to ask if we’re planning to come home for dinner, we realize we’ve stayed longer than we intended. Despite almost becoming barbecue ourselves, we got so into our trek we lost track of time—as sure a sign as any of a good walk.