Mei and I have visited the Shanghai Yinxiang Cheng a few times, the closest thing we have to the electronics and instrument vendors of Akihabara Electric Town. We almost always eventually find what we need, though we usually have to hunt for some time. That’s part of the fun. Occasionally a vendor will tell us he doesn’t think we’ll find what we want in the market and to try Beijing Dong Lu (北京东路) instead. One day in 2016 August, that’s just what we did.
As we exit the subway at People’s Square Station and walk a little north to where the street begins, I realize I’ve been here once before. A year prior to this visit, my graduate school professor Marc had been visiting and we wandered over here on a walk around this part of the city.
There are individual shopfronts, and large spaces with multiple vendors like this.
Mei and I are generally looking for small electronic components for home science experiments. We quickly figure out Beijing Dong Lu is geared more toward mechanical equipment, specialized building materials, and larger, heavier tools.
Need a brush? This is your street.
Pet crickets for sale
We realize not just the arterial road, but the smaller intersecting streets are also lined with shophouses. We don’t have time to explore all of these on this visit, but it’s possible the smaller components we’re looking for might be found here.
Breakers and meters
Ropes, wires and chains
Closer to the Huangpu River, the vendors thin out and architecture changes as we enter the heart of what was the British concession carved out following the First Opium War.
This skyline has changed just a bit since the first time I saw it ten years ago.
We head back on the opposite side of the street.
What’s most interesting to me isn’t that the vendor cluster exists, but that it has survived this long in the midst of the most expensive land values in the city. Shanghai is special in many ways, but it is not unique in how it struggles to balance the interests of historic preservation, modernization, and a government that still relies too much on selling land rights to developers as an income source. These interesting shophouses are here now, but I wonder for how much longer that will remain the case.