At any other time of the year, Shengping Lane bustles with life. But the Lunar New Year holiday is near, half the city has left for their hometowns and Shanghai has returned to the Shanghainese.
The only vendor left in the alley sells calendars, but soon he’ll pack up, too. It’s the time of year when Shengping Lane lives up to its name: 升平 or “Rising Peace.”
It’ll soon be the Year of the Rooster, and Yuan Shuizhen is preparing chicken feet in her tiny kitchen for the big meal. The 85-year-old wipes her hands, retreats outside and plops down on a chair along the side of the alley to chat with friends.
“All the outsiders have left for home,” says Yuan, leaning over to peer down the narrow lane. This is the time of year when hundreds of millions of Chinese workers return to their hometowns. Nearly half of Shanghai’s 26 million people weren’t born in Shanghai, and many of them have already left. “It’s much quieter this time of year — less crazy,” Yuan says.
Her two friends nod. The three grannies go through a list of food they’ll make for their families: Beef, fish, dumplings, hotpot. After a meal with family, they’ll go to the Buddhist temple to pray and burn incense.
“When I was young, we’d go to the cemetery to worship our ancestors,” says Yuan. “Then we’d cook one pot of rice, serve it in small bowls, and we’d eat it for the next five days. Now we cook meals every single day. Life has improved.”
Yuan’s friend Ni Jindi agrees, but the 94-year-old still grumbles about her grandchildren. They’re all working professionals, and they rarely have time to visit their grandmother here in the lane. This is the only time of year she gets to spend time with them and her great-grandchildren.
“They’re leaving on the third day of the holiday to go travel somewhere,” says Ni with a wave of her hand. “I don’t know exactly where they’re going. I’m too old. I’ll stay here.”
She’ll have company. Her two friends are great-grandmothers, too, whose families will also fly somewhere exotic after the first of the year: Japan, Thailand, the United States. With their relatives gone and the holiday setting in, Rising Peace Lane will grow even quieter, with just the chatter of three grannies sharing memories.