Shikumen memories evoked in lockdown lives

Jiang Xinhua
The lockdown may have made lives difficult for the moment, but the neighborly spirit has not ceased.
Jiang Xinhua

"Hi guys, which part of this lettuce can I eat?"

"Should I remove the outside layer of this broad bean?"

My foreign neighbor sent these questions to our residential community's WeChat group yesterday after receiving a vegetable package as part of our group buy.

"You can peel the skin off the lettuce and save the leaf to cook caifan (rice with vegetables), which is popular in Shanghai," an aunt from Room 502 answered promptly. "Don't worry. Here are some videos of how to cook these ingredients."

A few minutes later, another message appeared in the chat group: "Auntie Wang, I know you are running out of cooking oil and soy bean sauce, so I have put some outside your door."

These are but a few examples of how the neighbors in our community, located in downtown Shanghai, have helped each other overcome temporary difficulties in their daily lives during the current lockdown aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. In certain cases, such a help is vital for one's health.

Late last night, an old couple living in Room 302 sent an urgent message to the WeChat group, asking for medical help. The old lady needed to go to a hospital right away to cure her acute skin disease. Some volunteers in our community replied and called an ambulance immediately. I also joined the volunteer group and went downstairs to help the old lady.

The old couple were relaxed at the sight of the volunteers and the ambulance, but soon they were worried that they might not be able to find a taxi for their return trip. Some young volunteers stayed up very late in the building and arranged a return taxi through online booking.

During the lockdown, our neighborhood is filled with these warm messages and stories almost everyday. Before the lockdown, as people were busy with their own errands, they seldom cared about each other's food habits or medical needs. A polite "hi" was the most common form of contact.

<i>Shikumen </i>memories evoked in lockdown lives
Ti Gong

The "grocery corner of love" in a Changning District community.

It's not just our neighborhood, though. Some of my friends share pictures showing how they've set up "grocery corners of love" in their buildings and communities. These love corners facilitate neighbors' exchange of snacks, drinks, fruits and daily necessities.

"When knowing my neighbor ran out of diapers and wipes, I brought mine to this corner," says Cecilia Chen, one of my friends. "And luckily, I got two cans of coke in return which brings me all-day happiness. I like this idea, which brings people closer."

Ye, another friend of mine, sent me a picture of homemade cakes, cookies and puffs on Wednesday.

"My neighbor, a lovely girl, is such an angel," says Ye. "She knew my favorite dessert and cooked for me. I felt so warm at the bottom of my heart."

In return, Ye gave a box of coffee capsules to her. Luckily, they found out lots of same the interests to share.

<i>Shikumen </i>memories evoked in lockdown lives

Ye displays the homemade cakes and puffs in elegant plates and sends her thanks to her "angel neighbor sister."

<i>Shikumen </i>memories evoked in lockdown lives

The cupcakes Ye received from her neighbor.

These stories about ordinary people take me back to my childhood in the old shikumen (stone-gate) buildings where neighbors would often share iced watermelons after dinner in summer, or kids would do their homework together after school and then have meal at a neighbor's home.

As a local, I regard Shanghai people as warm-hearted, trendy, independent, organized and dignified. A city with such people is a charming place to live in.

The lockdown may have made lives difficult one way or another for the moment, but the neighborly spirit of the city has not ceased for one second.

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