Aunt Fei performs miracles on Taiyuan Rd

A local grocery store owner's life of selling traditional Shanghai goods and helping others
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Many handwritten cards, all made from waste paper, hang on a wall outside the grocery store.

Who could have known that grandpa Yuji Namiya would have an almost exact counterpart in the backstreets of Shanghai?

When the Chinese movie version of Keigo Higashino’s international bestseller “Miracles of the Namiya General Store” was released last December, a tide of nostalgia swept through the city. Heartstrings were twanged by the tale of grocer Yuji Namiya who acts as a kind of agony aunt for his friends, customers and neighbors.

On Taiyuan Road in Xuhui District, a little store sells traditional Shanghai goods, most of which are hard to come by today. The shop is run by 68-year-old Fei Baoying.

Fei is well-known for helping her customers. She always has comfort and support for the troubled and helps find solutions to all worries and cares. She constantly accumulates more and more friends.

At the front door of Shanghai Hao Cheng Commodity Architecture Business handmade cards hang on the wall like a menu of the goods on sale inside. Fei practices her calligraphy on the cards which are all made from waste paper.

“I do it just as a hobby. And it’s a good way to use up waste paper,” she said.

The store is not large and the shelves are filled with more than 3,000 kinds of items, from traditional Shanghai goods to hard-to-find household accessories like pot handles.

“Cheap knock-offs of many old Shanghai brands are flooding the market,” said Fei. One of her missions is to guarantee that all the goods in her store are 100 percent genuine.

Whenever she restocks her shelves, she scrupulously checks every item. If something is unfamiliar or she is unsure about anything, she tries it out herself before she sells it, no matter how tiny or insignificant the item.

She sees it as her duty to give her customers the best, hence the store’s name: Hao Cheng. The character hao consists of two parts — an upper ri and a lower tian which both can mean “day” — and cheng is honesty. The combination means “credibility” — honesty every day.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Fei shows traditional Shanghai Jingangzuan pomade to a customer.

“Once I had my husband restock some mothballs. The seller we bought from had run out, so he went to another. When I opened the box, I noticed the smell was different, so I asked him to take them back.”

Traditional Shanghai 414 towels are famous for their red and white stripes and quality. Fei tried out some towels she bought for her store at home, just to check. One towel had a different pattern from the rest so she asked the seller to change it.

Customers are always looking for old things which hardly exist today and asking Fei for help. She seldom lets them down.

“By hook or by crook, I get them whatever they want.”

Once a customer asked for an enamel pot which was common bygone days but is now hardly seen anywhere.

“I remembered seeing such pots somewhere. Eventually, I remembered where.”

Whatever her customers want, her customers get.

”I wanted to buy some special batteries for a tool but couldn’t find them anywhere, so I came here,” said Zhang, a 66-year-old customer.

Of course she found what she needed in Fei’s store and also went home with some pen refills and cheerful advice.

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Dragon and Tiger’s two most popular balm and oil products in both past and modern times

Now foreign brands are widely available and people even go abroad to shop, but Fei firmly believes that domestic products are equal to any imports and that Chinese people should use Chinese goods.

For example, Dragon and Tiger qingliangyou. The coin-sized tin of balm has many uses, especially on sultry summer days. More than an insect repellent, it can relieve insect bites and sooth headaches, car sickness and fatigue.

Qingliangyou is very popular among foreigners,” said Fei.

“Customers come to my store from all over the world to buy qingliangyou, many from the US, Russia and Africa.”

She tries to always use domestic products at home. “My grandma, mother and I all love local brand Friendship’s xuehuagao (snowflake cream),” said Fei. When her daughter brought home some cosmetics from overseas, she tried the imported cream on one hand and her mother’s xuehuagao on the other. The snowflake cream did a better job and she became as much of a fan of domestic goods as her mom.

“Some ladies of my age enjoy dancing guangchangwu in the streets in the evening and playing mahjong, but that’s not my style,” said Fei. “I don’t run this store for money, but to talk to people and make friends.”

Her regular customers are all friends and many bring their young relatives to the store. “Kids like my store and I’m very happy to see them here.” Even after they grow up and leave the city, they remember “Aunt Fei” and visit her when they return.

Fei is always ready to help her friends. “Helping others is helping yourself,” she said.

Once an old couple whose children were living abroad visited her store. Seeing that they had trouble walking, Fei told them to call her if they need anything and she would have someone to deliver it.

The number of her store is a hotline for friends and customers. “No matter who comes to me, I try to help.”

Fei often acts as agony aunt for her customers. “Once a young migrant girl came to my store. I chatted with her and learned about the difficulties of her work. I tried to comfort her and gave her some advice,” said Fei.

“After hearing my words, she cried and told me that nobody she knew in the city treated her so nicely.”

The next time Fei saw her in the store, she was more confident and smiling.

“If nothing unexpected happens and my roof doesn’t fall in, I will keep my store open as long as I can,” she said.

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