Vintage buses offer a retrospective ride back to a century ago
Reminiscing about of Shanghai's old days has always been popular with locals even in a city that opened its port not more than two centuries ago.
Nostalgic vibes are ubiquitous in the city; from well-preserved colonial architectures to Baroque-style decorations, from popular western restaurants to vintage coffee houses.
Television series adapted from literary works about early last century Shanghai are predominant, while the classic song "Night Time in Shanghai" by famous local singer Zhou Xuan (Chow Hsuan) in the 1940s is often played on local radio programs.
In a latest nostalgic rush, some vintage buses in downtown Shanghai have been packed during the Mid-Autumn Festival holiday in a retrospective ride reviewing the city's glorious century-old public transport development.
The 22 electric buses on the No. 20 route, which runs between Zhongshan Park and the Bund, features the Art Deco-style blue and white coating resembling the early-style Shanghai's tram buses dating back to 1908 in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
"Almost every passenger is taking photos throughout their journey, as if they have come for the bus rather than actually for a ride," said a bus driver surnamed Yang, who was among the first batch of drivers for the vintage buses, which were unveiled on Saturday.
Inside the buses, LED bulbs create an ambience of both the prosperous nightlife in Shanghai and the city's technological flavor. Some conductors, dressed like newspaper delivery boys in the early 1930s with canvas jackets and hats, serve passengers at the terminus.
As a highlight, two stand-up wire poles to connect the buses with the overhead cables, once a common scene on local streets, have been retained, more like a nostalgic ornament.
These new-energy buses are actually mainly driven by durable batteries. Other high-tech gadgets such as a brake alarm system, high-definition panoramic cameras and driver's monitoring system have been installed to ensure safety. The buses are also wheelchair-friendly with many barrier-free designs and facilities.
The city's road transport bureau launched an online poll about four old-style Shanghai bus exterior paintings or coatings and most netizens chose the current one, an official with the bureau said.
He said the vintage coating on the No. 20 bus is a "bold try" to highlight the profound humanitarian and cultural features of Shanghai's public transport system, while improving services for both passengers and bus drivers.
"Buses are important carriers of a city's culture," noted Ye Luxin, deputy general manager of Bashi No. 1 Company, the operator of the No. 20 route.
"The No. 20 route, for instance, passes local landmarks such as the Jing'an Temple, Nanjing Road and the Bund, which carry a host of memories for generations of local people."
The route originated from the city's first tram line, opened by the British Electric Traction Co. in March 1908 to cater to rising travel demand under the city's rapid expansion that could no longer be met by rickshaws and wagons.
The 6-kilometer-long tram line operated between the temple and the Bund.
The public bus network has been expanding since then with the massive construction of workers' communities which are far away from the old town to accommodate the rising working class, Xue Liyong, a senior researcher with the Shanghai History Museum, explained.
"Where there was a new community, there came a new bus line."
By the 1990s, Shanghai had the largest electric trolley bus system in Asia with 22 routes and about 1,000 electric buses with stand-up wire poles. Some buses were exported abroad to, for instance, Kathmandu in Nepal.
The buses were so popular that they were assimilated in the slang of Shanghai dialect that is being used by locals even now.
"Drive a trolley bus," for instance, means talk unseemly, "drive the No. 11 bus" means by foot, "drive a night bus" means work overnight, while "pigtail stands up," which refers to the disconnected wire poles of the buses, is a euphemism for death.
Not only have the buses had nostalgic coatings, the terminal station of the No. 20 route near Zhongshan Park has also undergone a renovation to resemble the London-style bus station and the "jet pavilion," a classic charging station for electric buses with stand-up poles.
A glass dome supported by black iron frames offers shelter for waiting passengers and is a perfect foil for the old-style buses.
The station has also been incorporated into the British-style park dating back to 1914.
Some parts of the walls of the park have been removed to make it more accessible to residents and pedestrians.
Some historical attractions in the park, including a 160-year-old plane tree, said to be the oldest in East Asia, and an outdoor concert hall built in the 1920s, are now visible to passengers at the station.
According to the Changning District government, the area will feature an over century-old park, road, university, bus route and trees.
On the other side of Wanhangdu Road, formerly known as Jessfield Road when it was built in 1864, walls and fences have been demolished between East China University of Political Science and Law and the Suzhou Creek waterfront to allow visitors to closely observe several historic buildings belonging to the prestigious St John's University, founded in 1879.
Standing under a traditional British bus pavilion and waiting for a bus coming from the 1920s, while enjoying the scenery of a park built in 1914 and the university campus built in 1879 is a surreal experience. No wonder so many people have flocked to the place during the holiday to recall their own bittersweet old age.