Rediscovering the joy of lingkao; a frugal but quality life in Shanghai
Customers lined up in front of the Shanghai Soap Co Ltd's lingkao shop on Yangshupu Road in Yangpu District recently, as news spread that the city's last shop selling laundry detergent by weight in bulk would soon close down.
Regular customers, who had been benefiting from the store's affordable, convenient and environmentally friendly service, were eager to purchase goods one last time before it shut shop.
"I came here before 9am, afraid that I wouldn't be able to buy such good-value soap in the future," a lady in the long queue told Xinmin Evening News.
Despite the run on the shop, its owners say that the shutdown is not permanent, but rather a temporary suspension due to relocation.
The shop's general manager, Wang Zhenming, assured customers that the shop would return after an upgrade and would retain its form of lingkao though he gave no schedule for the reopening and customers themselves appeared in the dark about the change.
For them, at least, the shop was closing and they were eager to get their hands on the last of such bulk and economical goods.
Many of the older generation remember the lingkao (零拷) tradition, where almost all kinds of food stuff and household items could be sold in bulk.
It was a service that allowed customers to purchase only how much they needed, rather than forcing them to buy a pre-packaged amount.
Lingkao had many advantages, including lower prices and a reduction in excessive packaging waste.
For many Shanghainese, lingkao was a popular and practical way of shopping in an age of scarcity. Customers would bring their reusable containers to the shop to fill with products such as soy sauce, laundry detergent, shampoo, and vanishing cream.
The Yangshupu Road lingkao shop was particularly popular with locals. The shop sold time-honored brands, which were familiar to many older Shanghainese, such as Fan Brand, Bee & Flower, and Shanghai Yaozao.
The products were sold at affordable prices, and plastic bottles could be reused while shopping, making it a more environmentally friendly way to shop.
The lingkao shop had been operating for more than 30 years, and its manager, Wang Shihai, was sad to see it close, even though temporarily.
He remembered the good old days. "When business was good, we could sell 13 barrels of laundry detergent a day, totally 650 kilograms!" he recalled.
In Wang's opinion, Shanghainese like lingkao, because of its affordability.
"The process of managing money is one of the joys of Shanghainese's life," he said with a smile.
"Laundry detergent here is a third cheaper than other stores," one of the aunties noted.
"Plastic bottles can also be used repeatedly while shopping, it is very environmentally friendly, and buying as much as I need avoids waste," another aunt pointed out.
"Stint on money, or it may run short," she added.
Even before the lingkao shop's relocation plans, the time-honored brands sold there had undergone an upgrade to cater to a younger market. The brands' assortment has increased, and the positioning has become more segmented, with varied new products.
However, despite the upgrade, shop's products are still sold at affordable prices. The classic Bee & Flower's sandalwood soap costs only around five or six yuan (US$0.72-0.86) per bar and is often on sale for just three or four yuan (US$0.43-0.58).
'Make a banquet out of a shoe' is the Shanghai people's way of living. The Shanghainese have the ability to live a frugal life without losing out on quality.
Many young netizens have left messages on WeChat suggesting promoting the frugal and environmentally friendly way of shopping.
Lingkao, the tradition of buying as much as you need, will not be lost, and it will continue to be a microcosm of the culture of Shanghai citizens, reflecting the ability of Shanghainese to live a good life without being materially well-off.
And the hope is that the Yangshupu Road shop will return ... sooner rather than later.