I read that Guangzhou has a pedestrianized shopping street and I was excited to check it out. Pedestrianizing shopping street has been a topic of debate in many Indian cities, but most haven’t managed to materialize. Talks of pedestrianizing Bangalore’s Commercial Street has been around for long.
I have found two pedestrian streets in Guangzhou till now: Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street and Beijing Lu Pedestrian Shopping Area. Lu in Chinese is road.
Walking in the middle of the road, you can fully focus on staring at the things offered at the shops. The air keeps switching from hot to cold based on whether the shops have air conditioning and if their doors are open.
Music, announcements, sales persons using hand shaped clappers to make noise (Yes! That’s a thing), sales persons performing coordinated dances with clapping, it’s quite an experience: intimidating, lively, heart-pumping. This is Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street, Beijing Lu has more of cafes and eateries and malls.
There are people everywhere, a lot of people. But I would always prefer the possibility of bumping into a person than a car. Plus, people don’t usually keep honking at you like cars.
There is a large square almost in the middle of the shopping street, which gives you a place to get some air, away from the noise, and sit and rest.
Alleys along the main street offer several eating options, with tables and stools put up. Many alleys had shops or street vendors. A walk along the alley takes you to the residential streets with entrance archways (Paifangs), incense offering, people playing board games or cards, open air body-weight gymnasiums and hopefully back to the main street if you keep track of the directions.
I found a few fresh cut fruit places, where one can pick and choose. A great way to taste all the fruits in the city. They had pink dragon fruit, various melons, two kind of plums.
Lian Xiang Lou is an old bakery and restaurant along the street which has been there for over 125 years, famous for their sweet lotus seed paste mooncake and pastries. Despite all my newly learnt Chinese skills, I was unable to ask for the mooncakes (our phones were dead, so couldn’t use technology). I am hoping to go back and try some soon.
While we were walking back towards the metro station, we saw the crowd gathering around a gold store. Turns out one of their marketing/promotional routine is to have people dress up as the emperor and empress (with royal guards marching and saluting, the whole drill) and showing off the gold.
Beijing Lu had relatively less commotion and had high-end shopping outlets. We ended up on Beijing Lu while trying to find the wholesale markets near Haizu Square. Later, when I was looking it up, I found that archaeologists have found layers of ancient roads in the area, dating back to over 2000 years. There is a section of the ancient road, remains from Ming and Qing dynasties, dug out, glassed and displayed in the middle of one of the sections of the street. The area was a commercial district even in the ancient times. It is difficult to imagine how the area might have looked then amidst all the giant screens and lights everywhere.
Another surprise was the Big Buddha Temple we came across along the street. Originally built in the 900s, the structure burned down in 1600s and was partially rebuilt. Recently, it has been renovated and extended to its old glory. The inner courtyard of the temple offers a surprisingly quiet place, away from the shopping area. The tree within the courtyard is said to have been there for over 350 years.
It’s beautiful to see these pedestrian streets thriving and being a place where people can enjoy a walk or shopping in all freedom. I really hope more and more places get the courage and support to do this in their shopping streets.
The closest metro station to Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street is Huangsha, Exit B.
The closest metro station to Beijing Lu Pedestrian Shopping Area is Beijing Lu.
Because I am busy staring at things and being fascinated by them (and I am extremely forgetful about charging my phone and power bank), I am using a lot of images off the internet. Photos no longer have as much value. What I can capture, many others already have!