Until today, Nanjing Road has been my least favorite district in the city. It's a broad pedestrian shopping avenue teeming with hustlers and touts: "Hi lady! You want bag? You want watch?" There is never a moment's peace on Nanjing Road.
This morning I decide to brave the mayhem in search of a new coffee shop for my daily flat white, and I am pleasantly surprised to find the entire neighborhood basking in the easy mood of a Sunday morning respite. People are strolling, as opposed to barreling. The shopfronts are shuttered and the keening elastic strains of traditional Chinese string music wobble and soar through the warming air as groups practice dancing with swords and fans.
Sunday, it seems, is the day to come out for a haircut. Street barbers line up their scuffed and weatherworn straight-backed wooden chairs on the pavement, combing and snipping their patrons as far down the road as the eye can see.
The ladies are out walking their poodles. Every third Shanghainese lady has a toy poodle, and if she's really cool then her poodle wears shoes or has pink punk rock ear puffs and a matching purple tail.
A beautiful old couple in matching sun hats has set up a net in the middle of the avenue, where they're enjoying a spirited round of mini tennis. They wave and they douse me with the irresistible contagion of their gorgeous toothless grins.
By 10AM, the shops have reopened and the frenzy of consumers has replaced the fluid movements of the dancers once again. But now I know that even Nanjing Road has a soft side. Doesn't every place, in the end?