As Chinese New Year Approaches, Shanghai's Bustling Streets Grow Quieter : Parallels The Year of the Rooster begins Saturday, and hundreds of millions have departed to celebrate with family. "All the outsiders have left for home," says 85-year-old grandmother Yuan Suizhen.
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As Chinese New Year Approaches, Shanghai's Bustling Streets Grow Quieter

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As Chinese New Year Approaches, Shanghai's Bustling Streets Grow Quieter

As Chinese New Year Approaches, Shanghai's Bustling Streets Grow Quieter

As Chinese New Year Approaches, Shanghai's Bustling Streets Grow Quieter

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/511782614/511942895" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Rising Peace Lane cuts through the heart of downtown Shanghai. Typically this street is filled with activity, but during Lunar New Year, residents return to their hometowns to visit family. Rob Schmitz/NPR hide caption

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Rob Schmitz/NPR

Rising Peace Lane cuts through the heart of downtown Shanghai. Typically this street is filled with activity, but during Lunar New Year, residents return to their hometowns to visit family.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

At any other time of the year, Shengping Lane bustles with life. But the Lunar New Year holiday is near, half the city has left for their hometowns and Shanghai has returned to the Shanghainese.

Yuan Shuizhen, 85, prepares fish and chicken feet for the Lunar New Year holiday in her garden-level kitchen. Rob Schmitz/NPR hide caption

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Rob Schmitz/NPR

Yuan Shuizhen, 85, prepares fish and chicken feet for the Lunar New Year holiday in her garden-level kitchen.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

The only vendor left in the alley sells calendars, but soon he'll pack up, too. It's the time of year when Shengping Lane lives up to its name: 升平 or "Rising Peace."

It'll soon be the Year of the Rooster, and Yuan Shuizhen is preparing chicken feet in her tiny kitchen for the big meal. The 85-year-old wipes her hands, retreats outside and plops down on a chair along the side of the alley to chat with friends.

"All the outsiders have left for home," says Yuan, leaning over to peer down the narrow lane. This is the time of year when hundreds of millions of Chinese workers return to their hometowns. Nearly half of Shanghai's 26 million people weren't born in Shanghai, and many of them have already left. "It's much quieter this time of year — less crazy," Yuan says.

The last remaining street vendor in Rising Peace Lane before new year celebrations begin sells new year's decorations and calendars. Rob Schmitz/NPR hide caption

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Rob Schmitz/NPR

The last remaining street vendor in Rising Peace Lane before new year celebrations begin sells new year's decorations and calendars.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

Her two friends nod. The three grannies go through a list of food they'll make for their families: Beef, fish, dumplings, hotpot. After a meal with family, they'll go to the Buddhist temple to pray and burn incense.

"When I was young, we'd go to the cemetery to worship our ancestors," says Yuan. "Then we'd cook one pot of rice, serve it in small bowls, and we'd eat it for the next five days. Now we cook meals every single day. Life has improved."

Ni Jindi, 94, sits at the entrance to Rising Peace Lane in central Shanghai. This is one of her favorite times of year, as millions of people leave the city to return to their hometowns, and Shanghai returns to its natives, like her. Rob Schmitz/NPR hide caption

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Rob Schmitz/NPR

Ni Jindi, 94, sits at the entrance to Rising Peace Lane in central Shanghai. This is one of her favorite times of year, as millions of people leave the city to return to their hometowns, and Shanghai returns to its natives, like her.

Rob Schmitz/NPR

Yuan's friend Ni Jindi agrees, but the 94-year-old still grumbles about her grandchildren. They're all working professionals, and they rarely have time to visit their grandmother here in the lane. This is the only time of year she gets to spend time with them and her great-grandchildren.

"They're leaving on the third day of the holiday to go travel somewhere," says Ni with a wave of her hand. "I don't know exactly where they're going. I'm too old. I'll stay here."

She'll have company. Her two friends are great-grandmothers, too, whose families will also fly somewhere exotic after the first of the year: Japan, Thailand, the United States. With their relatives gone and the holiday setting in, Rising Peace Lane will grow even quieter, with just the chatter of three grannies sharing memories.

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