November 27, 2004

The Attic, memoir of a Chinese landlord’s son

I always ask my friend’s parents in China about the life in the 1950s, the 60s and the 70s. I love looking at old photographs from those days.

I am reading The Attic” by Guanlong Cao. He talks about his growing up in China after revolution. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the post 1945 history of China. You read about events unfolding from the point of view of the family. Interesting are author’s description of Shanghai street markets.

The Sikhs had been brought to Shanghai by the British during the colonial times, primarily to serve as gate watchman. After the revolution their quiet personalities carried over into their new, meager business. Off in a corner of the market a tall gloomy Indian crouched beside the hind leg of his horse. A huge white turban rode above a pair of deeply socketed eyes. Patiently he waited for a rare customer to come over for a cup of freshly squeezed mare’s milk. As a ritual some mothers like to feed their newborns a few spoonfuls of horse’s milk. They believed that the galloping speed of the horse would boost the quickness of their babies’ mind.

And the food!

Sticky-rice balls, fried rice cakes, scallion pancakes, steamed bread, meat-filled buns, boiled sesame dumplings, seep-fried pork steaks, skewers of barbeque lamb…Fragrant steam and greasy smoke rose and lingered above the Penglai market from dawn until midnight.

And now we are hungry.

In Shanghai of today, it is hard to find any physial artefact of the Sikhs from those days. But down in Shamian Dao in Guangzhou, I found a building that had a plaque informing us of the small Indian contingent that included some Sikh policemen.

The building where the Indians lived, Guangzhou

The building where the Indians lived, Guangzhou


China Shanghai


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