Shanghai city dwellers develop new bonds by bartering goods during lockdown

Editor’s note:

At present, Shanghai’s battle for epidemic prevention and control is at a critical stage. As an international business and cultural hub, the sudden lockdown break has caught the world’s attention.

Meanwhile, people in Shanghai showed their unique attitude to this sudden challenge in their lives. The city offers examples of resilience and determination to carry on at every turn.

The Global Times features different stories unfolding during the current anti-epidemic battle in Shanghai, to showcase the city’s humanity, optimism and diversity. This is the third part.

In a megacity where young workers rarely interact with their neighbours, Shanghai residents have been talking to neighbors more during the lockdown, in part because of the need to barter goods.

Barter – a trading system popular since ancient times in which people exchange one item for another – is now revived in Shanghai’s neighborhoods in both low-end and upscale communities. The metropolis of 26 million has been hit by intermittent shortages during the lockdown, which began on March 28 but has since been extended.

Thus, barter between them and ad hoc collectives ordering directly from wholesalers have become innovative and essential solutions to relieve pressure while the demand for food and basic necessities remains enormous.

Onions, ginger, and garlic are among the most sought-after commodities in unofficial trade between locals, while some more diverse necessities are also pursued, such as coffee and red wine.

Barter creates a new bond between people who rarely have the opportunity to communicate. The warmth and love of neighbors reveal a different kind of charm in a city that’s been dubbed a “financial hub,” prompting young people to care more about community causes.

Soft drinks that can bring comfort to boring quarantine days have become a valuable commodity. Many have joked that Coca-Cola has become hard currency at the top of the food chain and can be traded for anything.

A group of photos that have gone viral online show how a man leaves free cans of Coca-Cola at the door of the block for his neighbors, then his neighbors exchange Coca-Cola for various daily supplies.

Stories of the fun while bartering have been shared widely online, such as swapping three eggs for a piano lesson or swapping three bags of cat food for a pair of limited-edition football boots.

The warmth can be seen not only in the barter, but also in the selfless dedication of community volunteers. Volunteers have become well-respected and highly trusted delivering supplies, daily testing and caring for vulnerable people in the fight against coronavirus.


A community volunteer supports the delivery of goods for residents at the community gate. Photo: CI

Welcome foreigners

The mutual care and support shown by residents has benefited tens of thousands of newcomers to Shanghai. Claudia Ruan, who moved to Shanghai with her husband last September, shared with the Global Times her story of the help and love from her neighbors during their quarantine at home.

The Ruan residential community in Pudong New Area, built in the mid-1900s, is home to nearly 900 residents, most of whom are from Shanghai. When locals started trading goods at the start of the city’s lockdown, Ruan was too shy to participate. “I don’t know them, nor do I speak the Shanghai dialect,” Ruan said.

But Ruan, who loves pickles, finally found the courage to ask his community’s WeChat group if any neighbors wanted to trade pickles for cucumbers. She soon received responses from three neighbors. “I enthusiastically came down with cucumbers and met the three neighbors,” Ruan recalls. To his surprise, they sent him their pickles directly as a gift, with one of them even giving him yogurt as well.

Ruan said heartwarming things like this happen in the community almost every day. She said that last week her downstairs neighbor gave her four bags of soy products like tofu, and refused the apples and vegetables offered in return. “I used to think that Shanghainese were indifferent and selfish, and they didn’t like migrants,” she told the Global Times. “But now I’m ashamed to believe these stereotypes. They are so nice and kind.

Posts from people infected with COVID-19 complaining of being alienated or isolated by neighbors are sometimes seen on social media, but fortunately such cases are rarely seen in Shanghai communities, local residents told the Global. Times.

The Ruan community reported three new infections last week. One of the patients, who is currently being treated at a local makeshift hospital in Fangcang, apologized to WeChat Group for causing trouble and risk. “It’s not your fault. No stress. No one likes to get sick,” a neighbor quickly replied. “Take care, you’ll be fine,” wrote another.

Faced with the unexpected challenge of the epidemic, it is impressive how people in Shanghai have joined hands to overcome the problems with mutual help and encouragement, Ruan said. She mentioned one of her neighbors by the name of Chen, whose mother was infected with COVID-19 a few days ago and was the first case reported by the community during this series of outbreaks. After Chen was taken to a nearby hotel for quarantine as a close contact, she voluntarily purchased 50 packets of frozen seafood online for needy residents of the community, especially the elderly living alone.

Chen explained that she bought the products to express her thanks to her lovely neighbors, who, instead of blaming Chen’s mother for “bringing the virus”, gave them love and comfort. “I am so grateful to have you all in this difficult time,” she wrote on WeChat.

The warmth of neighbors was also felt by expats living in Shanghai.

Andy Boreham, a seasoned video journalist working in Shanghai, is the only expat in his neighborhood. But proficiently reading Putonghua and Chinese made him less apprehensive amid the lockdown. He joined some wholesale buying WeChat groups and bartered goods with neighbors at his compound, which has around 500 residents.

“I feel embarrassed to say this, but in about five years of living in this precinct, I haven’t had much to do with my neighbours. Over the past few weeks, I’ve made new friends through all the WeChat groups we’ve set up, and everyone’s really coming together to make sure we’re all okay. So many people have added my WeChat and asked me if I need anything, which is really heartwarming. I think this situation has definitely brought us together, which we all know isn’t that common in downtown apartments,” Andy told the Global Times.

He also gave food to neighbors. He sent a big bag of fresh vegetables – which are much appreciated amid lockdown – when he realized his block had 12 young lads living in a flat. He was “a little worried about whether they had enough supplies or needed anything.”


Goods piled up on the ground for locals who barter for their daily essentials.  Photo: CI

Goods piled up on the ground for locals who barter for their daily essentials. Photo: CI

Most Appreciated Volunteer Efforts

Since March 3, the number of registered volunteers in Shanghai has exceeded 360,000, with a total of 12.995 million service hours, or 36.07 hours per person, according to data released by the China Volunteer Service Federation on March 25. april. quietly contributing to the community.

Yolanda Guo, 29, who lives in Pudong district, has been volunteering in the community for more than 20 days, three days a week and up to five hours a day if assigned to assist with acid testing nucleic. “That would mean spending nearly five hours wrapped in a hazmat suit in the humid summer heat without eating or drinking,” Guo told the Global Times.

“At the start of the lockdown, many volunteers applied for our community. However, the neighborhood committee required volunteers between the ages of 25 and 40, two of whom would be assigned to each building, mainly responsible for monitoring nucleic acids, transporting equipment, maintaining order and cleaning up garbage. which greatly supplemented the lack of manpower of the inhabitants. ‘ Committee. Many volunteers from nearby towns have come to help and settle in our community, which makes us very grateful,” Guo said.

Guo is very concerned about the needs of the elderly and she donated 100 bottles of water to help vulnerable people.

Some communities in Shanghai have set up special teams of volunteers to care for the elderly, guarantee them medicine and prepare meals for the elderly who live alone.

Sometimes community volunteers work as hairdressers or organizers of wholesale buying groups, which requires a variety of skills.

Some say such close-knit neighborhood ties are reminiscent of Shanghai’s historic alleyway life in the 1970s and 1980s, a user said on Sina Weibo. “At that time, the neighbors helped each other and frequently borrowed things. These days, we have been living together for more than 10 years but we did not know each other; the epidemic brought us closer unexpectedly.”

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