Rob Schmitz, China correspondent for Marketplace, has been living in China on and off since 1995. He is the author of Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road, a book about the people living and working on Changle Lu in Shanghai. You can read the fourth chapter here.
Modern Shanghai: a global city in the midst of a renaissance, where dreamers arrive each day to partake in a mad torrent of capital, ideas, and opportunity. Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz is one of them. He immerses himself in his neighborhood, forging deep relationships with ordinary people who see in the city’s sleek skyline a brighter future and a chance to rewrite their destinies. There’s Zhao, whose path from factory floor to shopkeeper is sidetracked by her desperate measures to ensure a better future for her sons. Down the street lives Auntie Fu, a fervent capitalist forever trying to improve herself with religion and get-rich-quick schemes while keeping her skeptical husband at bay. Up a flight of stairs, musician and café owner CK sets up shop to attract young dreamers like himself, but learns he’s searching for something more. As Schmitz becomes more involved in their lives, he makes surprising discoveries which untangle the complexities of modern China: A mysterious box of letters that serve as a portal to a family’s—and country’s—dark past, and an abandoned neighborhood where fates have been violently altered by unchecked power and greed.A tale of 21st century China, Street of Eternal Happiness profiles China’s distinct generations through multifaceted characters who illuminate an enlightening, humorous, and at times heartrending journey along the winding road to the Chinese Dream. Each story adds another layer of humanity and texture to modern China, a tapestry also woven with Schmitz’s insight as a foreign correspondent. The result is an intimate and surprising portrait that dispenses with the tired stereotypes of a country we think we know, immersing us instead in the vivid stories of the people who make up one of the world’s most captivating cities. —Crown Publishers
Many of the characters who Rob writes about are waidiren—people who moved to Shanghai from elsewhere and have tried to make a living by catering to the tastes of well-off residents of the city. One of them, CK, is an accordion salesman turned sandwich restaurant proprietor. Other people featured in the book are Shanghai natives, such as a couple who fights to keep their old house while facing fire-setting thugs hired by developers trying to remake the neighborhood. And then there are Auntie Fu and “Mr Clean,” veterans of the People’s Liberation Army’s Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, or the bingtuan. They’re spending their pensions and trying to make a fortune selling questionable sexual potency medicines.
We also talk about some people who didn’t make the final edit and why they were left out. They include a paranoid kung fu master and a gay clothing merchant whose sister put the kibosh on his participation in the book.