travel story- sHANGHAI Old Neighborhood streets

sHANGHAI Old Neighborhood streets


On my first Sunday morning in Shanghai, China, I got up early and excitedly went out to explore the interesting streets of Old Town, spread out below our apartment tower. I had already wandered along the nearest streets, locating various tasty food shops, fruit stands, and other useful shops and stalls. This morning I set out on a more extensive exploration, wondering what lay out there awaiting my discovery. 


I headed down the street, peering briefly into open doors and down narrow twisted pathways, marveling at brightly-colored, crowded laundry-on-poles hanging over the streets and observing locals going about their Sunday morning activities. Many of them looked at me in wonder, then burst out into broad smiles and greetings when I initiated a smile and announced “ni hao”- hello.


Soon I turned onto a bustling market street full of vendors selling fruit, household items, socks and stockings, clothes, fabrics and other goods. I quickly came upon an orange stand where a couple of locals and the orange vendor were curiously looking under her stand at a fluffy little kitten scrambling around. 

travel story-Shou Ma

Shou Ma

 I’m a complete sucker for cats, so naturally I stopped to take a look. Within minutes, hardly before I knew what was happening, an old man had scooped up the kitten and pressed it to my chest, motioning me to take it away, imploring me with a friendly grin. There I stood clasping a kitten against my coat with my fuzzy gloved hands. The poor thing was shaking uncontrollably and clinging on for dear life, splayed aross my chest. I wasn’t sure if she was cold, frightened, or sick, but she was shaking like a leaf. 

Now What? I couldn’t exactly take her home because I was staying with friends who had generously let me stay with them upon my arrival in Shanghai nearly a week ago. I couldn’t push their hospitality by taking home a stray animal. Otherwise, that’s exactly what I would love to do. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my phone with me to call Ken about kitty, so I just stood there beside the orange stand, grasping the shivering kitten, wondering what to do.


As I stood there debating and waiting for kitty to warm up or calm down, many locals stopped to take a look and discuss the situation with the orange vendor, while shaking their heads in approval and peering at kitty. ” blah blah blah ‘shou ma’… blah blah ‘shou ma’ ” Ahhh ha, I must be holding a ‘shou ma’!

travel story-tea shop in old town, Shanghai, China

tea shop in old town, Shanghai, China

Traditional Chinese tea shop, Shanghai’s old town

Gradually I began strolling around, browsing at the nearby stands and shops, still debating what to do. It seemed my best option- or at least kitty’s best option- was to walk back to the house with her, get my phone to call Ken, and ask what he’d think about me having a kitten. First, though, I tried setting her back under the orange cart to see how she fared… clearly not so well. She immediately began her uncontrolled shivering, which had calmed somewhat in my hands, and began frantically looking for a safe place to hide. 

Nope, no way I could just leave her there alone, shivering, cold and scared. I scooped her up again and took a good look at her to appraise her health. She actually seemed extremely healthy- good thick fluffy fur, clear eyes, clean butt, even a bit chubby. Sickness clearly wasn’t her reason for ‘shivering in her timbers’. Cold or scared. I shoved her inside my coat for warmth.

Besides her vibrant health, she really was an adorably cute, pretty kitten (of course). She was black, flecked with touches of orange and white, with a crazy orange thunderbolt smack in the middle of her face, white paws, and very thick, super fluffy fur. Beautiful!

Shou ma tucked inside my coat, I proceeded meandering through the market. I was surprised at how outgoing, curious, friendly and helpful the locals behaved towards my new shou ma… One man offered a box to carry her in. One lady motioned me inside her house (!) to show me her two kittens. She pulled them out from under a table by their heads and plonked them on the table. A bit rough, but they didn’t seem to mind. Two adorable, fluffy tiger-striped kitties. The lady’s pudgy son appeared and proudly indicated they were his kittens. I asked if she wanted another one but she declined. We stood there shaking our heads, admiring the kittens, and agreeing that she had two fine kitties, I had one.

travel story-kittens-Shanghai-china


Adorable tiger striped kittens

Back out on the street many more passersby stopped to look at kitty, muttering ‘shou ma’, nodding approval and grinning. One fruit vendor pointed across the road, jumped up and motioned me over to her neighbor’s stall. He began digging around in a big grain sack. I figured he was getting a bag for me to carry her in, but he pulled out a hand full of… cat food! He set it on the counter. I set kitty down and she began devouring the food. Hungry!

Just then two kids on scooters rode by with big eager faces, barked out ‘HELLO!’ and happily- and gently- began petting the kitten. I was amazed that they actually knew how to gently pet a kitten. In most of my 10-year travels around SE Asia, I had found most SE Asians quite rough and rude with dogs and cats. I’d had to rescue many poor animals from rough and violent behavior. These kids were completely different. In fact, all the locals of Shanghai’s old town seemed very respectful of this little kitten. Amazing. The vendor had been really nice to give me some food, so I bought a bag full from him. Uhh ohh, now I had a kitten and cat food. hmmm…


travel story-sHANGHAI-Old Neighborhood streets- china
locals playing table games outside on Shanghai streets

I made my way slowly through the busy streets, letting shou ma warm up. Eventually I got back to the apartment building. I wasn’t even sure if pets were allowed in the building, let alone whether Ken and George loved or hated cats. So I sneaked her inside, up the elevator, and into the apartment. Poor kitty, what would be her fate?

The first news was grim. When I called Ken, I found out George was allergic to cats. Oh, no! Obviously kitty was out of luck. But a few minutes later George unexpectedly emerged from the bedroom, saw me heading out the door with kitty, and announced that he and Ken used to take in stray cats. They liked cats. He suggested I just keep her around for the time being, at least until he developed an allergy or we could find a home for her. Wow!

travel story-sHANGHAI-Old Neighborhood streets- china
cute kitty, sitting pretty

I tucked little shou ma into my bedroom with food, water, and a makeshift litter-pad. Then, thanking George, I set out to meet Ken for some more exploration of Shanghai’s art areas…

Do you love cats as much as I do?

Have you ever adopted any stray cats or dogs?

You might also like:

Life in Shanghai

Curiosities of Shanghai

Cycling Shanghai

10 Free Things to do in Shanghai

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

+ 4 = ten

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>