The Wujiaochang – literally „five corner square“ was an intersection of five roads, with a traffic circle in the center. It was the local business center, with a farmers‘ market, small shops – government-run as well as private. This is where we went for everyday shopping: Food, office supplies, etc. Also, Bus line 55 to downtown Shanghai started here.
This is what Wujiachang looked in 1987:
The traffic circle at Wujiaochang in 1987
Now, take a minute to compare this to what Wujiaochang looks like today! (Google Maps Foto link)
An Anecdote„Change money?“ was a phrase that every foreigner living in China during this period of time heard every day. Sometimes whispered by a passer-by, but mostly from the organized illegal money changer gangs in the backstreets of the Peace Hotel in the city center.
The money changers were not seeking foreign currency, but the much-coveted „Foreign Exchange Certificates“, or FECs – a parallel currency to the „People’s Currency“ renminbi, or RMB. The black market course in Shanghai varied between 140 and 160 RMB for 100 FEC, which was quite attractive for us who did most of our shopping in regular shops, rather than the FEC only „Friendship Store“.
This is why a sly money exchange business had set up close to the foreign students‘ dorm, in a side street of Wujiaochang: On the surface it was just one of the many private „Get your Family Photos developed in 24 Hours!“ photo booths. However, this was mainly facade: The money exchange went like this: You prepared by putting the amount of FEC you wanted to change into one of the light-tight film containers, 100 FEC, usually. You approached the booth asked for the current exchange rate they offered, and if it was favorable, you handed them you film container, and received one back, with the agreed-upon amount of RMB.
Maybe the exchange rate was less favorable than offered by the money change gangs in the city, but you could be 100 percent sure that you got the correct amount. A simple mutual trust business! Especially since we often heard of other being cheated when exchanging money in the backstreets of downtown.