At first, I thought it was only the city of Shanghai that installed these interesting patterned tiles all along the streets. After traveling to other Chinese cities like Wuxi, Wuzhen, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Beijing, I discovered that they are actually found all across China.
From what I can tell, the tiles appear to serve as a system to help the visually impaired navigate independently. The stones usually have one of two patterns etched on them. Most of the tiles are shaped as pictured above. They have raised ovals that are easy to feel below your feet. Whenever a sidewalk is about to end, like when you approach a road or crosswalk, the tile shape changes to a whole bunch of small raised circles.
More often than not, I found myself trying to avoid them (but failing…). I personally found them uncomfortable to walk on. If you step between them, it kind of feels like your ankle is giving out as it twists with the shape of the tile. I wore sneakers most of my trip so I really can’t imagine how people with high heels do it…
On a different note, my grandfather was a blind man and I couldn’t help but wonder how different his life could have been if every sidewalk and building in America had these tiles installed in them.