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Monday, October 14, 2013


Happy Columbus Day! I'm not going to comment on the political controversy that surrounds this Federal holiday, other than to say I had the day off today, thus making for a three-day weekend, and I'm not complaining. Unfortunately, we weren't able to go away for the weekend as my daughter's Go 围棋 classes, which are usually held on Friday and Saturday afternoons, were moved to this past Saturday and Sunday due to the recent week-long Chinese national holiday centered around their National Day celebrations. And Amber still had to attend her international school today, though I suspect many of the American students will haven taken this day off to spend with their families. And to top it all off, my wife, who is still not clued in to American public holidays, had scheduled both a doctor's appointment and a physical therapy session for today (she pulled a muscle in her back while I was on vacation in Japan and Taiwan late last month). So of the three of us in this family, I was the only one who was free this Monday.

And so I decided to visit one of the Shàng​hǎi 上海 area's old canal towns (and the only one that I'm aware of that is within city limits), Qībǎo 七宝. And if I had thought going on a normal Monday morning, a week after tens, if not hundreds of millions, of Chinese had crowded the nation's premier sightseeing spots, meant Qibao's Old Town area would've been relatively uncrowded, I couldn't have been any more mistaken (unless, of course, Qibao is so insanely packed on weekends that today was a relatively uncrowded day!). 

The canals were scenic (as long as you didn't peer too long at what was floating in the water), but the main reason for visiting Qibao (for local tourists, anyway) was to eat and shop. The authenticity of the buildings is hard to determine, but it didn't seem to matter anyway, as everything has been turned into food stands, knickknack shops or clothing stores. What saves Qibao from being a waste of time is the museums...if you can find them, that is (it helps to know some Chinese characters). 

The first museum I visited was Zhou's Miniature Museum. Zhou is (was?) an artist who was noted for his miniature carvings, such as the small shelves containing small ceramic and/or pottery items, many of which were no bigger than one of my fingernails. 

Most impressive were the pieces of stone that Zhou had inscribed with unbelievably tiny Chinese characters 汉字, some with up to 5000 painstakingly carved into them. 

Another canal scene, with a pagoda off in the distance 

The next museum I visited was the Qibao Shadowgraph Museum. Shadow puppetry is considered an ancient art throughout much of Asia, and the museum offers performances on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons. 

The Cotton Textile Mill was the only museum that had visitors other than myself while I was there (a man and two women). The displays highlighted the different ways textiles were traditionally made in China.
The Cotton Textile Mill also had a re-creation of what a newlywed bride's bedroom would've looked like on her first night in her husband's family's home...

...while the courtyard provided a respite from the hustle and bustle going on outside on the narrow pedestrian-only street. 

My favorite museum was the last one I went into, the Old Trades House. Inside were dioramas of various traditional artisans and craftsmen at work, such as blacksmiths and carpenters. Admission into each of the museums I visited today was only 5 RMB (80¢), except for the miniature carving gallery, which charged 10 RMB.

This Catholic church, completed in 1867 and renovated three times since, was a pleasant surprise. In complete contrast to St. Ignatius Cathedral, there were no admission tickets, ridiculous dress codes or extremely rude guards. Instead, it was a pleasant church with a bright, airy interior and open to visitors (though I was the only one there). In short, it was how a church should be, i.e. accessible like a Taoist temple in Taiwan. There are many reasons to dislike the Catholic Church, but I'm willing to forgive the Shanghai Diocese as long as St. Ignatius turns out to be the exception rather than the rule.

It was lunchtime by the time I'd walked out of the church and back to the Qibao Old Street, but the sheer number of noisy, pushy tourists didn't get my appetite worked up much (even though much of the food on offer did look and smell appetizing), so I waded through the throngs to the opposite end of Qibao and back to the relative peace and quiet of the surrounding neighborhood (I eventually had lunch at a curry restaurant inside a nearby shopping mall). I can only imagine what the weekends must be like! Call it what you like - 人山人海, 很热闹 etc. - I wouldn't want to find out.
For some reason, I can't upload my own YouTube videos to my personal blog. Nor can I insert a video from my desktop. So if you would like to get a flavor of what is was like to try and make your way through the crowd in Qibao, follow this link: Sightseeing in Shanghai on a weekday: Qibai

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