Sunday, March 30, 2008

Qibaozhen Old Street

Hongqiao is a district towards the outskirts of Shanghai, and one that isn't terribly convenient to get to. That also serves as a pretty accurate description of Qibaozhen, except Qibaozhen is even farther than that! Going to Qibaozhen district feels like visiting the suburbs, even though on a map it isn't all that far away. It's a testament to how convoluted it can be getting around in Shanghai. It might get a little better soon, with a subway line coming in sometime this year.

There's two reasons to go to Qibaozhen, and one is that you live there. The other is Qibaozhen Old Street. I had heard about it as a "Water Town" within Shanghai. "Water Towns" are a Shanghai-area tourist attraction, nearby to Shanghai there's a lot of small cities, or districts of cities, which are built around small streams,and even when I lived in the somewhat down-scale Caobao Lu Subway Area, I'd cross a few small bridges on my way home. Some of these districts have kept the old buildings and become tourist attractions - Zhujiajiao is a prime example. Qibaozhen seemed like an extension of the same, only I could grab a taxi there instead of having to bother with a train or tourist bus. But I'll admit I didn't think much of Qibaozhen's tourist center.

The district is named after an old temple. The grounds of the temple are very large, and I did see a large number of monks chanting, which is kind of interesting. It has a very long history, but the grounds all looked cheaply and recently constructed, and really the most interesting part was this silly statue, with a bunch of baby Buddhas playing on a larger Maitreya Bodhisattva.

The surrounding neighborhood is a bunch of corny tourist shops, just about the same stuff it's possible to see surrounding the otherwise excellent Yuyuan Garden, or a touristy Chinatown in the US for that matter. They're crowded and they go on and on, for a surprisingly long time. They were interspersed with snack shops with some unusual specialties that looked decent, unfortunately I had eaten my fill before I go there so I didn't try them. Kind of strangely, a very large number of nearby buildings had been torn down. I can only assume that the old buildings were being torn down to make way for tourist-oriented shops. Since it advertises itself as an "Old Street" and the entire point is to check out an old-time district, it makes no sense. That's just how Communist Planning Committees roll!

As I walked past the shops I assumed there would be a big payoff, and I'd eventually come to some really interesting site. It's like waiting in a long line at Disney, just on the assumption that there has to be something good at the end of the line. Well this is it:

OK that probably looks impressive, and it would probably be fun to have a cup of tea alongside the water. But really there's only a couple blocks of this, and after all the shops it felt kind of anti-climactic. Maybe once the subway come in, right around the corner, it'll be worth it for commuters popping by to go out and have a look. As it is, it's not worth the hassle.

And for those keeping score, this blog (and the rest of blogspot) is once again being censored within China.