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Qibao

Started: 2016-02-19 16:04:00

Submitted: 2016-02-20 12:37:56

Visibility: World-readable

15 January 2016: In which the intrepid narrator acquires a local guide to explore the historic village of Qibao

I awoke on the morning of my second full day in Shanghai better-rested and ready to see the city. Before emerging from my room for breakfast, I put together a plan for the things I wanted to see, covering a broad swath of the city starting in the French Concession and working my way outwards, covering mostly obscure historic sites with museums dedicated to people who lived there at some point in the first half of the twentieth century.

My hotel only let me connect one of my devices to their WiFi network at a time, so while I was connected on my computer I couldn't connect my phone. This proved to be a minor problem, because when I went down to breakfast and connected my phone, I saw WeChat trying to get my attention.

Before I left Colorado, I told my Chinese coworker Hong that I was going to visit China, and she'd hunted down some of her friends from high school who still lived in China, who all used WeChat to talk to each other. One of these was a guy who went by the English name Mike who lived in Shanghai. He suggested that I meet him at the historic village of Qibao, which had once been its own village and had since been absorbed into the greater Shanghai area and now had its own stop on the Shanghai metro.

I finished breakfast and headed out towards Qibao, which involved walking the better part of a kilometer to the nearest metro stop, then taking the metro through Shanghai, with two transfers along the way. When I got to the metro stop I had trouble meeting up with Mike; we were in touch on WeChat (I turned on data roaming on my phone so I could message him) but we didn't seem to be meeting up in front of the same exit from the metro stop. Eventually I found him, and we headed into Qibao.

Jaeger and Mike in Qibao
Jaeger and Mike in Qibao

Qibao was a warren of narrow alleyways packed with shops and people. (It was, it turned out, covered in my guidebooks, though it was further from central Shanghai than I would have ventured on my own.) The shops mostly sold tourist trinkets of various descriptions, but some sold street food, most of which I didn't recognize. Mike found some things he thought I'd like at various shops as we walked: fried tofu with a spicy sauce (the same thing I'd eaten the day before, just with a different sauce), some sweet candies that superficially resembled breadsticks with sesame seeds, and boiled dumplings filled with a date paste. All of the snacks were weird and fascinating and good in their own special way.

Narrow alley in Qibao
Narrow alley in Qibao

We wandered through Qibao, then found our way to the Buddhist temple across the canals that bisected this section of Shanghai. We climbed the seven-story pagoda and saw, on each level, different idols to various deities or Bodhisattvas (I wasn't sure which, since I only really know enough about Buddhist iconography to be dangerous). On the walls surrounding the large idols were hundreds of identical tiny idols, each miniature versions of the main idol. Some held offerings; Mike put a 1 fen coin (worth one-tenth of a yuan) in one of the tiny idols' hands and gave me one to do the same.

Little Buddhas accepting offerings at Nanqibao Temple
Little Buddhas accepting offerings at Nanqibao Temple
Buddha at Nanqibao Temple
Buddha at Nanqibao Temple
Pagoda at Nanqibao Temple
Pagoda at Nanqibao Temple

We left Qibao and walked to the nearby Minhang Sports Park, where a guy was flying an electric-powered remote-control plane modeled after a Chinese fighter jet. I was impressed by the plane's thrust-to-weight ratio: the model, with its large propellor and over-powered engine, could fly straight up for as long as the pilot wanted. He attracted a crowd watching the plane's acrobatic feats, and we stopped to watch as well.

Mike hailed a taxi and we rode to the Shanghai Botanical Gardens. It was the middle of winter, so the plants were mostly dormant (Mike said the gardens were especially vibrant in the spring, when the flowers would bloom). I enjoyed wandering through the bamboo garden, which showcased a number of different varieties of bamboo in towering forests bisected by wandering paths.

Bamboo garden at the Shanghai Botanical Gardens
Bamboo garden at the Shanghai Botanical Gardens

We visited the indoor conservatory, which featured tropical plants (and an extra admission charge on top of the botanical gardens themselves). I took the elevator to the fifth-floor observation deck inside the top of the conservatory, which gave me a top-down view of the tropical trees laid out inside. I wandered around the inside of the conservatory, looking at the plants, including several neatly-ordered planter boxes filled with orchids, and enjoyed the tropical heat and humidity (even as the humidity fogged my camera lens and threatened my ability to take pictures inside).

Inside the conservatory at the Shanghai Botanical Garden
Inside the conservatory at the Shanghai Botanical Garden
Orchids growing in the conservatory at the Shanghai Botanical Garden
Orchids growing in the conservatory at the Shanghai Botanical Garden

Inside the entry to the conservatory I spotted several monkey dolls arranged on the trees, which Mike said were in honor of the upcoming Year of the Monkey. Both of us were born in the Year of the Monkey, though we were born twelve years apart.

Decoration for the Year of the Monkey in the conservatory at the Shanghai Botanical Garden
Decoration for the Year of the Monkey in the conservatory at the Shanghai Botanical Garden

We wandered around the garden some more, and eventually left the garden through another entrance to the north. Mike wanted me to experience hot pot, so he found a little hole-in-the-wall hot pot restaurant on the street, which had about three tables and a giant refrigerator filled with various things that could go in hot pot, all individually portioned in rubber bands. He handed me a bowl and a pair of tongs and suggested things I might want to put in my soup: various kinds of tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, things I didn't recognize that were probably glutinous rice balls of some sort, and quail eggs. I handed my bowl to the woman running the shop and she took the bowl to the front, where she had a propane burner with a big pot of broth. She added my ingredients to the broth, and did the same with Mike's ingredients when he selected what he wanted, and I ended up with a personally-cooked soup. It was very good, though I ended up with more soup than I could eat.

Fridge with food at hot pot restaurant
Fridge with food at hot pot restaurant
Hot pot
Hot pot

After supper, I followed Mike to the nearest metro stop and took the metro to People's Square. We walked down East Nanjing Road, enjoying the shops lit up after dark, then onto the Bund, where we could see both the historic buildings on our side of the river and the skyscrapers in Pudong on the other side of the river lit up at night (though Mike complained that some of them were dark, apparently because the government-run power utility told buildings they couldn't all light themselves up at once).

Pudong lit up at night
Pudong lit up at night

The Bund was packed with people, mostly hanging out and enjoying the view, some promenading up and down the waterfront, under the watchful eye of police vans parked on the curb with red and blue lights blinking to remind people of their presence. I got the impression that they were there not so much to provide for the physical safety of the crowds, but to enforce the idea that they were able to respond to any sudden outbreak of speech that might challenge the Communist Party.

The Bund lit up at night
The Bund lit up at night

I bid Mike farewell, thanked him for taking me around Shanghai for the day, and headed back to my hotel for the night.

Garden Bridge and Broadway Mansions lit up at night
Garden Bridge and Broadway Mansions lit up at night

For more photos from my day in Shanghai, see Photos on 2016-01-15.

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