In an energetic and modern city such as Shanghai, it is so easy to forget that only 30 odd years ago the whole place was essentially nothing but similar to any other current 2nd tier city in rural China. Apart from exploring the beehive tourist attractions in the heart of Shanghai, it worthwhile to go out to the suburbs and see what this fascinating city has to offer for those who yearn to set their eyes upon some of the older parts of Shanghai.
Qibao may be the answer that you are looking for. Situated around 11 kilometers on the outskirts of Shanghai city, Qibao is a diminutive historical town that boasts some of the finest street foods around in the country. The water town, covering an area of around 21.3 square kilometers, is also one of the two beautiful and perfectly preserved water towns in Shanghai (the other one being Nanxiang). The town was built in the era of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126) and grew into a flourishing commerce district during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). These days Qibao is not a wealthy area of Shanghai, and has very little to offer in terms of growth. The majority of the residents depend on tourism, food and, various industrial goods.
For a carnival of food head down to the celebrated Town Street with it’s electric atmosphere. If you are into exotic Chinese food then give the all popular chou doufu (stinky tofu) a try. The English name of this snack says it all. If this is something that you desire to tuck your taste buds into, then may god bless your heart because after all these years I still cannot get used to the distinguishable foul smell that drifts for at least half a mile away. I despair it (I really do). The worst part of it all is that it gets into your nose and stays there for a very long time. If this is not your appetite then you may like to try ‘pig’s intestine soup’, ‘smoked toads (Xunlanhamo), sugar coated haws on sticks (Tanghulu), or ’cricket meat’ (again, not for my handling). The other local specialty is hong shao rou, "Red Braised Pork" using a combination of ginger, garlic, aromatic spices, chilli peppers, sugar, light and dark soy and sometimes rice wine.
Talking of crickets’, the town’s main attraction used to be (and still is to some extent among the elderly) the cricket insect fighting. It’s fairly interesting to witness crickets fighting each other. Some people may consider it a cruel sport, while others compare it to just like humans boxing each other (!).Due to its favorable geographic demographics, and the perfectly fertilized lands, the town residents provide the crickets with ideal living conditions. This enables the crickets to be prepared to provide exciting performances each day during the golden week holidays (May and October).
Just behind the swamped lanes of Qibao, you are most likely to come across small neighborhoods where people live with the most basic of everyday amenities and in cramped conditions. While this may seem like to be the unfortunate side of Qibao, but in fact the people who live here do so in complete harmony and with happiness. It gives an idea of what life must have been like in most parts of Shanghai before all the sheer economic boom happened in Pudong and Puxi districts.
So if you are living are living in your comfortable Ritz Carlton suite in the ivory towers of Pudong, try taking a tour of this part of town and then that will sure make you feel how lucky you are. Despite the dizzying pace at which the Chinese economy is growing at, there is still an enormous gap between the filthy rich and the unimaginable poor, and Shanghai is a city that clearly display this phenomena. If anything, then it’s definitely an eye opener.
Qibao is located within a comfortable 5-minute walk from Shanghai’s Qibao metro station (Line 9). There are clear directions on how to get to the ancient town. If you get lost then ask anyone for ‘Qibao Lao Jie’ (pronounced ‘Chee Bao Lao Jie’).
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