Cheng Huang Miao (城隍庙): land of crowds and cheap goods

Tomorrow I start my first internship, so my aunt and uncle thought it would be a good idea to trek to Cheng Huang Miao while I am not busy with work yet. It’s an outdoor market in Shanghai with probably a hundred shops and stalls, selling everything from panda backpacks to jade and gold jewelry to calligraphed egg to Chinese opera dolls. Cheng Huang Miao refers mainly to the “city god temple” part of the now larger area captured under the name. See a brief history lesson here, as I’d be lying if the previous sentence was from my own knowledge. Thanks to my grandmother spoiling me with buying anything I wanted here many years ago, it has forever been cemented in my memory as a place to, well, …buy fun stuff.

My definition of fun stuff (Barbie dolls, cooking play sets, the like) has changed, but I picked up something that now fits my desire for things that last and are unique to me. So unique, that they have my name engraved on them. I got a beautiful, green glass stick-seal, which the artisan carved my name onto one end on the spot for me. It’s in very traditional script, so when I first saw the seal’s print I didn’t understand why the first character of my name, “wang” (王) or “king”, had extra legs. The third character of my name, “xin” (欣) or “happy”, is in the bottom left corner. I can’t see much resemblance to the modern writing at all.

The result of my own name stamp!

The result of my seal!

Thankfully today was a mercifully cool day, as the “huang mei” (黄梅) days haven’t started yet. The term refers to the heavily rainy days that last from mid-June through most of August. By then it’ll be humid in addition to hot, so in other words, not fun. Had the weather not been breezy and cool, dealing with the crowds you see in the pictures below would have been unbearable, at least for me.

People, people, everywhere.

People, people, everywhere.

More people in cramped walkways.

More people in cramped walkways.

So crowded you can barely breathe in the indoor stalls.

So crowded you can barely breathe in the indoor stalls.

You’re quite honestly shoulder to shoulder with people, waddling your way like a penguin towards your destination.

One of our “missions” in going to Cheng Huang Miao was to eat “xiao long bao” (小笼包), which are dumplings filled with meat and savory soup. They are a food famous to Shanghai, and we were lucky enough to get a table at a world-famous xiao long bao restaurant after waiting just a few minutes. We ordered dumplings with pork and crab fillings; my favorite were the pork filling ones. There’s a certain level of technique required to pick up the dumplings from the wooden steamer without the them rupturing and leaking out all the soup. My mother advocated the “wiggle and shake” approach: use your chopsticks to lift up the dumpling from the paper bottom just a hair, then wiggle and shake it from side to side until more of it lifts off. After this delicate process, lift it onto your plate, dip it in some vinegar, and don’t burn your tongue biting into the dumpling.

Difficult but delicious little devils, I tell you.

Difficult but delicious little devils, I tell you.

While we were made our way through the sea of people to get to the dumpling restaurant, I was busy snapping photos of interesting items for sale. I didn’t end up buying much, but I figured I could give myself some visual souvenirs. I had to ninja most of these shots so that the shopkeepers wouldn’t get a chance to notice me and shoo me away. I was told by one “no pictures,” but I had already ninja’ed the shot. Heh. My first list will feature animal-related items, as I realized later that my photos could be categorized this way.

  1. I ❤ Shanghai panda bag:

    Yes, I do.

    Yes, I do.

  2. “Panda express” stall:

    Pandas galore.

    Pandas galore.

  3. Panda House shop:

    Panda house, for when express is not enough.

    Panda House, for when express is not enough.

  4. This polar bear…:

    Umm...

    Umm…I don’t know.

  5. Furry animal figurines, super cute but an argument can be made for their creepiness:

    Kitties! And puppies, and I think a sheep?

    Kitties! And puppies, and I think a sheep?

  6. Last but certainly not least, Totoro wind chimes!

    Not sure what animal this is, but it's Totoro!

    Not sure what animal this is, but it’s Totoro!

Cheng Huang Miao is, as I said, the land of crowds and cheap goods. You can haggle with the shopkeepers, so buying souvenirs in bulk can be even cheaper than you think. [We negotiated for my seal to be 15 yuan cheaper. It came out to be about $8!] I am going to go back sometime to find gifts for friends, but today we were a bit rushed so I didn’t have enough time to look at the stalls thoroughly. Here is list number two, featuring a few distinctively Chinese items aside from pandas.

  1. Chinese dolls dressed in traditional costumes. I want one for my dorm room, but alas packing would be a risky challenge. Beautiful, but their lack of expression kind of creeps me out:

    I'd love to wear any of those costumes, in my size of course.

    I’d love to wear any of those costumes, in my size of course.

  2. Fake food keychains! These are made with enough detail to make you do a double take! You can see a few bowls of ramen, green-bean soup (a cooling treat often served in the summer), and a fish head. I know, that last one doesn’t seem appetizing at all.
    Fake, but they look pretty real!

    Fake, but they look pretty real!

    Bento boxes and dim sum too!

    Bento boxes and dim sum too!

  3.  Tons of “lucky” streamers in bright colors:

    So many to choose from!

    So many to choose from!

  4. Romantic Communist figurine cuties for a wedding present, anyone? (Wedding present because the boy is wearing a big red sash and bow on his back, a traditional Chinese marriage custom.)
    Matri-mao-nial bliss.

    Matri-Mao-nial bliss.

     

I love visiting Cheng Huang Miao for all the knick-knacks and general noisy fun when I am in Shanghai, but it’s also a wonderful place to see traditional Chinese architecture from days long gone. I’m a huge fan of “gu dai” (古代) or (translated very roughly) “antique” Chinese dramas, and most of the ones I’ve seen were set during the Qing dynasties or a bit earlier than that period. The round pavilion in the left of the first photo below was apparently built during the Qing dynasty, according to my uncle.

Antique buildings.

Antique buildings, flanked by tourists and cityfolk.

The historic Yuyuan garden isn't so far beyond the white wall.

The historic Yuyuan garden isn’t far beyond the white wall.

I’d like to imagine that I’m in a drama myself, dressed in traditional regalia, but the hum of tourists and city-dwellers milling around dampens my imagination considerably. [Suddenly, I just thought of “Princess of China” by Coldplay. Can someone explain that song to me…?]

But Shanghai would not be the city it is known as today without its mix of east and west. There’s high-rise housing everywhere, as well as the tall office buildings home to many foreign companies that dot the skyline. This has also meant the destruction of many “shikumen” (石库门) houses however. The picture below shows an amazing contrast between Shanghai in 1990 and in 2010. [Not my picture.]

Shanghai, 1990 (top) vs. 2010 (bottom). Note the “I ❤ SH” LED. 🙂 

Another example, a Starbucks cafe underneath the said beloved architecture. [My picture.] I have to admit that I was a bit sad to see it there when I visited two summers ago, but it’s an inevitable sign of modernization.

星巴克 aka Starbucks.

星巴克 aka Starbucks.

This was a media-heavy post, but describing what I saw just with words would not be enough. I hope the string of pictures was organized better this time and made for an easier read. 🙂 All the best to anyone out there battling high temperatures! I’ll be joining you soon…

 

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. vvchai
    Jun 02, 2013 @ 18:32:04

    omg the panda shop LOL- vivi

    Reply

  2. savannah
    Jun 03, 2013 @ 17:08:12

    so in this shopping paradise….. what did you get me??? jk. Good luck tomorrow at your first day! remember what i said, you don’t have to be better than everyone, just better than one person not related to the employer in any way outside of a work environment i.e. his sisters nephew or some sort. ( father’s, brother’s, nephew’s, cousin’s former roommate )

    Your going to do great!

    Reply

    • jenniferwang624
      Jun 04, 2013 @ 15:09:58

      Haha, thank you :)) Funny thing is, I don’t need to be better than any other intern. I am the only intern. *gulp*

      Reply

      • savannah
        Jun 05, 2013 @ 17:46:12

        then they don’t have a base to compare you to?! thats excellent! see there is always a upside!! I can’t wait to hear what you are doing! designing?crunching numbers? making copies? fax machines? pencil skirts???? heels??? you should take picture of your ” I am a super savvy worker” outfits.

        my beloved Chester ripped and I am taking him to shoe hospital in hopes they can revive him. is it bad i am having separation anxiety over a messenger bag? he has been my best friend and true companion for so many years, nothing is right without him. I wuv him.

        If i were a poet I would compose a ode to chester…

        now i am tearing up again………

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