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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tourist-ing in Shanghai

While surfing the internet recently, I came across the Travel China Guide. As I clicked through their pages, I discovered quite an extensive list of do-it-yourself tour routes for places all over China.

On the Shanghai page, the first five tours have prices & are run by Travel China Guide, but if you scroll down, you'll find 23 more routes with instructions for doing them on your own. I haven't done much tourist-ing around Shanghai lately, so I decided to give one of their routes a go.

I chose tour number SH16, the Xuhui District, which includes Longhua Temple, Xujiahui Catholic Church & Library, & the Xujiahui Shopping Center.

To prepare, I looked up all the addresses on Google Maps, & made sure that I had the names of the roads & the attractions written down in Chinese. This is useful for communicating with taxi drivers as well as asking people on the street for directions.

Today's city tour leads you to Xuhui District which is in the southeast area of Shanghai. This self paced tour starts suggests starting from the Longhua Temple in the morning. Longhua Temple is located at No. 2853 Longhua Road and can be reached by public bus No. 41/ 44/ 73/ 87/ 104/ 734/ 809/ 864/ 933, Hushen Line or subway No. 3. The opening hours are from 07:00 to 16:30 and the admission fee is CNY5.00. Longhua Temple is the oldest and largest temple in Shanghai with a history of about 1700 years.

It took one hour to get from my apartment near Shanghai Circus World to the Longcao subway station on line 3. The temple was a 20-minute walk from the station. That's pretty typical for Shanghai - it's such a big city that it takes a while to get from A to B.

In the bell tower, there is a 3.3 ton bronze bell which is used on the Evening Bell-Striking Ceremony every 31st December to welcome the New Year. Spend CNY10.00 and you can strike the bell three times to dispel all bad luck and wish for good things. Everyday from 08:00 to 11:00 and from 13:00 to 15:00, you can watch the monks praying for souls of the deceased in the Grand Hall (Da Xiong Bao Dian).

The entrance fee at the temple was CNY10 (about US $1.50) instead of 5, but the rest of the description is accurate. I didn't ring the bell in the bell tower, but I was able to catch the monks chanting their prayers.

The vegetarian restaurant in Longhua Temple is very popular. Many people regularly come to pray and have lunch. Remember all meals are vegetarian. 

The restaurant had one thing on their menu: a very yummy bowl of noodles & mushrooms for CNY10. You buy a ticket out front, then take it to the window where the cook scoops a ladel full of delicious into a bright orange bowl.

After lunch, take a taxi to the Shanghai Xujiahui Church at No. 158, Puxi Road. The public bus No. 15/ 72/ 42/ 43/ 126 and subway No. 1 all have stops there. The church was built in the early 20th century. It is the biggest Catholic Church in Shanghai and the birthplace of Shanghai Catholicism. Now there are tens of thousands of conversus in the parish.

It was a ten-minute taxi ride between the temple & the church (CNY18). I'm not sure what a conversus is, but there seemed to be only a handful of them at the church when I arrived.

There are several masses held each morning. If you are not a chiliast, you can only visit inside the church each Saturday and Sunday. The opening hours of the church are from 13:00 to 16:30 and you will be led by the conversus. If there is a special occasion, the church will not be opened so it is better for you to make a call in advance to confirm this. The telephone number is 021-64382595 and there is no admission fee. During the visit patrons are asked not to speak loudly and to refrain from eating.  Visitors are encouraged to wear conservative clothes to minimize exposure of the body.

The church is a beautiful European style building with high arched ceilings & stained glass windows. These particular windows depict the life of Jesus, from the angel's message to Mary up to the crucifixion, with a mixture of Western & Chinese imagery. There were several people inside praying while a few tour groups gathered around their guides in the back.

Keep heading north along the Caoxi Road and you will soon arrive at the Xujiahui Shopping Center. Supermarkets, shopping malls and office buildings make it the biggest underground shopping center in Shanghai. It is said that one can get everything you need here. Your Xuhui District tour ends here so take your time to have a dinner, watch a movie or do some shopping.

I decided to skip the shopping center & instead went grocery shopping at Feidan, an imported food store a couple of subway stops from the church.

Longhua Temple was by far the highlight of this tour. I love temples - the ochre yellow buildings, the smell of incense, the chanting monks, the Buddhas with blue hair - & the vegetarian restaurants.

Xujiahui Church was interesting in that most Chinese people are not religious - it's unusual to see prayer ribbons with Chinese writing & stained glass scenes with Chinese images in a catholic church. Otherwise it’s your basic European style cathedral.

I'd say this experiment was a success. The directions given in the route description were easy to follow & the stops were rather interesting. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I think I'll go ahead & try another route next weekend.

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