“It’s like China town…but it’s in China,” Ling my Shanghai guide said in a bit of a disappointed tone. I wondered if she had heard that from a former guest, as I doubt she had ever been to a China town in another country. But I laughed and agreed whole-heartedly with her. I surveyed the shops with masses of selfie sticks, cheap wooden beads, and the latest fad on the streets – plastic flower hair clips that I couldn’t even begin to understand; all cheap, low quality things for tourists to buy. China town in China – it’s strange to think about something that has become so cliché that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
After trying to fight off jetlag with buffet breakfast and lots of coffee, Ling met me at my Shanghai accommodation located in Pudong. We spent the morning walking around Shanghai’s Old Town (Yuan Bazaar ) a section of the city that had been reconstructed and preserved after the Japanese destroyed it. It’s home to beautiful sloped roofs, and red shutter buildings with little shops packed full of… well…China Town stuff. Every shop had the same things, and it left me wondering how they ever differentiated themselves. Or did they even care about differentiating themselves?
I don’t shop much when I travel, but I do like to people watch and there was plenty of that to do in Old Town. Chinese tourists, foreign tourists, kids, dogs; a petri dish of people watching!
Kung Fu Comics
Amidst all of this same-same plastic stuff, I found an old guy sitting at his stall. His ‘shop’ was rather questionable and unkempt. There was a dog, a funny odor (that I learned to just ignore), and a guitar in the corner. Surprisingly he didn’t pay much attention to me as I started to look through his goods. It’s weird as most of the vendors were normally quite aggressive about paying attention to you. I looked at all of his typical items placed on his tables. Then I found something different – something I hadn’t seen among the sea of selfie sticks; there were little paper books individually wrapped in cellophane envelopes. I started looking through these ancient looking comic books all written in Chinese script but beautifully illustrated. However they weren’t as ancient as they looked, most had dates of the early 1980’s in them. I was a bit disappointed; however, I then thought about what China might have been like in the early 1980’s and realized it was probably a very, very different country then. China was dug into communism and still rather shut off from the rest of the world. It was exotic to us in the 80’s; a country and culture we knew little about.
I paged through the books’ various illustrations of Kung Fu masters, western spies, and Chinese heroes fighting the Japanese. Even though I didn’t understand a word of the story, I could sort of make it out. Upon seeing my interest the man picked up his guitar and started playing familiar American songs, I unknowingly tapped my feet and started humming along; a great sales technique I thought to myself. I decided upon a Kung Fu thriller and started to try to haggle price with him. However I didn’t get far as he told me it was one of a kind and it was fixed price. I was extremely skeptical, but I hadn’t seen any other vendors selling them, so that meant there was probably 25% truth to his statement. I was happy to simply find something different among the sea of ‘same, same’ in this part of Shanghai. I had absolutely no use for a mini Chinese comic book. However, I invested the whole $5 USD in it just because I was happy to tap my feet and hum along to the music as I looked through the books and escaped the consumerism of the China Town in China.
Read the rest of my articles on my travels in China
See all of my photos from Shanghai including Shanghai’s Old Town and GardensShanghai Photography
I worked in collaboration with Marriott International on this article, however all opinions expressed here are my own.