My Shanghai Story: marketplace Shanghai

28 05 2014

I would probably be the last person to admit this, but hitting the places to shop at was one of several things that I did thoroughly enjoy about my recent visit to Shanghai.

Shanghai's does offer a wealth of opportunities for retail therapy.

Shanghai’s does offer a wealth of opportunities for retail therapy …

Shanghai does have some wonderful places to satisfy that urge to spend that Yuan in. And like me, if parting with the wad of currency notes isn’t as therapeutic as it might be for one of my blogger friends who was on the trip who did seek to fill that excess volume she did ensure she had in her choice of luggage; there are several destinations in the busy city’s retail scene that are worth a look at just for the opportunity they present to discover the Shanghai that lies behind the glossy veneer that the now ultramodern metropolis seems to want to wear.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

… that goes beyond the glossy veneer of the modern metropolis that it does seem to want to wear (photograph is of the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road).

The bold excitement that the bright lights of Nanjing Road offers is a good place as any to start with for the would be shopper. While the experience provided by many of the shops along the famous street is perhaps replicated in many other Chinese cities, a stroll down Nanjing Road does provide the feel of what the Chinese idiom 人山人海 (literally mountains of people, sea of people) seems to well describe.

The more modern experience of Nanjing Road.

The modern experience of Nanjing Road and the sea of people.

There is also that huge and rather interesting food hall on Nanjing Road to wander into, the Shanghai First Foodmall (photographs). With its four floors of nothing but food ranging from snacks, traditional dried foods, and some quite exotic looking foodstuff, it certainly is worth a peek into.

Dried pieces of pork include rather bizarre looking pig heads at the Shanghai First Foodmall.

Dried pieces of pork include rather bizarre looking pig heads at the Shanghai First Foodmall.

The bazaars, such as the one by Yu Garden (photographs), are for me also worth wandering through, not so much for the shopping experience, but more for the life provided by the crowds of out-of-town folk who descend on it, as it is for the colour and sometimes bizarre sights that they do tend to provide.

Decorative items at a street bazaar.

Decorative items at a street bazaar.

Two places that did thoroughly fascinate me, within a stone’s throw of each other and in the heart of the city not far from Yu Garden, were the Dongtai Road Antiques Market and the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market. It is in the rough-and-tumble of places such as these that I often find myself in on the road, seeking to discover a feel for a place beyond its main tourist sights, although admittedly, the two, especially the antiques market, does seem to wear a somewhat touristy face.

An antique reflected off an antique mirror in the sea of antiques at Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

An antique reflected off an antique mirror in the sea of antiques at Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Dongtai Road Antiques Market (photographs), which sadly would not be around the next time I visit Shanghai – it will, I am told, be a victim of urbanisation and will make way for the next phase of the Xintiandi (新天地) development in July this year, is probably where you might find more junk and souvenirs rather than antiques. A walk by the market’s two streets centered on the crossroads of Dongtai and Liuhekou Road and lined with makeshift stalls with shops in the back, takes one past piles of old and mostly unserviceable goods such as tattered pieces of luggage, cameras, music instruments, sporting goods, implements in all shapes and sizes, dolls with western features, Mao and Soviet era memorabilia, along with replicas of terracotta warriors, tee-shirts, and other souvenir items.

Time is ticking on Dongtai Road Antiques Market - it will soon be a victim of urbanisation.

Time is ticking on Dongtai Road Antiques Market – it will soon be a victim of urbanisation.

It is across Xizhang South Road, which runs perpendicular to Liuhekou Road, that one is greeted not so much by the melody of birds, but by a cacophony of crickets. The huge fighting crickets, kept in baskets of woven rattan or plastic mesh, and also in clear containers of plastic, is one of several fascinating offerings of the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market (photographs).

Baskets containing fighting crickets at the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market.

Baskets containing fighting crickets at the Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market.

The market, possibly one of the last such markets in the city, also offers a range of other items as its mouthful of a name does suggest and strolling through its narrow passageways that takes one well  away from the Shanghai that never seems to slow down.

Birds on sale.

Birds on sale.

My Shanghai Adventure was made possible by Spring Airlines, China’s first Low Cost Carrier. Flights from Singapore to Shanghai were launched on 25 April 2014 . More information can be found on Spring Airline’s website. Do also look out for Spring’s special deals which are regularly posted on their website and also on their Facebook Page.

Previous My Shanghai Story posts:


Dongtai Road Antiques Market













Flower, Bird, Fish and Insect Market






Nanjing Road and the Shanghai First Foodmall






Bazaars near Yu Yuan






An early morning stroll around the streets of Kathmandu

12 07 2011

I love taking a stroll around the streets of any city that I find myself in, particularly in a city in which the streets are alive as is the case in much of Asia. Mornings are especially interesting when streets, in a matter of minutes, come to life not just with the coming and going of people going about their daily routines, but also often with street markets that add not just the array of sounds and colours, but a sense of life as it is lived on the streets. Kathmandu, where I found myself with some friend in April is one place in which the an early morning stroll offers the visitor not just an opportunity to see the streets come alive, but also to see Kathmandu as it would be, unadulterated and clear of the hoards of tourists that throng the streets later in the day and without the distractions of what is on offer at the shops that lay behind the closed shutters of the early morning.

Children getting ready to go to school.

The early morning street scene.

Nepali pastries that seem to be a popular choice for breakfast.

The scene outside the pastry shop.

Opened padlocks lined up against the window sill as a shopkeeper opens for the day.

Rickshaws riders waiting for customers.

Workers waiting for their transport to arrive.

Judokas on an early morning jog through the streets.

A delivery man on his rounds.

A milkman carries a milkcan on his shoulders.

A vegetable vendor sets up shop in an alley.

The butcher's shop.

Customers watch as a butcher carves goat meat.

A lady holding a child buying food from a mobile vendor.

Salt being sold at a sundry shop.

Sunlight streams into an abandoned shop.

A vegetable vendor transporting his goods on a bicycle.

A tailor gets down to work in a hole in the wall.

A butcher's shop.

A mobile vendor balancing his wares on his head.

Vegetables on sale on the sidewalk.

Snacks on sale.

The breakfast crowd at a bread shop.

A fishmonger.

The scene in a schoolyard.

A reluctant customer at a barbershop.

To market, to market

25 05 2010

There are these things that you may not expect young boys to enjoy like going to the dentist, or perhaps having a haircut, or accompanying Mum to the market. I for one detested the visit to the dentist and the barber. For some strange reason though, I did, for a while at least, enjoy following my mother on her regular visits to the Lorong 4 market, which was located across the road from where we lived in Toa Payoh.

Street markets such as this one seen in Penang were a common sight in Singapore once upon a time.

Colourful street marketshad all but disappeared by the time I started accompanying my mother to the market.

Cha-kiak display at the museum.

By the time I got to do that, street markets had started to vanish from Singapore, and living in a spanking new HDB estate, we had the relative luxury of going to a covered market where market vendors were allocated a cubicle like space, complete with electricity and running water, from which they could sell their goods. Still though, going to the market could really be a rather unpleasant and sometimes traumatic experience for a four year old boy, having to tread over the wet slippery and rather messy looking floor tiles, at the risk of not just slipping and falling, but also of having ones toes being stomped on by a cha-kiak clad foot, as well as being forced to inhale the seemingly foul mix of smells that came from the live chickens and ducks, and displays of fish and fresh pork, that permeated the air. (Cha-kiaks are red painted wooden clogs that were popular as a choice of footwear for the common folk in the 1960s).

The now upgraded market at Lorong 4, Toa Payoh was a source of adventure for me some forty years ago.

Perhaps what first motivated me to follow my mother out when we had first moved to Toa Payoh, was the opportunity to put my gleaming new blue rubber wellingtons which I had acquired at a shop near the Lorong 7 market on the walk of discovery around the estate that we did upon moving in. That I insisted would have been the only way that I could keep the splatter of smelly water that would have come from trudging through the wet slippery floor. The market at Lorong 4, Toa Payoh, I was to discover, was a whole new world to explore, the sights and sounds of which are still very much etched in my memory. There would be fishmongers chopping, scaling and gutting, chickens being slaughtered by having their necks slit and drained of blood before being put in some cylindrical metal contraption that de-feathered the chickens, and fishballs being made by hand on the spot.

Live poultry in cages were once a common scene at the wet markets in Singapore.

The fishball vendors would sell a variety of foodstuff with displays of cubes of tofu soaking in water, and soft ones displayed on a platter, salted vegetables being soaked in an earthen pot of brine, and there would also be fishballs soaking in a basin of water which would be scooped up, water and all to be packed into a plastic bag. Fishballs were made in a trough on the floor outside the stalls, and I usually enjoy watching fish being scraped into the trough by a person sitting on a wooden stool, before being mixed with flour. Another thing that I was usually fascinated with was the spice vendor who could be seen mixing his colourful rempah (dry powder or wet paste of mixed spices) from which was always accompanied by the whiff of the wonderful aroma that came from the spices. What I never enjoyed being close to, was a quadrangle at centre of the market which was under a skylight which I suppose also served as an air well. The quadrangle was divided into four stall lots, with each occupied by chicken sellers and bounded by chicken cages filled with live chickens and ducks, which could be picked out, weighed and slaughtered. There was always the overpowering smell of chicken waste that filled the air (despite the ventilation offered by the air well) that I never liked taking in.

Chickens were slaughtered in the quadrangle of space at the centre of the market building below the skylight, now occupied by dining tables and chairs.

The skylight over the centre of the market building today.

The highlight of the trip to the market was always at the end of it, once my mother had finished her shopping. She would always sit me down for my favourite bowl of piping hot fishball kwayteow mee (noodles) for breakfast, which went for 50 cents a bowl then. That was a time when you could get a small portion of fried carrot cake for 20 cents, which was served on a leave. It would be 30 cents if you wanted egg fried with it or you could have a choice of saving on the price of the egg by bringing one of your own. Back then the market was laid out in such a way that the cooked food stalls were placed along the periphery facing the outside, such that tables and chairs could be arranged in the open spaces around the market building, so having breakfast there was always alfresco.

The periphery of the market building was were the stalls selling cooked food were, with tables and chairs laid out in the open spaces around the market.

One thing I noticed outside the market was the daily get together of elderly men who wore their shirts unbuttoned, exposing the white undershirts or singlets that they would wear underneath, as they sat sipping their coffee from the saucer. It was common back then to drink out of the saucer, as it allowed the hot beverage to cool more rapidly. On the warmer and muggier mornings, many of these elderly men would sit in their undershirts which would be rolled up exposing their bellies. Something else that was commonly seen was the numerous Nepali vendors who displayed their wares on a piece of cloth that was laid on the floor outside the market. You could see a variety of goods being laid out, including leather belts, belt buckles, trinkets, amulets, gemstones, cigarette lighters and a myriad of other small items.

The open spaces around the market used to be filled with tables and chairs and was where elderly men gathered sipping coffee from saucers, sometimes with their undershirts rolled up over their bellies.

The area where you might have once be greeted by diners having breakfast sitting and Nepali men laying sheets on which wares they were selling were displayed.

I did stop accompanying my mother eventually, perhaps when I was about five, not because I got bored with the market, but because she found me to be quite a handful as I would stop to look at whatever caught my attention. There was one occasion, when watching a fishball seller scraping fish, which his daughter who was about my age, somehow didn’t take kindly to. She gave me a hard push and I landed backside first, into a basin of brine and salted vegetables. So it was, that my adventures at the market ended, as abruptly as it had started, and all I could do then was to wait patiently in the relative safety of my home for the tiffin carrier of fishball kwayteow mee, with its lid overturned so as to hold the cut chilli that was usually served with it, that my mother would take back with her from the market.

The market aisle where I had my baptism of brine, where there used to be a row of fishball sellers on one side and vegetable vendors on the other.