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The Firework Seller, Nanchang Lu


If you want to buy some firecrackers for New Year’s Eve, look no further than your local fruit shop. You’re very likely to find that a makeshift stall selling fireworks has sprung up beside the bananas and baskets of tangerines, just like this one on Nanchang Lu.
Now if you only have 5 yuan, that will get you about 50 short sparklers. Enough to keep 2 children occupied for say, 5 minutes. And requiring about 150 matches.
If you have 20 yuan you can buy 10 Super Sparklers, they shoot flames from the tip. They’re about 80cm long, alarming easy to light and much more entertaining, although slightly more hazardous.
Should you have 100 yuan, you can have a big fat box of really noisy, totally unregulated, full-on fireworks. Enough to keep one husband and about six other helpful blokes very happy.

5 Reasons I may be Chinese

1. I like chewing bones. Really gnawing them, then spitting them out on my plate. But I’m not really Chinese because I don’t spit them directly on the tablecloth.

2. I wear slippers. In the house. But sometimes I forget to take them off when I go outside. Now that I think of it, that’s actually very Chinese.

3. I take a thermos of oolong tea to the park. But I’m not really Chinese because I can’t see the attraction of drinking tea out of a plastic tupperware container or an old coffee jar with a screwtop lid.

4. I have started to use chopsticks for eating almost everything, and for spaghetti, I prefer them to a fork.

5. I can still act truly shocked and exclaim ‘tai guai le!’ ‘too expensive!’ when told that the item I’ve always wanted is less expensive than I could dream possible.

Tiger Tiger

There are tigers all over town this week, what with Chinese New Year approaching. The traditional tiger is a cute little fellow, with a stylized face that looks more a muppet than a man-eating carnivore. I was intrigued by this massive version at Yu Yuan. What is it made of? What is it for? But as I came closer I realised it was a delicious blend of traditionalism and capitalism. Pepsi anyone??

I Love Lanterns


Chinese New Year is fast aproaching (Feb 14, Year of the Tiger), and with it comes the annual Lantern Festival, Yuanxiao, on the date of the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, (Feb 28). Yu Gardens is the lantern epicentre of Shanghai, and they’re springing up left, right and centre in all shapes and sizes. Now I love a lantern, as everyone knows, so I was thrilled to bring home three flat packed ones from the Commodities market yesterday. Easy peasy thought I, just whip them out of the cellophane envelope and pull the little string and voila! lanterns x 3 would appear fully formed and ready to hang in my window.

Oh but I am in China now and every day brings a small but useful challenge. So out of the bag came 68 pieces of red and gold cardboard, lots of tassels, a hundred small wire rings and no instructions. Not even in Chinese. So as I am swearing and cursing I am imagining whole Chinese families constructing these lanterns with the same ease and grace with which my family constructs our plastic Christmas tree every December. And in my imagination they are also swearing and cursing, just like us.


Back in Shanghai and shopping already…..


Near the Yu Gardens on Fuyou Lu is the kind of market it should be illegal for me to go anywhere near. What a place! Commonly known as the ‘Commodities market’ it sells every bit of cheap plastic tat your heart could desire. From the outside it’s a fairly non-descript peach concrete building, with a few lantern stalls near the entrances. But the thousands of motorbikes, scooters and bicycles parked outside, and the teeming hordes of people coming and going suggest that this is not your average peach concrete building (certainly plenty of those in Shanghai). It’s five floors of noisy, cramped, packed, busy, bustling shops selling plastic bags, rubber bands, mittens, lanterns, fireworks, party poppers, wigs, underwear, wedding trinkets, and children’s costumes.
Need a USB hub shaped like a cow? It moos every time you connect it! And how can you resist when it’s only 20 yuan??
Year of the Tiger undies? Here they are!

A word of warning though – bring your sharpest Shanghai elbows, leave your personal space at the front door, and if you smell smoke………bolt like hell. The combination of all that plastic and fireworks with five thousand smoking shoppers could be quite explosive.