Outside the Confucius Temple, you can walk an interesting loop leading you into an old neighbourhood. At the temple gates turn left as you step out onto Wen Miao Lu, then left again into LiuJiang Jie. You will pass by a book market at the back of the temple, and some little street food vendors. Things get more lively as you go further along the street. At the end of LiuJiang Jie, turn left again onto Menghua Jie. Enter another world. This is old Shanghai. Unadorned, exposed and raw. Not dangerous, but very gritty – there has been no facelift here in time for World Expo, and it is quite confronting to realise that less than a kilometre from the opulent shops and restaurants of the Bund, there is a Shanghai without running water or indoor toilets.
Tiny lanes wind in and out. There are no cars because the street is too narrow, but the occasional motorbike gets through, and plenty of bicycles. There is a vegetable market, a fish-monger, a sweet maker, a cigarette seller and all manner of other tiny businesses on the street. In the space of a hundred yards you can buy a fresh fish for your dinner, have it killed, gutted and scaled, choose the vegetables to go with it, then take it all to your kitchen lane to clean and cook it. A lot of outdoor cooking is happening at all hours of the day – no-one here has an indoor kitchen. Life is lived in public view, because indoor space is very limited and very dark.
Children are running everywhere along with dozens of cats and dogs and everyone stops everyone else to chat, argue and bargain loudly. Not wanting to be left out, women yell down to the street from upstairs windows to join the conversation. Everything seems to happen at full volume.
By now you have reached the end of Menghua Jie, and a left turn will bring you back to where you started on Wen Miao Lu, and the temple. By now you maybe in need of some more quietness.
This week I visited the Shanghai Confucius Temple (Shanghai Wen Miao 上海文庙) for the first time. It’s in the Old City, but for me was always a little too far to walk from Yu Gardens what with all the roadworks and detours, and it’s taken me a long time to get there.
It’s worth the trip – you might not be that fussed about temples, seen one, seen ’em all, as I’ve heard many people say. But every temple has something a little different from the others, and all of them offer at least one of three priceless Shanghai commodities – peace, stillness, and silence.
Buy your ticket through the little window in the stone outer wall on Wen Miao Lu, then walk through the heavy red wooden doors with the lion’s head handles to the inner courtyard. Here the incense greets you, and the trees close to the temple entrance are hung with red-ribboned wishes for prosperity, longevity and happiness.
The main courtyard leads to a series of smaller courtyards housing what was once a Confucian school.
There is a lovely goldfish-filled pond too, and an old library. Savour the stillness, add it to your reserves. You will need them when you walk back outside into the mayhem.