Attendance falling at your local place of worship? Loyal herd looking elsewhere for spiritual direction? Have a carnival! That’ll win ’em back. If only the Pope had thought of it … like the Shanghai Xuhui District Tourist Bureau did. It’s annual Longhua Temple Festival runs until May 7th, meaning you have one weekend left to catch all the fun.
The press release promised a food street filled with snacks from around China (Taiwan, Dongbei, Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, etc.), plus live entertainment: lion dances, an award winning man-horse show (locals from Gochun village dressing up as horses and dancing — nothing more, calm down hombre) and parades featuring Chinese deities and folklore figures.
When we went on May 2nd, loads upon loads of other people were checking out the fest. A giant mob waded through the food street, desperately trying to eat some of the goods on offer; chou dofu (stinky tofu), shaved ice fruit, any kind of meat-on-a-stick you could hope for (squid, pigeon, beef, etc.), multi-coloured taffy, and more. There was a great deal of bumping, prodding, shouting. Plus smoke from the grills got in our eyes and discoloured water submerged our shoes. Did we mention the yelling?
Thankfully we were able to escape into the temple’s large courtyard, where we quickly tucked into our hard-won eats. At the southern most tip of this court was a large stage with various performances: a spandex clad youth juggling bowling pins, young ladies balancing plates on sticks, and even a duo keeping a bowl intact while they used each other to perform handstands and other grandiose acts — the kind of entertainment you’ve come to expect from Chinese prime time specials or late night talk shows. There were, however, no lion dances nor man-horse shows to be found. Parents were pleased to find a Dino World, replete with motorized horses and a water-bike pool, in their stead. Those without kids could shop for a multitude of cheap goods, like cell phone trinkets, combs and toy cars.
The festival isn’t all about shopping for cheap goods. The temple itself is actually very impressive. It’s huge, with several interconnected buildings, so you couldn’t hear any of the squawking of the outside. And while the mustard yellow buildings look old and in need of a fresh coat of paint, the large golden idols of Buddha are some of the most impressive we’ve ever seen (and we have trekked throughout Taiwan and India, where temples abound).
So, if the rain stays away this weekend, get out there and give the Longhua Temple Festival a try. It’s a good example of modern day China run amok: too many people, mixed with a bit of culture, overrun with everyone trying to make a quick buck.
Longhua Temple Festival, 9am to 9pm at Longhua Temple, 2853 Longhua Road (A bit out of town, the best way is to take Line 1 to Cao Bao Rd then hire a cab to take you to Longhua Miao). Entry is free.