A tea­house whe

Shanghai Daily - - COVER STORY - Pinghua

Ihave vis­ited a num­ber of an­cient wa­ter towns, of­ten to leave feel­ing dis­ap­pointed. The cafés with mod­ern in­te­ri­ors, the stores sell­ing cheap ver­sions of cheongsam dresses, the sil­ver trin­kets and some­times tacky sou­venirs, and even the stench of stinky tofu stalls.

The tra­di­tional, easy­go­ing life­style that lo­cal res­i­dents there fol­lowed for thou­sands of years — the soul of the an­cient towns — seems to have got­ten swal­lowed up by crass com­mer­cial­ism and a loss of charm.

Just like other an­cient towns, Qibao Old Street in Min­hang Dis­trict has be­come a pop­u­lar tourist at­trac­tion. It’s only about a 40-minute drive from down­town Shang­hai.

As I strolled through a shabby back al­ley and over a stone bridge there, I found a hid­den gem — the Qibao Tea­house.

It’s lo­cated in an area of shops sell­ing lo­cal culi­nary spe­cial­ties like pig’s trot­ters and boiled lamb. But it’s more than just a site for hav­ing a cup of tea. The tea­house fea­tures a plac­ard out­side an­nounc­ing en­ter­tain­ment on tap for the day. Per­haps a per­for­mance of tra­di­tional sto­ry­telling, which orig­i­nated in the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960-1279).

When I stepped into the tea­house, the cus­tomers — all el­derly men — looked me up and down. I sup­pose that they sel­dom see younger women there.

Even the mos­qui­toes gave me a “warm wel­come,” re­sult­ing in six in­sect bites in half an hour.

“The el­derly pa­trons are mainly in their 70s and 80s,” said a fe­male cashier sur­named Wei. “The old­est is in his 90s. Your young skin is much more invit­ing tha mos­qui­toes of cou por­tu­nity to bite y

I paid 20 yuan (US per­for­mance. That sive than ad­ver­tise

“The price went ex­plained.

How had that af asked.

“It goes with­out “That you think th sive, let alone the o

Nev­er­the­less, the crowded. Of its si near­est to the an­tiq was the most pop peo­ple seated th among them­selves eye on passers-by o

No doubt be­caus some of the old men in a lo­cal di­alect. T seemed to cen­ter a tion­ships, pol­i­tics, and food bought in

“I leave home at and walk 30 minut ev­ery day,” said an “It’s my daily routin away around 20 ye here to pass time.

The Qibao Tea­house com­bines tra­di­tions of drink­ing tea, so­cial­iz­ing and watch­ing sto­ry­telling per­for­mances.

A sto­ry­teller gives

A lao­huzao, or liter tra­di­tion­ally used t re­mains in the teah

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