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Shanghai:night at the market
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Live shows take place every night in Yuyuan Mart this month in a bid to attract crowds and bring back the centuries-old tradition of night markets. 

Golden lights transform restaurants into ancient pagodas once the sun goes down over Old City God Temple Market to help peel back the centuries on this bustling street outside the city's famous Yuyuan Garden.

People come to the area, officially known as Yuyuan Mart, to engage in artful wheeling and dealing with the area's timeless peddlers. Others sit entranced by the colorful stage performances as they enjoy the local favorites and handicrafts on offer.

Officials are working to ensure this market reaches the largest possible audience with a festival running all this month in the heart of Yuyuan Mart this month to warm up for the 70 million expo tourists who will arrive next year.

As such, stores are now closing later at 10 pm and offering nocturnal discounts of around 12 percent.

"Through this festival we hope to invoke a sense of nostalgia among Shanghai locals about the good old days," said Zhang Yan, a manager of Yuyuan Mart who organized the festival.

"We hope this will spur a sense of renewed enthusiasm for night markets and will translate into something the city can share with expo tourists when they arrive."

Various performers are already laying siege to the Center Square from 7:30 pm to 10 pm, offering everything from magic shows to ethnic dances, foreign bands and even a public Karaoke competition.

Other draws include ice-cold beer, spicy crawfish and barbequed meat on a stick, not to mention the 500 kinds of Chinese dim sum available.

Similar markets on Yunnan Road and Wujiang Road have also been directed to keep their lights on after dark to help revive the tradition.

"We are keeping tabs on how all these markets do during their extended hours," said Zhang Xinsheng, a spokesman for Shanghai Trade Commission. "If they do well and can guarantee quality service in a clean and safe environment, they will be encouraged to open late during the expo."

During this month's festival, Yuyuan Mart is also holding cultural workshops led by local folk artists to spread traditional arts such as paper-cutting and facemask-painting. Meanwhile Gold Square is showcasing a collection of embroidered items, bamboo-root products and dough figurines.

After giving birth to Shanghai's night market scene seven centuries ago, Yuyuan garden market has built a strong reputation for its local delicacies like xiaolong bao (soup dumpling). This authentic sense of old Shanghai is a proven tourist magnet, and visitor numbers have doubled since the festival got off the ground, said organizer Zhang Yan.

"We have been much busier," she said. "But we are used to this because we always open late during the Lantern Festival (on the 15th day of the first lunar month) and that has given us the experience we need."

Some residents loathe the idea of returning to Shanghai's late-night markets, howevere, as they recall the dirt and squalor that resulted in many of them being shut down.

Middle-aged Shanghai native Zhang Lianying even moved out of a community in Pudong two years ago because of the noise and pollution.

"Mountains of rubbish would pile up on the sidewalk and the roads were always blocked by cars," she said. "Even at midnight the noise of the restaurants and car horns was so bad I couldn't sleep."

Wang Qiang, who works at a fast-food chain in the Yuyuan area, said poor public transport would be one of organizers' biggest headaches in attracting night crowds.

"We have few visitors after 9 pm," he said. "There is no subway line nearby and visitors have to walk at least 10 minutes to get to the nearest bus stops, leaving them to fight for taxis when it gets late."

Yet there is something liberating about wandering around a market with friends at a time when people should be tucked up in bed, claims regular patron Xu Feng.

"Everyone can totally relax. You can eat as much as you want, talk as loud as you want and feel completely free outside," said the 30-year-old.

(China Daily August 11, 2009)

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