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October 9, 2010

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Intoxicating fun in green Chongming

The Chongming Forest Festival is in full swing, and visitors can enjoy a potent white spirit festival, an orange festival, cycling festival and a feast of hairy crabs. Fei Lai distils the busy calendar.

Visitors from all over the world, including World Expo 2010 guests, are pouring into scenic and environmentally friendly Chongming Island (County) that is now connected with Shanghai downtown by the Changjiang Tunnel-Bridge.

The Chongming Forest Festival runs through the end of October, as part of the Shanghai Tourism Festival.

On October 1-2, the number of visitors to the island county hit 60,000, according to Shen Yongping, director of the county tourism bureau. He estimated altogether 300,000 people would visit during the holiday period.

"It is the first National Day holiday since the opening of the tunnel-bridge last year and tourism has reached a peak," Shen said. Facilities have been greatly improved to handle higher demand, including accommodation, dining, parking and rest rooms.

The Chongming Forest Festival, held since 1998, was kicked off with a concert and musical fireworks in late September at Dongping National Forest Park. Performers included famous Chinese singers Tang Can, Dai Yuqiang and Wei Song.

"The forest concert was perfect for the festival, which is themed 'Green Chongming, Ecological Trip'," Shen said. "When musical notes fly above the forest in the serene night, that's when the one-and-a-half-month extravaganza of rural fun begins."

One of the biggest attractions of the forest festival is home-distilled Chongming white spirit (laobaijiu), or Chongming mijiu (rice wine) fermented from glutinous rice. It's sweet-sour and tasty. Though it is said to be low in alcohol, it also packs a pleasing punch,

At Qianwei Village, farmers distill the real thing; the brewing season is from February through April and October through December.

"Almost every village family can brew, so if you'd like to drink the real thing, come to our homes," said farmer Wang Xiangqing, a man in his 50s.

"You can't get it on the market. It is served to guests from afar to show our hospitality, and it's a must on special occasions, such as weddings, birthdays and family reunions," he added.

Many farmers such as Wang have made quite a bit of money hosting tourists with Chongming white spirit, and local specialities made with fresh produce from their gardens.

Eighteen farm families have been certified as "Expo Farmhouses" providing overnight accommodation, farming activities, homemade meals and white spirit.

The White Spirit Festival at Qianwei Village celebrated "white spirit culture" and environmentally friendly living.

"It is really a fresh experience, quite different from drinking at home," farmer Wang said. "In the village, alcohol is provided in a relaxing and cheerful atmosphere."

Vendors in traditional costumes sell wine from carts they push along the street at the village's Yingnong Ancient Garden.

The village is also hosting a competition for the top 10 best female cooks and an exhibition of handwoven cloth through the end of the month.

Chongming's other scenic spots include Dongtan Wetland (migratory birds conservation zone), Yingdong Village and Xisha Wetland.

Besides the White Spirit Festival, Chongming is also celebrating the Hairy Crab Festival at Mingzhu Lake and the First Chongming Sugar Sorghum Festival at Dongping National Forest Park.

Fresh-water hairy crabs are named from the hair on their claws. Chongming crabs are considered among the tastiest in China, along with Shengfang crabs in Baiyangdian Lake (Hebei Province) and the hairy crabs in Yangcheng Lake (Jiangsu Province).

Chongming crab has a distinctive flavor. It has a small body, thin shell, delicate and fragrant flesh. Both males and females are popular in China and abroad. Males contain rich fat.

Crabs are nutritious; every 100 grams contain around 14 grams of protein, 130 milligrams of calcium, 145 milligrams of phosphorous, 6 grams of fat and other minerals. Each crab contains around 145 calories.

At the crab festival, visitors can catch crabs and taste local fish and crustaceans.

Sugar sorghum and syrup are also famous, and there's a festival to celebrate these sweets through October 30.

Other forest festival activities include a competition to design Chongming tourism souvenirs, forest survival games, a photography competition in the wetlands, an orange festival and cycling festival.

Biking around the scenic countryside is increasingly popular.

"The county uses the Chongming Forest Festival to promote Chongming's tourism industry and attract more visitors to the island for leisure," said Shen, director of the county tourism bureau.


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