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April 23, 2010

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Shanghai Ghost Tour

FORGET the famous ghost tours of Manhattan, Paris and London - Shanghai has its very own ghosts and legends, involving ancient and modern spirits, and British expat Daniel Newman conducts a nighttime walking tour of their haunts.

The Shanghai Ghost Tour, in both English and Chinese, takes expats and locals on a two- to three-hour walk starting at Jing'an Temple and ending at Jing'an Park, or in a Buddhist restaurant.

The tours, which began this month, focus on the Jing'an Temple area. They include Paramount Theater, Yan'an Elevated Road with its famous nine-dragon-pattern supporting pillar - among around 10 sites. There's a lot of wandering around in haunted lanes.

Newman tells visitors:

"Explore Shanghai's haunted backstreets ... Ask a tree ghost for winning lottery numbers ... Don't walk too close to the edge as we search for China's terrifying water ghosts ... discover your fate with ancient Chinese fortune sticks."

The tours starting at 7pm are not only informative but also highly interactive, involving fortune sticks, floating lanterns andwater calligraphy.

Newman, a Shaolin kung fu practitioner and Chinese studies graduate, was inspired to organize a ghost tour through his studies in Chinese mythology. He also conducts a tour of the Bund.

In writing a book about Shaolin kung fu three years ago, Newman researched the legends surrounding the creation and development of martial arts.

"Writing taught me a lot about ancient Chinese folklore and religious beliefs, including fascinating traditions such as the Chinese Ghost Festival (the 15th day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, which falls on August 24 this year)," Newman says. "That's how I came up with the idea of a Shanghai Ghost Tour."

"I have incorporated some of the Ghost Festival customs into the tour, such as inviting our very own 'hungry ghost' to join us for dinner."

Newman, 29, arrived in China when he was 18 after being inspired by a documentary on Shaolin kung fu. After practicing martial arts for a few years around China, he undertook modern Chinese studies at Cambridge University. Three years ago he returned to China and he has been doing a variety of things, including working as a rapper around the country.

Newman says he hopes World Expo opening next month will generate more interest in Shanghai history, culture and legends, including the city's spirits.

"With this tour I decided to address a problem familiar to all foreigners - the challenge of understanding China's incredibly different and immensely complex culture."

The tour begins outside Jing'an Temple where visitors will ask the temple's guardian lions for protection against evil spirits of the night.

Fengshui cure

After warding off bad luck, the tour moves on to the Paramount Theater with its stories and spirits of the ballroom that was wildly popular in the 1930s.

The story goes that an occupying Japanese soldier shot a Chinese woman who refused to dance with him. Her ghost lingers and sometimes throws objects about, some say.

Meandering through the lanes of Jing'an District and through Jing'an Park, there are more tales of disturbed souls.

Newman tells the famous modern tale about the "dragon pillar" at the intersection of Yan'an Road and the South-North Elevated Road. The huge silver pillar is carved with nine golden dragons. In Chinese tradition, dragon symbol is a powerful and auspicious fengshui cure.

The tour is full of tales such as this and Newman demonstrates the Chinese tradition of creating beautiful and powerful myths.

After two hours, the basic tour ends around 9pm with a lighting of traditional Chinese lanterns in Jing'an Park and setting them afloat on the pond. Visitors wish on the lanterns and the ritual breaks any spells that may have been cast upon the group during the ghost tour.

Guests can take part in rituals and entice "hungry ghosts" to the dinner table, encouraging them to eat their fill and then leave mortals alone for the coming year.

Those who find inviting invisible spirits to join the dinner table slightly unsettling can simply sit back and enjoy the array of slightly unusual but nevertheless tasty Buddhist "blessed" dishes.

One participant says, "We saw some lovely areas of the city and had a nice meal in a Buddhist restaurant. It was an informative and fun day with a twist, and different from most other tours in and around Shanghai."

Another says many people think of Shanghai as a splendid modern metropolis and lose sight of its history and culture. The tour is a reminder.

Tours are given on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Ghost-walkers meet outside the Jing'an Temple Metro station at 7pm.

Ticket prices depend on whether one wants dinner, and there's a pre-Expo deal. (See detailed prices on its Website


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