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[Offbeat]: Shanghai's Oldest Theme Park has a Night Market

Headed to the Southside for cheap thrills, cheap beer, and a lot of neon.
2016-07-21 18:02:42

"Offbeat" is a SmartShanghai column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.

The temperature in the city is currently 100 degrees Fahrenheit (I don't know, 9 million Celsius), and the families of Shanghai and beyond are baking under the sun at the recently opened Shanghai Disney Resort, waiting hours upon hours for a ride on the Tron cycle. But down on the Southside, no one is queuing up for the roller coasters at the city's oldest theme park. Not at night, anyway.

Jinjiang Action Park was built in 1984 and looks like the setting for a teen horror movie from that same decade. After dark, it glows beautifully next to the elevated highways where cars zoom on by without stopping. It's mostly empty. On a recent Tuesday, the only people lining up were waiting for snacks at the park's new Shilin Night Market, a clean cluster of food stalls modeled after that iconic market in Taipei. Even there, queues moved briskly; maybe ten minutes for simulacrums of Taipei's oyster omelets, sausages, stinky tofu, and shaved ice. Crucially, the beer booth had a zero minute wait and 25rmb to 35rmb cups of mystery "craft beer" clocking in at 9%.

This park delivers a solid dose of old school Shanghai, cheap thrills, and the spirit of 2008. Jinjiang has its own stop on the city's oldest metro line, so a trip with a few snacks, a couple beers, and two trips on the park's better rides will cost just north of 100rmb. Thumbs up, especially for the lovers.

So, What About The Rides?

SmartShanghai already covered the rides here back in 2012. Since then, they've added a ripoff of Disney's Tron ride that's really fun but short. The most intense ride is still the big magnet-looking structure, which lifts you up a few hundred feet at a ninety degree angle and then drops and whips you all around while making some noises that sound like structural failures. It's exhilarating and fun, but over too soon.

Aside from that, they have a hilariously low-budget haunted house, a cute roller coaster where you can wave to cars on the elevated highway, and lots of rides that feel more like carnival / state fair attractions. There are also a few arcades filled with second rate games and grabby-claw machines filled with Pokemon, Hello Kitty, and Disney toys.

Rides cost 60rmb for two, or six for 100rmb. The Ferris wheel is an extra 40rmb, and probably worth it on a clear day. Supposedly, you can see all the bridges in Shanghai and all the way to Sheshan from up there. Overall, the place gets a 3/10 on the Bruce Willis scale of intensity, but an 8/10 as a weird, old-school place to wander around at night.

History Gems: The group behind the Jinjiang Action Park also owns Jinjiang Hotel, which has played a major role in Shanghai history. The original opened in 1935 on Maoming Lu. One Richard Milhouse Nixon stayed there in 1972, when he and his squad signed the Shanghai Communiqué, paving the way to China's reopening to the rest of the world. When the sequel opened just down the block on Changle Lu in 1988, it was the tallest building in Shanghai until the Pearl Tower opened in 1994. Eventually, a luxury edition of Jinjiang will open at the top of China's tallest building, the Shanghai Tower.

The Culinary Non-Treasures Of The Shilin Night Market

Most of the action at Jinjiang these days is at the Shilin Night Market. Our man handoogies grew up in Taipei just near the original Shilin, so he rode a Mobike here from Gubei to help us gauge the foods on offer and take some photos. These are some of the classic foods you would find at a Taipei night market. Snacks average around 20rmb -- considerably more expensive than in Taipei. Over there, you gotta be good and cheap to survive in the night markets, which have become more of a tourist destination these days. While the foods at Shanghai Shilin are just mediocre, the operation is well organized, clean, and everyone seems happy.

1. Stinky tofu. The verdict: Not stinky enough. Not even close.

2. Oyster omelet. The verdict: Mediocre bordering on bu hao. Sauce was lame and there wasn't enough egg. Oysters were plump and did taste fresh though.

3. Lu rou fan. The verdict: Got thrown out after two bites.

4. Taiwanese sausage. The verdict: Much better than a Lawson's snausage, but still, not great. Gotta eat it together with the raw garlic.

5. Off-brand "craft beer". The verdict: Drinkable and effective.

6. Black pepper beef bomb. The verdict: Filling, decent exterior, but the black pepper blinds all the other flavors. No balance.

7. This cat who followed us around the night market. Verdict: Extremely chill. A protector of vibes.

8. Grilled pork neck with unagi (eel) sauce, on top of some shredded cabbage with mayo. The verdict: the best item here, but the mayo seems unnecessary.

The guy serving this had a Taipei accent. Indeed they have a few cooks from Taipei working the stalls here, but let's be real -- if you were a top-level night market cook in Taipei, you'd probably stay there and make money. You wouldn't come to Shanghai.

9. Shaved ice mango guy. The Verdict: Second best buy here. Creamy and not too sweet.

10. The picnic area. The Verdict: Garbage cans and bathrooms are everywhere and cleaned on the reg. There's enough picnic tables for everyone. Payment is a snap, as everything works on a card system (though vendors will take WeChat pay). There is no loud hairdresser-techno banging from KTV speakers. And in the background, you have the beautifully random neon jungle of an amusement park.

There are also snacks that one would not find in a Taipei night market. Shanghai loves to borrow and remix culture, which is a big part of what makes this city so colorful.

The verdict: While you wouldn't come down here for the food alone, the market is a nice add-on to the park itself. Should you go? The price of a few rides, a snack, a beer, and the subway fare is the price of a cocktail at a lot of places in this town, and a lot more memorable. And it ain't no shopping mall. Shanghai is changing fast, but not down here.

Jinjiang Action Park is open daily from 8.45am-10pm in the summer. The night market will close in early October, 2016. It's a five minute walk from the Jinjiang Park metro station on Line 1. Tickets start at 60rmb. Pro tip: there's a Mr. Happy / Hello Kitty themed convenience store next to the ticket booth, where Heineken is 10rmb.