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8 strangest Shanghai museums
Sidestep the mainstream stuff and check out some more eccentric expos
Shanghai hosts all the museums you’d expect in a world-class city: countless art spaces, history exhibitions and urban planning centers. But, if you explore a little more, you’ll find that the city has its share of odder exhibition halls.
From a scrappy chopstick center to an elegant homage to music boxes, the city brims with unexpected entertainments. Here are our picks of the city’s most unusual museums.
Shanghai Typewriter Museum
Why it's odd but awesome: When small children enter this tiny typewriter museum, they’re often perplexed by the 50 machines on display.
“I tell them, this is the computer’s grandfather,” says curator Han Tao Feng. Foreigners are often touched to find antique typewriters from their home countries, she adds.
The 300 typewriters were collected by Suzhou-born Lu Hanbin, an international merchant who now lives in the Czech Republic.
Don't leave without seeing: The oldest typewriter: a redwood beauty from 1809.
Shanghai Typewriter Museum, 248 Wuxing Lu, near Jianguo Lu 吴兴路248号近建国路, +86 21 6466 4556, hours: daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Shanghai Animation and Comics Museum
Admission: RMB 30 (adults)
Why it's odd but awesome: This shiny, futuristic homage to animation opened in 2010.
The first floor is an entrancing guide to animation’s history, from Chinese shadow puppets to Mickey Mouse. It's interspersed with life-size figurines, short film clips and a hall of movie posters. The second-floor is kid-friendly and commercial -- you can even dub your voice into popular cartoon flicks.
Don't leave without seeing: The top floor is a movie theater: separate tickets required.
Shanghai Animation and Comics Museum, 69 Zhangjiang Lu, a cab ride from Jinke station on Metro Line 2 张江路69号, 做地铁二号岛金科站, 然后做出租车, +86 5895 7998, hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Shanghai Antique Music Box Gallery
Admission: RMB 50 (adults), half price every first and third Saturday of the month
Why it's odd but awesome: The personal collection of a Japanese merchant, this museum is filled with mostly European music boxes.
“I wanted to come because it’s romantic and fun,” says Cherry Ding, a Shanghai high school student.
The most interesting music boxes are the ones with doll figurines that spring to life in time with the music. One features a young boy who tries to steal some jam, only to see the jar turn into his grandmother’s scolding face. Another creepier one displays a woman stewing a monkey’s head.
Don't leave without seeing: The oldest music box in the world: a tiny golden contraption dating from 1796.
Shanghai Antique Music Box Gallery, 425 Dingxiang Lu, Shanghai Oriental Arts Center, near Yingchun Lu, Metro Line 2 Science and Technology Museum Station 丁香路425号, 近迎春路, 地铁2号线上海科技馆, +86 21 6854 7647, hours: daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Why it's odd but awesome: This tiny, cold room, shared with a jewelry saleswoman, is perhaps the smallest museum in Shanghai.
Lan Xiang, 81, lives upstairs and displays his collections of chopsticks in a first-floor cabinet.
As a young man, Xiang, a writer, traveled throughout Asia in search of chopsticks. If you speak Putonghua, he’ll tell you the story of his quest to collect more than 2,000 pairs including a gilded silver set from the Tang Dynasty.
There aren’t many on display though: “My best ones are in the bank,” Xiang says. But, his story alone is worth a visit.
Don't leave without seeing: Xiang's book “Chinese Chopsticks,” which is avalable in Chinese, English and French.
Chopsticks Museum, 191 Duolun Lu, near Sichuan Lu, Metro Line 3 Dongbaoxing Lu Staion 多伦路191号, 近四川北路, 地铁3号线东宝兴路站 +86 21 5671 7528, hours: daily, call ahead for appointment
Shanghai Calligraphy Museum
Why it's odd but awesome: This one-room museum begins with the history of ink-making, and tells the story of its migration to Shanghai. Glass exhibits showcase various ink pads and brushes while wall scrolls illustrate the beauty of the calligraphy.
“What I loved was just the fact that they had such a museum in the first place,” says Shahana Chattaraj, who was visiting Shanghai from New York. “It shows such a reverence for writing, and the written script as an art form.”
Don't leave without seeing: English recordings next to the exhibits tell the stories behind the artifacts, such as juicy tales of competition among ink makers.
Shanghai Calligraphy Museum, 2/F, 429 Fuzhou Lu, near Fujian Zhong Lu 福州路429号2楼, 近福建中路, +86 21 6328 1558, hours: daily 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Why it's odd but awesome: The museum itself is almost as compelling as its contents: it’s housed in a colonial-era post office, with a majestic glass atrium. The carefully-laid out displays detail the stories of the early post scouts, showcase tortoise shells and bamboo with inscribed messages, and include clay seals that ensured mail privacy.
But, according to one security guard, the best part is the rooftop deck: “It’s a great view, from the Bund to Lujiazui,” he says. The deck will reopen in the spring of 2011.
Don't leave without seeing: Yellowed letters postmarked from the former concessions.
Shanghai Postal Museum, 250 Suzhou Bei Lu 苏州北路250号, +86 21 6325 0855, hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Shanghai Museum of Public Security
Admission price: RMB 8
Why it's odd but awesome: This expansive museum -- which contains 8,000 items -- follows the history of China’s public security forces from the mid-19th century to the present.
Visitors wander through the spacious halls past wax figurines of diverse patrol officers: Indians, British and Chinese. There’s everything from badges and uniforms to propaganda posters and full-sized emergency vehicles.
Don't leave without seeing: Sun Yat-sen’s personal sidearm.
Shanghai Museum of Public Security, 518 Ruijin Nan Lu, near Xietu Lu 瑞金南路518号2-4层, 近斜土路, +86 21 6472 0256, hours: Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum
Admission: RMB 50 (adults)
Why it's odd but awesome: This museum is housed in the former Ohel Moshe synagogue, which Russian Jews built in 1927. The original place of worship is on the first floor, while the upper floors showcase Jewish-related artwork. There’s also a searchable database of Jews who lived in Shanghai.
The best part is the exterior exhibition halls which detail the personal stories of escape and sanctuary during Wold War II.
“I’m proud of the history in our district,” says Hongkou resident Miley Yin, a volunteer tour guide and college student.
Don't leave without seeing: The story of one Jewish man’s lost Shanghai love, a woman named "Ms. Wong." Apparently, Wong left him for someone whom she thought was a foreign oil executive, only to find that man just owned a Texas gas station.
Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, 62 Changyang Lu, near Zhoushan Lu 长阳路62号, 近舟山路, +86 21 6512 6669, www.shanghaijews.org.cn, hours: daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., last entry 4:30 p.m.
Don't bypass all the normal museums just yet though, if you want to go to the Shanghai Museum check out "12 best relics in the Shanghai Museum," it'll get you in and out in no time.