Shanghai, Part 1
We landed in Shanghai with just about a half hour left of St. Patrick’s Day. The 16-hour time difference can take its toll over the first 24 hours. Then, it’s pretty easy to make it through a normal day without being tired. The Shanghai things to do list would take a book. This will be a multi-part entry into the Travel section, and the last entry will have a convenient summary, wrapping up all of the places talked about.
We’re staying at The Fairmont Peace Hotel for the first time. Built in 1929, it was the most glamorous hotel of its time, the first with air conditioning and hotel room phones. Soon, the war and occupation came, and The Peace Hotel fell into disarray. It closed in 2007 for a 3-year renovation, and is now one of the most beautiful hotels in the world. The builders went to great pains to preserve as much of the 1920s Art Deco fixtures and features, and went even further to insure that what was not salvageable was replaced in the Art Deco fashion. The hotel overlooks the Yangtze River, and Pudong’s famous Pearl Tower sits directly across.The Fairmont Peace Hotel is central to everything. You will have to rely on the pictures on their website as I don’t think the Chinese are going to permit me to add pictures to this entry. It’s the only time I’ve had this problem.
The first thing you need to know about Shanghai is that it’s extremely safe, and if you’re not of Asian descent, they’re going to want to sell you knockoff watches and handbags until you’re about to pull your hair out. Fair-skinned people love knockoffs. The Chinese wouldn’t dream of owning a knockoff. They want the real thing or nothing. A friend of mine works in Shanghai, and when she takes leave in the US, all of her Chinese colleagues beg her to buy them Coach bags, Ferragamo, Chanel, and the like. The real deal is a heck of a lot cheaper in the US, believe it or not!!
Besides being a very safe place, the most important thing that they don’t teach you in the tour books is how to deal with the incessant solicitation of knockoffs. It’s simple – say (in phonetics) ‘Boo Yow’. That means ‘I don’t want it, and if you say it well enough, they’ll think you’re an expat who speaks and understands Chinese. You will thank me for this!! Just today alone, I had someone ask me to buy a watch or handbag every .1 miles. This doesn’t hold a candle to the peddlers and beggars in San Francisco, but it’s still a nuisance.
We walk everywhere in Shanghai. My daily mileage is consistently between ten and 15 miles. There’s so much to see in Shanghai, and the people watching while getting around is just as good a site. Sunday, we went to the fabric market. I found the most wonderful silk satin double-breasted suit in a magazine, and I wanted to have it made for me, because, first, I can’t afford nor would I pay the designer’s $4,500 price tag for a suit, and second, I’ve never explored the fabric market on previous trips, and this gave me a mission. Finally, having a suit custom made allows one to create their own style and preferences. I go back on Wednesday for either a final fitting or to pick it up. In Ruan = 750. In US$ = 118. Honestly, it’s got to be worth the price for the experiment. If it doesn’t work, I’ll know better and hopefully be able to fix it at my Bay Area tailor (Golden Needle in Alameda is fab, BTW). If it does work, I have the perfect outfit for a Phoenix executive outing next week, AND I have the best outfit for my son’s September wedding. Woo hoo!!
We left the fabric market and headed for lunch. We figured a good spot would appear near Xintiandi, a renovated part of two with restaurants by the likes of Jean-George Vongerichten joined by small, casual establishments and boutique shops.
There’s a Din Tai Fung there, one of the best, in my opinion, dim sum places in Shanghai. I’m sure there are other places that you can get a better value, but Din Tai Fung is simple, well-orchestrated with really good food. All of the cooking is done in each of the 25+ restaurants around the world. There’s a window where one can watch dim sum being assembled. What makes it easy for foreigners is the ability to point to the pictured item on the 20+-page menu. The staff is some of the best-trained and consistent that I’ve seen. The Chinese restaurant and hotel service will always try to bend over backwards for their customers, but Din Tai Fung adds just a little bit more service and precision. The clientele is an eclectic mix of locals, foreigners, young and old. This will be a multi-part blog about my experiences in Shanghai.
I will end the final blog by listing all of my great finds and how to find them. This is probably my 6th time to Shanghai, so I’m getting to know the ropes.