Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Shanghai Social Diary

Show Jumping at the Consul-General’s Polo Cup, held at the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI — During my year in Shanghai, Elisabeth de Brabant featured photo-artists Tristan & Lidia in a solo show at her Art Center at 299 Fuxing West Road in the former French Concession District.

At the Center, located in Le Passage Fuxing, a restored 1932 Art Deco building turned into a chic shopping arcade, she also plans lectures, workshops and classes.
Elisabeth de Brabant’s Art Center, Le Passage Fuxing, located in the French Concession.
An opening night at the Art Center, located in a restored 1932 Art Deco building.
In the balmy weather, the guests overflowed to the streets.
New Yorkers Stephanie Lawrence and Alixe Laughlin attended the opening. Jeanne Lawrence and Stephanie Lawrence in Le Passage Fuxing.
Fish & Chic featured the works of photo-artists Tristan and Lidia.
Beijing-born Tristan Chapuis, who studied law in Paris, and Lidia Serpa, a multi-media Parisian artist born in Angola, settled in Shanghai in 2004. Their show, Fish and Chic, featured astonishingly colorful, microscopically detailed images of goldfish, which are the Chinese symbol of fidelity and harmony.

I knew a fun, hip, multi-national crowd would come to view the works because Elisabeth and her French-Canadian husband Charles de Brabant know everyone worth knowing!

Sure enough, the four-story gallery space (which specializes in fine contemporary Chinese art) was packed while the crowds overflowed to the street.
Sophie Dariel with artists Lidia Serpa and Tristan Chapuis.
Elisabeth de Brabant and her daughter Chiara de Brabant. French Cultural Attaché Sabrina Grassi and Elisabeth.
The scene within the gallery.
The Art Center's team.
The couple lived in Paris before Charles’ work took them Shanghai, where he now is with a luxury brand executive recruitment firm. New York-born Elisabeth, a graduate of Spence and Columbia, where she earned a B.A. in art history, feels at home in Asia, where her family has been since 1908.

Shanghai is more like Paris than New York, she thinks, with its unique boutiques, nooks, and crannies to explore. “We find it so exciting here.”

Le Passage Fuxing, a quiet oasis, warrants a leisurely visit. You can view art, dine indoors or out on Asian fusion cuisine at the tiny Ginger Café, relax at the yoga studio, shop at Rouge Baiser Elise for hand-embroidered children’s clothing and linens, and find unique home furnishings at Casa Pagoda.
'O', a Fiberglass sculpture, 2009 by Tristan and Lidia. Ballerina.
Lower Gallery with Jin Jiang Bo works, Inner Dialog.
Upper Gallery with Wang Xiao Hui works, Inner Dialog.

I met Elisabeth when I first arrived in Shanghai. Allison Gorsuch, daughter of Wendy Stark of LA, invited me to the de Brabants’ Shanghai home, an historic landmark built in 1937, for an art evening

Like many homes in this city, their Shang Fang Garden Villa is located on a private lane off the busy main street, and it has a lovely rear garden and second-floor terrace. It was modernized in 2004 by architects Wilfrid Wong and James Saywell, who preserved the Art Deco details, including a jade master bath to die for.
The Shang Fang Garden Villa in Shanghai, a 1937 restored landmark, home to the de Brabants.
Elisabeth de Brabant welcomes her guests to an art exhibit at her Villa. Charles de Brabant.
The reception for the show by Xiao Hui Wang.
The model Li Xing in front of her photograph taken by Wang.
The works on display on my first visit were by Xiao Hui Wang, a photographer, sculpture and video artist who splits her time between Munich and Shanghai. I met the artist herself, her models and much of the Shanghai art community.

This was one of my first introductions to how life is lived in Shanghai, and I was impressed. I could see how the mix of the very contemporary and the historic appeals to the many who make this place their home.
Elisabeth de Brabant and Allison Gorsuch.
The much discussed jade bathtub.
Another view of the Villa.

In Shanghai, I spent a lovely day with friends in the countryside watching “the sport of kings and the king of sports” — the Consul-General’s Polo Cup, held at the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club. The Club boasts it’s the only field in China that meets international polo standards.

The founder and director of Nine Dragons Hill Steve Wyatt, a polo player himself, said, “This is the first time that players in China have been able to achieve a globally recognized rating, which allows them to play internationally.”
My host was Ruprect Hoogewerf, founder and publisher of the Hurun Report, which publishes the annual Hurun Rich List, the local version of the Forbes 400. Hurun’s motto is “Nobody knows China’s rich better.”

The Hurun Report sponsored the U.K. team in the event, organized by Hussars Company Limited, China’s leading polo management team. It competed against teams from China, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and Holland.

Though I knew Shanghai was a city of 20 million people, I hadn’t really understood how enormous it was until we drove to the Polo Club. We passed high-rise after high-rise for almost a solid hour and a half as we traveled from the city center.
The polo team from the U.K. was sponsored by Hurun Report. Vying for the Consul-General's Cup at the Nine Dragons Hill Polo Club.
Polo Teams from U.K., Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, and China.
Families enjoy the Sunday afternoon polo competition.
Italians supporting their polo team.
Sunday Brunch for the spectators.
Polo attracted an international crowd. Lyle Hayden on left.
Which Mercedes to choose.
Then like a mirage, we spotted Nine Dragons Hill, a luxury beachfront resort in an ideal Feng Shui setting — surrounded by mountains, sea, green pines and ancient temples.

Called the “Venice of the East” for its many canals and lanes, this enormous real estate project, still under construction, will be the site of a five-star Westin Hotel managed by the Starwood Group that will have over 350 rooms and suites, a spa and a pool.
Entrance to the Nine Dragons Hill Luxury Resort.
Nine Dragons Hill Resort is called the 'Venice of the East' with the canals.
The Yacht Club is part of the 500-acre private resort.
When it is completed, this should be a hugely popular getaway. Its attractions will also include world-class golf courses, marinas for private yachts, a waterfront retail complex, residential villas and the members-only Polo Club.

On this Sunday afternoon, the crowd of spectators included many families. We all enjoyed a wonderful buffet and spent a glorious afternoon watching the rugged and handsome polo players in action.

After dining at the Yacht Club and enjoying the panoramic view of some handsome watercraft at anchor, we returned to the city at nightfall.
Afternoon of swimming at the resort.
The 350-room Westin Hotel will be part of the resort.

When I first took a place in Shanghai, I had absolutely no plans or desire to study Mandarin Chinese — especially at this point in my life.

But though Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city where many languages are spoken, I quickly became exasperated by my inability to communicate. When I got into a taxi, I couldn’t tell the driver where to go or when to stop!

So, with my daughter Stephanie, I signed up to study standard Mandarin (Putonghua), the official spoken language of the People’s Republic of China. (In Hong Kong, they speak Cantonese.)
My classmates in my Mandarin class.
iMandarin's Rita Cui with Ian Rountree, a student at Vanderbilt University. Snapped this photo in Dean & DeLuca (NY) — she's getting an early start.
My other Mandarin class with Stephanie Lawrence, Ian Rountree, and our teacher.
Every morning from 9-12, we participated in a small class at the iMandarin school at the Shanghai Center on the famous Nanjing Road. Though the school offers classes in our neighborhood, we preferred to get to know another area, and it was only a $2 taxi ride cross-town. (Taxis are one of the city’s more affordable small luxuries.)

Shanghai Center is in the heart of the commercial district. It’s a one-stop retail, dining and entertainment complex that’s also home to the 610-room Portman Ritz-Carlton, which opened in 1998 as one of the city’s first five-star hotels. And it’s the meeting grounds for members of the foreign (expat) community who crave a taste of home.
Shanghai Center and the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, opened in 1998. Ritz-Carlton Lobby Lounge.
Shanghai Center, a city within a city, and a meeting place for foreigners.
After class, we often lunch here. Among our many choices are a Starbucks (where a cup of coffee is $4, twice the cost of a taxi ride!); Tony Roma’s, for ribs; Element Fresh, a favorite stop for light American fare like salads and smoothies; Paul’s, a branch of the Parisian parent, with the tastiest, freshest breads and desserts; Hanagatami for Japanese; and Palladio for Italian fare.

We foreigners can accomplish many of our errands here, for it’s home to many airlines offices, consulates and English-speaking shops that include Gucci and Ferragamo; an English-language bookstore; the City Shop supermarket that stocks imported delicacies from around the world; service apartments; a shoe repair; a dry cleaner; a theater; and more — almost anything we might need!
Shanghai Center's City Supermarket, specializes in imported delicacies.
Hanagatami Japanese Restaurant in Shanghai Center.
Paul's Patisserie Shanghai, as good as the Parisian original.
Zhang Textiles sells antique textiles, jewelry, and embroideries. Emperors Silk Collection sells luxurious silk items.
Tempting selection at Paul's Patisserie.
The ubiquitous Starbucks — the Shanghai version.
Element Fresh draws crowds for smoothies and other American treats.
Outdoor dining is a lunchtime pleasure.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence. New York-based Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in Shanghai and San Francisco, and wherever else she finds a good story.