Thursday, May 27, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

The Shanghai Park Hyatt Hotel is located in the 101-story World Financial Center.
by Jeanne Lawrence

Shanghai—“College students only want to shop and go clubbing” I heard from college age students. But, when my daughter Stephanie’s friends came to visit on their summer break, I was determined that they would have a richer experience than that.
Here’s how I kept them entertained and broadened their horizons during the two weeks they were with me.


The Maglev (magnetic levitation) train convinces anyone, no matter what generation they belong to, that Shanghai is the city of the future. At top speed, it jackrabbits along at 268 mph, making cars on the freeway seem to move like snails and the countryside a blur.

It takes seven minutes to travel the 18.5 miles from Pudong Airport to Longyang Lu metro station and costs $7 one way. We arrived long before my driver showed up with all the luggage to take us to the apartment.
At Shanghai's Pudong International airport where I met my friends upon arrival.
The German-built Maglev is sleek, modern and clean, and the one-way trip is $7.
The Maglev achieves the thrilling speed of 268 mph as riders whizz past the cars.

On the first morning of their first day we visited the Old City, as here was the walled city of Shanghai. The first stop was specifically the Ming Dynasty Yu Yuan Gardens, created about 1550 by the Pan family. It’s a tranquil Chinese painting come to life, filled with pavilions whose eaves turn toward the heavens, rock gardens, arched bridges, and ponds.
At Yu Yuan Garden, the Xin Ting Pavilion, a former guildhall, is now a tea house.
The Garden was created during the Ming Dynasty in the 1550s.
The classical Chinese garden has fish ponds, arched bridges, and rock gardens.
Whitewashed walls and pavilions with eaves turned upward towards the heavens are typical. Lynne Ellison, Stephanie Lawrence and Jeanne Lawrence stroll the Garden.
The roof dragons are made of tiles.
If you can find a quiet spot, away from the crowds, you can reflect on its beauty.
I'm not sure I understood this sign, but it caught my attention.

The carrot was a shopping tour afterwards in the touristy theme parks of Yu Yuan Bazaar and the “Shanghai Old Street,” a maze of narrow alleys with a trove of curio shops offering “Made in China” souvenirs—chopsticks, seals, silk robes, fans, and jade jewelry.

If you branch out further toward the neighborhood lanes, you will get a good sense of how life has been lived in Shanghai for centuries. And this is one of the few survivors of Shanghai’s hellbent dash to modernize.
Our guide Lisa took us around the Bazaar. Silk clothes, especially the robes, are popular.
There are plenty of souvenir shops to choose from.
Bargaining with the shop keeper.
Well, of course there's a Starbucks.

In the ‘Old City,’ I took the entourage to the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant for the Shanghai delicacy, steamed Xiao Long Bao dumplings, often called soup dumplings. The delicate dumpling skin is wrapped around pork or pork and crab and immersed in a shallow pool of broth that you sip.

Some customers are happy to stand in the inevitable long line and watch the kitchen staff make the dumplings, for ‘Take Out’ that are served up in a paper tray. But a secret I learned from a local is to go around the corner and climb the stairs to the restaurant, where it's quieter and less crowded—and more expensive.
At the Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant there is always a long line. The cooks make the famous Xiao Long Bao 'Soup Dumpling' by the thousand.
The customers wait patiently.
rather than wait, we walk upstairs to the restaurant and sit down for lunch.
The restaurant was packed with diners.
To eat dumpling authentically, first take a bite, then sip the broth. Stephanie has mastered the art of eating the soup dumplings, after much pactice.
Baskets of steamed dumplings grace all the tables.

Next I took the kids to one of the several silk markets, with their dazzling display of thousands of bolts (and cashmere, too). You buy the fabric and then find a tailor there to make it for you.

I had my tailor, David, bicycle over that afternoon to take measurements. He returns with the finished garment in a day or two—astonishing since we communicate in sign language.

Though I save a bundle by having things altered here, I don’t have much patience for shopping. But my daughter’s friend Alixe, a fashion student, knew an opportunity when she saw it. She had her favorite silk top copied in every color.

“Spending the day in the fabric markets and having my designs come to life is an experience I will never forget,” exclaimed Alixe.
The Shanghai Fabric Market carries silks in every color.
Stephanie liked this silk brocade for a Qipao. I had this Chinese style silk jacket custom made.
The salesperson cuts from the bolt and wraps it up.
Our tailor David takes us to the best fabric stalls.
Xander looks at the vast selection for a Chinese-inspired jacket.
Outside the fabric market vendors sell ethnic wares.
Our tailor David arrived at our apartment on his motorscooter.
Stephanie and Tailor David chose from the fabric book.
Xander Chapman tried on his Chinese style jacket with the colorful lining.
Looking down at old Shanghai from our apartment.
In the streets of the French concession area, the girls shopped for Qipaos. That’s the Shanghai version of the Cantonese cheongsam—the body-hugging dress with the high Mandarin collar favored by leading ladies in Chinese movies. I’ve notice more and more Shanghainese women wear qipao these days, especially as eveningwear.

The Qipao shops that line Maoming Lu, Changle Lu and Taicang Lu (“lu” means “street”) offer a variety of styles, fabrics, and price tags. You can buy Qipaos at the bazaar or the silk markets, but the ones sold here are better quality and more stylish—they look less like costumes.

These, too, are custom-made. Once you select the style, color, and fabric, the tailors take out their measuring tape, make a few notes in Chinese characters, and deliver the dress in a few days.
The girls shopped for the Qipaos, the Chinese style dresses.
Qipaos come in a wide selection of styles and fabrics.
Alixe chose to have this design custom made. Beautiful colors in modern design and Mandarin collar.
Measurements were taken and the dress was promised within a few days .
As we're in a hurry, we went to the workshop for the fittings.
The fabrics come in many colors and designs.
There were many patterns available. Inset: The finished made-to-order qipaos delighted the girls.

Stephanie’s friend, Xander Chapman, turned 21 while in Shanghai. With his cousins fiancée, Will Plummer, we discussed what spot would be memorable. We choose the tallest building in mainland China for the big birthday – the Shanghai World Financial Center with 101 stories.

There in the Park Hyatt, on the 91st floor, we dined in the 100 Century Plaza Restaurant, offering a breathtaking view of the Bund, the waterfront promenade across the river, and the 88-story pagoda-shaped Jin Mao Tower across the street, where the Grand Hyatt occupies the 53rd to 87th floors.
View from the Park Hyatt Hotel restaurant on the 91st floor.
Art is displayed at the lobby elevator that takes guests to the 100 Century Plaza restaurant.
Xander Chapman celebrated his 21st birthday with Stephanie Lawrence and Alixe Laughlin.
Alixe posed in front of the 88-story Jin Mao Tower.
Mainland China's tallest building was an impressive spot for a 21st birthday celebration.
The 100 Century Plaza restaurant has an outstanding wine collection.

Shanghai specialties are dumplings, so I signed the girls up for the dumpling-making classes at the Chinese Cooking School where I’ve been taking lessons. I had no idea there were so many kinds of dumplings before my classes. They’ve been fun and I learn a smattering of Chinese at each class.

During our two-hour morning class, the girls had so much fun mastering the art of making the perfect dumpling by handrolling the dough, and folding it the right way to encase the filling.

They mastered it immediately—their dumplings looked so much better than mine. The best part, of course, was eating them at the end of the class.
In The Chinese Cooking Workshop, I was surprised to learn how many kinds of dumplings there are.
Our teacher demonstrated the technique for making the dumpling of the day.
Japanese students also come to learn how to make dumplings.
Alixe learned how to roll the dough into a perfect circle.
Stephanie rolled the dumpling dough in the traditional manner. I got flour all over myself.
Stephanie’s Shanghai ‘Xiao Long Bao’ were perfect.
As you can see from my work, I need more classes in dumpling making.

We spent one afternoon in Red Town Sculpture Garden, one of the many “art districts”—it’s much like Chelsea in New York. Cafes and a flower/bird/turtle/cricket market next door add to the charm.

The “Cut and Paste” New York-created media event that travels the globe, holding digital design tournaments, was held in this space in the evening and the girls were invited to come.
We headed to Red Town Sculpture Garden, one of the art districts.
Many students tour the art galleries.
A temporary exhibition on the grassy slopes was fun to wander through.
It appears that some people are making money in Shanghai.
The Cut and Paste Design Tournament was on.
Stores and cafes make the art district lively.

I have a house rule—when traveling, we plan at least one cultural event per day. Our friend, Curator Defne Ayas, and ArtHub director, joined us for an art-hopping day in the buzzing art district known as Moganshan, or M50.

Since Defne knows everyone, she naturally ran into artist friends who could take us around and help acquaint Stephanie and her friends to the contemporary Chinese art world.

Some of the city’s best galleries are here, occupying formerly empty warehouses, and if you’re lucky, you may catch artists such as Zhou Tiehai and Ding Yi in their studios.

We wouldn’t miss a stop into ShanghART, founded by Swiss-born Lorenz Helbling, one of the first to bring Chinese art to Europe. The Blackboard exhibit was on—focused on how to use the traditional classroom tool in a new way.
Moganshan 50, formerly a mill complex known as M50, now an Art District.
Song Tao, a prolific Shanghai-based artist, posed with ArtHub Director Defne Ayas.
We met veteran artist Shi Yong at the Blackboard exhibition at ShanghART.
The “Blackboard” exhibition was curated by Fu Xiaodong.
Art critic and Grasstage Theater Director Zhao Chuan with art critic Wu Meng.
More works from the “Blackboard” exhibition of art.
Young artist Ye Linghan mounted speakers on the board.
Getting acquainted with the contemporary Chinese art world. New media artist Zhang Ga with Performa curator Defne Ayas.
At M50, Defne led us from gallery to gallery.
We said goodbye to ShanghART Director Lorenz Helbling.

No sooner had my friend Alison Gorsuch, who at the time was working at Pearl Lam’s Art Gallery, described Shanghai Sideways—touring around in the sidecar of a classic motorbike—than we all said, “Let’s do it!”

In Pudong, we drove through some of the old city streets.
Each of us strapped into a sidecar 1938 BMW R71—you’ve seen one like it in any WW II movie—and away we went.

I was the lucky one, for Thomas Chabrierers, the handsome French owner of the company, was my driver.

He took us to parts of the city I’d never seen. One highlight was 1933 complex, named for the year it was opened, an amazing architectural work by Paul Li, also famous for Three on the Bund.

The Hongkou district, once a large slaughterhouse, has been transformed—cattle ramps and all—into a cultural center, filled with restaurants, boutiques, and an events studio, all in glass, even the floor.

Seeing Shanghai from such a different perspective (almost sitting on the ground) was so sensational that I went back for more several weeks later.

Who cares about the noise and the fumes?
The SideCar Tour of Shanghai by ‘Shanghai Sideways.’
High style and our style.
This was the most exhilarating ride for us all.
Our view of the Bund, now finished after years of construction.
We stop at the 1938 Woo house, designed by Hungarian Laszlo Hudec. We make a stop at 1933, an architectural marvel named for the year when it was constructed.
Alixe Laughlin studied the Woo Villa, a good example of Art Deco style.
We rode over the bridge from Puxi to Pudong (in the background).
Once a slaughterhouse, 1933 is now a cultural center. My view of Plaza 66, one of the most expensive commercial and office complexes.
My camera is always in hand.

A San Francisco friend’s actor son, Zack Trimmer, was touring the world with “Hair Spray,” and stopped in Shanghai. Even though we had seen the New York production, directed by friend Jack O’Brien, and we wanted to support these young actors.

As a bonus, we got a backstage tour of the Grand Theatre and even a chance to take our own bows on the main stage—if only to one another.

We invited the aspiring actors for a post-show midnight supper, at which I learned how grueling their schedule was. But they’re upbeat: They love the experience and the chance to travel the world.
The Shanghai Grand Theater (1998) was designed by Parisian Jean-Marie Charpentier.
The cast gave us a backstage tour of the Grand Theater.
The auditorium seats eighteen hundred people.
We saw “Hairspray” on Broadway but wanted to see it again in Shanghai.
Amy Toporek, Joey Joseph and Stephanie Lawrence. Actors Zach Trimmer and Katie Donohue are touring in the show.
After the performance, the “Hairspray” cast joined us for a midnight supper.

A trip to China isn’t complete without walking on the Great Wall, visiting the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, and tasting authentic Peking Duck—so I sent the group off to Beijing for three days to get it while it lasts, If they return ten years from now, I wonder what they’ll see.
Walking on China's Great Wall — Stephanie Lawrence, Alixe Laughlin, and Xander Chapman.
Buying souvenirs from the many colorful shops.
The selection of souvenirs is mindboggling. We visited the Summer Palace built by Empress Dowager Cixi.
The Marble boat and Kunming Lake.
The famous long corridor.

Stephanie and her friends stopped over in Tokyo on their flight home. All the kids seem to love Tokyo, and not only for the 24-hour-a-day clubs. They visited the fish market that opens at 5:00 a.m., visited historic sites, and tasted the world’s best sushi. I bet they slept the during the entire 14-hour flight back to Manhattan.
The students stopped over in Tokyo for a few days before flying home to New York.
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.