Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shanghai Social Diary

Lucky guests found a place at a table that seats 18 at Yue-Sai Kan's penthouse apartment.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI — Shanghai Expo (the World’s Fair) opened its doors to the public on the morning of May 1 and that night, television personality, media entrepreneur and rainmaker Yue-Sai Kan threw open her penthouse doors for one of her always-phenomenal gatherings.

The night before, the opening ceremonies included some 2,300 participants. That stellar group included actor Jackie Chan, Japanese singer-songwriter Shinji Tanimura, soprano Song Zuying, pianist Lang Lang, and Andrea Bocelli, who brought down the house as usual with Puccini’s Nessun Dorma.
Yue-Sai Kan hosts a party in celebration of the Shanghai 2010 Expo (World Fair). Melvin Chua and Han Feng.
As I arrived, singer and songwriter Siedah Garrett talked about Michael Jackson.
The buff Siedah Garrett in a dress designed by Shanghai’s Han Feng.
Dubbed “the best American-Chinese ambassador:” Yue-Sai has been deeply involved with Expo for years behind the scene: last year she threw a groundbreaking party for its kickoff, and this night she honored those involved.

As I arrived at her home, TV reporters were interviewing her celebrity guests such as Grammy-winning Siedah Garrett, who was a backup singer for Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” hit (which she also composed).

“Michael changed people’s lives on a deep emotional level,” she was saying. “And he paid for my house ... with the money I earned,” she jested.
Jose Villarreal, Commissioner General of the USA Pavilion, and Brenda Foster, AmCham President.
Richard Lol, Siedah Garrett, Kai Yin Lo, and Vanna Teng.
Yue-Sai welcomes guests of honor JonB, Siedah Garrett , and Quincy Jones.
Inside, Yue-Sai warmly introduced Quincy Jones (“he’s like a brother to me”). The legendary, indefatigable talent performed with Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie and produced Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and “We are the World.”

Yue-Sai and Quincy attended the 2009 Academy Awards together and joined forces to make the Shanghai Film Festival success. (Click here to read about it).

Quincy composed the English Expo theme song (“Better City, Better Life”) in collaboration with Siedah, and pianist Alfredo Rodriquez. (At its premiere the previous night, the crowd cheered the lyrics “ala nong,” — “me and you” in Shanghainese — which thanked the locals for their participation in Expo.)

Yue-Sai also introduced Shanghai-born San Francisco principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan as “a person of grace.” Yuan-Yuan said she had been “a little overwhelmed being onstage with so many fine artists” the night before, but called the experience ‘wonderful.”
Principal Dancer with San Francisco Ballet Yuan Yuan Tan and Melvin Chua.
Cindy Tsai and husband Jacques Ragaz. Derek Muhs and wife Marisa Tarin.
Martin French, Pearl Lam, and Patrice Butler.
I spoke with Commissioner General of the USA Pavilion Jose Villarreal (a San Antonio lawyer), who credited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for recognizing the importance of a U.S. presence at Expo and for putting her clout behind fundraising.

She helped raise $61 million in donations from corporations and individuals with the help of successful fundraisers Ambassador Elizabeth Bagley (Ambassador to Portugal under Bill Clinton) and Villarreal.

The U.S. pavilion had to rely totally on support from the private sector while other countries had government sponsorship. (To build the very popular Saudi pavilion, for example, its government reportedly spent over $140 million).

“We pulled it off,” Villarreal exulted. “We were the last to sign on, but not the last to finish and our doors opened on time.”
Author Annie Wang and entrepreneur William Du.
Jeanne Lawrence and Quincy Jones. Sue Shen and Quincy Jones, who loves the girls.
Kun Kun celebrates her birthday at the party.
In the crowd, I also saw singer Sue Shen, a Dancing with the Stars finalist; Annie Wong, whose book People’s Republic of Desire is being made into a film; author Dr. Robert Kuhn whose book, How Chinese Leaders Think is a must read in Chinese schools, and AmCham President Brenda Foster.

Siedah gave an incredible performance that included the Expo theme song which she performed the night before with male singer Jon B. ("Someone to Love"), some Michael Jackson favorites, (including “Man in the Mirror”) and her own composition about Yue-Sai (“You don’t realize the power in this woman,” she said.)
JonB and his musical team provide more entertainment.
Not a word was spoken.
JonB and Siedah sing some of Michael Jackson's favorites.
Yue-Sai Kan with author Dr. Robert Kuhn. Jeanne Lawrence, Siedah Garret, Vanna Teng, and Nicolo Mori perform for the audience.
Adriana Mannering and friends enjoy the cozy corner.
Very late in the evening, several people listened quietly as a Tibetan monk (the guest of one of the invitees) chanted an 8th century compassion prayer made into a song.

“Come quickly,” Yue-Sai urged Quincy, so he wouldn’t miss the moment. “You’re acting ‘wifey,’” he mock-complained, and when he added, “That explains why I’m not married,” there were chuckles all around.

After people along with the sweet, soothing mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum,” Siedah incorporated the rhythm and sounds into a lively jazz version. “I remember when this was a hit the first time — eight centuries ago,” she quipped.

At 2 a.m., Italian Nicolo Mori, who with his Belgian partner Maximin Berko, founded the Shanghai Jewelry and Fine Arts Fair, said goodbye. He spoke for all of us when he said, “This was the perfect ending to the best night ever.”
Tibetan monk chants an 8th century prayer.
Singer Sue Shen feels the emotion of the chant.
The night view of Shanghai from the balcony.

ZHUJIAJIAO — In China, where I don’t speak the language or drive, I spend an enormous amount of time researching ways to learn more about this country.

When I read about the Bohdi Biking Club, which boasts of offering “unparalleled adventures allowing people to explore China's urban and natural regions in unique and exciting ways,” I was intrigued.

Yes, I'm wearing my helmet.
I signed up for a day-bike trip to Zhujiajiao (don’t even try to pronounce it!) one of the best preserved of the “water towns” or “canal towns” near Shanghai.

To me this was a perfect Saturday: riding in the countryside – away from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai – and witnessing a way of life that may be disappearing.

Scores of films and TV shows have been shot on location in Zhujiajiao and it is often referred to as “The Hollywood of Shanghai.”

At 9am on a spring Saturday morning, I turned up at the Bohdi headquarters to meet the trip leader, Vince Pei, and the participants, mainly expats from America, France, and England working in China. Vince quickly loaded our bicycles in the van and off we went.

Zhujiajiao is in the Yangtze Delta, less than an hour by freeway from Shanghai. The town was founded more than 1,700 years ago, and was an important trading center during the Ming (1368-1644) and Ching (1644-1911) dynasties.

It was the canal system, built for irrigation and transportation that earned Zhujiajiao the sobriquet “the Venice of Shanghai.” (Many other water towns claim the moniker, too.)
Biking around Zhujiajiao, the 'Venice of Shanghai'.
At the Bohdi Biking Club, our guide Vince selects our bikes and helmets.
We mount our bikes for the 6-7 miles ride on paved and dirt roads - all flat terrain.
The day was hot and sunny, and biking under the trees was welcomed.
We passed other Saturday day-trippers enjoying themselves.
Old farm villages dot the landscape.
Next door is a new upscale western-style suburban housing development.
Yet, the life of a farmer continues.
Time for a picnic and to cool off in the shade by the lake.
The terrain around Zhujiajiao is flat and our all day ride was leisurely. The land is mostly given over to farming, but you can see the future in the new developments that are springing up.

We saw rows of expensive Western-style suburban tract houses beside the lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch.

It’s a reminder that the area is fast becoming a suburb of Shanghai in accordance with government’s goal to create satellite cities around major urban centers.

The trip concluded with a stroll through the gated town itself, a world of cobblestone lanes, traditional homes, temples, gardens, and willow-lined canals.
Zhujiajiao was founded over 1700 years ago.
A visit to the water village Zhujiajiao after the bike ride.
The village is a World Heritage Site because of its historic architecture.
We took the boat ride through the ancient canals.
The locals still live in the traditional houses, but many are turning into stores and restaurants.
We paused for photos at the longest and tallest of the town’s 36 stone bridges, Fangsheng (“Setting-Fish Free”), built in 1671.

The flock of visiting Chinese families was another sign of modernity, China’s surging economy. It has given people enough disposable income to travel on weekends. (In China you can never avoid the crowds, but it is best if you visit during off hours and weekdays.)

But weekday or weekend, Zhujiajiao (or any water town) is not to be missed, as it allows you to imagine what life was like in the past. And seeing it by bicycle beats sightseeing from inside a bus!
Friends and families come to visit and relax. Inset: Children around the world enjoy the same treats.
Fangsheng Bridge, built in 1571, is the longest and tallest of the 36 stone bridges.
Contrary to popular belief, the Chinese love and pamper their dogs. The game mahjong is popular everywhere in China.
The commercial streets are packed with tourists, especially during the weekend.
Look closely--she's writing both in English and Chinese characters.
I discovered these bamboo shoots to snack on.
Several in our group bought his paintings for souvenirs.
Antiques, perhaps.
Life goes on as it has for generations. We were all exhausted at the end of the day.
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.