Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shanghai Social Diary

Guests raved about handsome Roman interior designer Pierfilippo Mori’s knockout décor at The Soong Ching Ling Foundation's Thanksgiving Ball.
by Jeanne Lawrence


One benefit of living in both Asia and in the U.S. is adding new traditions to my life. In San Francisco, I’ve recently been celebrating the Chinese Year of the Rabbit, which began on February 3; and in Shanghai in November and early December, I enjoyed some unusual Thanksgiving and pre-Christmas festivities.

The Soong Ching Ling Foundation Thanksgiving Ball

I was one of the lucky people who managed to score a ticket to the Soong Ching-Ling Foundation’s annual Thanksgiving Ball—sold out before invitations were mailed!
Clockwise from top left: The Soong Ching Ling Foundation gala took place at the recently opened Shanghai Ritz-Carlton; TV producer Nancy Merrill, host of “Eye on Shanghai”; Giancarlo Rossi, Jeanne Lawrence, and Pierfilippo Mori; Yuan Yuan Tan, a principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet.
Adriana and Geoff Mannering admired the Christmas Tree in the foyer. Max Berko, Vickie Kan (Yue-Sai’s sister), and Pierfillippo Mori.
The VIPs.
Kudos to the powerhouse chairwoman and cosmetic tycoon Yue-Sai Kan (New York/Shanghai), her co-chairs Helen Yau and Chen Li and the board members for creating such a buzz. The ball raised a record 10 million RMB ($1.5 million), an extraordinary number for a one-night event in Shanghai.

Soong Ching-Ling was one of three sisters sent to be educated in America by their father (a missionary turned successful businessman). All three had extraordinary lives, documented in the 1997 film, The Soong Sisters. “One married for money, one married for power, and one married for the love of her country,” the movie began.
Artist Huang Xiao Hui. Victoria Secret model Karolína Kurková. Singer Sue Shen, known for her popular music, sang.
The children dressed elegantly to perform.
Soong Ai-Ling married one of the richest men in China, Kung Hsiang-His.

Soong Mei-Ling
became the wife of President Chiang Kai-shek and enjoyed power as the first lady of the Republic of China. Madame Chiang Kai-shek was a longtime resident of New York, where she died in 2003 at age 105,

(Her bio, The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China, by Hannah Pakula, is on my must-read list. When I told that to Hannah—we chatted at the private New York club Doubles recently—she laughed. “It’s so long, you’ll have to read it in two parts,” she said.)
Yue-Sai Kan with singers Jane Zhang and Siedah Garrett.
Miss China and Yue-Sai Kan. Fashion Designer Flora Cheung.
The media gave heavy coverage to the gala.
Soong Ching-Ling, whom the ball honored and who was known for loving her country, married Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (1893-1981), founder and first president of the Republic of China. Often referred to as the George Washington of modern China, he led the revolution (1911-1912) that toppled the last China's last dynasty, the Qing.

As his wife, Madame Sun Yat-Sen contributed to many causes—children's and women’s rights, culture, education, scientific knowledge and welfare—and helped to promote world peace and friendship among nations.

Eventually she was named Honorary President of the People's Republic of China. After her death, the The Shanghai Soong Ching-Ling Foundation (SCLF) a non-governmental institution, was established to continue her commitments.
Architect Jean-Pierre Heim, jewelry designer Laurence de Gramont, and Jeanne Lawrence.
The chairs of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation Thanksgiving Ball.
Tenor Warren Mok.
Singer Siedah Garrett, from Los Angeles, had performed with Michael Jackson.
The crowd of more than 500 people who attended her foundation’s ball included some of China and Shanghai’s most influential and friends from around the world. Among them were the gorgeous and charming Victoria Secret’s model Czech Karolína Kurková (who had been named “International Super Model of the Year” by China Fashion Award the previous night); San Francisco’s principal ballerina, Shanghai native Yuan Yuan Tan; Italian bombshell Ludovica Purini Rossi and husband Giancarlo Rossi; and Adriana Geoff Mannering of Electrolux that hosted a table.
Other luminaries included Fan Bing Bing, model Lu Yan, Du Juan, actor Russell Wong, TV host Flora Leon Chon, fashion designer Han Feng, artist Huang Xiao Hui, Chao Ke Fan, and Grace Chiao, who provided the rooms at the Les Suites Orient hotel.

The star-studded entertainment included New Yorker David Blaine, the magician and illusionist; Siedah Garrett, the lyricist (and former singer) who has worked with Quincy Jones, Michael Jackson, and Madonna; Alfredo Rodriguez, the young Cuban piano prodigy; Jane Zhang, the Chinese pop singer who made her American debut on Oprah; the TV actor Ma Jing Tao; tenor Warren Mok; and singer Sue Shen, whose music kept everyone twirling on the dance floor until late.

The committee had gathered some of the best auction items I’ve ever see, due no doubt especially to the amazing tactics of cosmetic tycoon Yue-Sai and her worldwide connections.
Magician David Blaine played card tricks with Dr. Lawrence Foster.
Some guest brought along their families.
Coca-Cola, Pernot Ricard, Perrier-Jouët, Mr. and Mrs. Bund and the Vargas group made generous donations. In center: Cesare Ferrario and Liliana Innocenti.
I particularly coveted the private dinner at Chateaux Margaux in Bordeaux; the pair of Panda sculptures by Zhang Huang, one of China’s premier artists; a week at Chiva-Som Spa in Thailand (it went to philanthropist Jerry Wu); and Robert Wan’s Tahitian black pearls.

Other popular items: the diamond earrings donated by jewelry designer Cindy Chao; a grand chair donated by San Franciscan designer Ann Getty, at the request of Eddie and Shelley Lim; and the many donations from Cherie Liem of Bund 3,

The money raised will fund medical equipment and staff, ten hospitals, and prenatal and natal care in the impoverished Guangxi province. It was all in the perfect spirit of Thanksgiving.
Chef Pernod Richard prepared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings—a new experience for most of the Chinese guests.
Ludovica Rossi Purini and Giancarlo Rossi, in from Rome, bid on luxury items from Bulgari, Hermes, Valentino, Tory Burch, and Ferragamo. Children enjoyed the evening too.
Media hostess Flora Cheung; her husband, actor Russell Wong; Jeanne Lawrence, and Richard Loh.
Fashion designer Han Feng with Lisa Xia, a committee member.
At the glamorous, spectacularly successful charity evening, the dance floor was crowded to the very end.
Christmas at the Peninsula Shanghai

I’d never have guessed that in anticipation of Christmas, 2010, I’d be hanging ornaments on a tree in Shanghai!

To kick off the holiday season, the Peninsula Shanghai had a tree-lighting ceremony in its lobby. Located on the Bund, a sister to the flagship Peninsula Hong Kong. the hotel is considered one of Shanghai’s most luxurious and glamorous. More than 4,000 people came to its opening night party in March 2010.
The luxurious 235-room Peninsula Shanghai hotel opened in 2010 on the famous Bund.
The luxe rooms have every possible amenity, and the hotel offers 5 restaurants and bars, 23 luxury brand shops, a spa, fitness center, and an indoor pool.
The Peninsula Shanghai’s Gingerbread Village and Tree of Hope.
The guests oozed and aaahed at the Gingerbread Village, which took four months to create.
For the tree lighting, guests were invited to buy and hang ornaments to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which creates hope and joy by granting the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

Singer Karen Mok, CCTV-2 host Rui Cheng Gang, and the deaf-mute actor Song Xiao Bo, who captured national attention on China’s popular My Hero reality show a few years, ago, were introduced as “charity ambassadors” by General Manager Paul Tchen.
The Children’s Choir performed the Christmas Festivities in the lobby. It’s designed to be a social hub, as in the chain’s flagship, the Hong Kong Peninsula.
Rui Cheng Gang, Karen Mok, Li Qibao, Paul Tchen, and Song Xiaobo. The tree-lighting — part of “Trees of Hope,” is part of the Peninsula’s charitable initiative program.
A Peninsula Shanghai “Charity Ambassador,” Karen Mok, hangs a Christmas ornament.
Rui Cheng Gang hangs his too. For cocktails, the goodies included Glühwein and eggnog, cider doughnuts and chestnut tarts, and the Peninsula’s legendary panettone. Actor Song Xiao Bo, enjoys the international event with all the holiday trimmings.
The Peninsula GM Paul Tchen, Karen Mok, Rui Chenggang, and Song Xiao Bo.
The Peninsula Shanghai, built in Art Deco style to blend with its neighbor, was designed by Architect David Beer and Interior Designer Pierre Yves Rochon. David Beer at the lobby check-in which he designed.
Eye candy beckoned in the windows of shops like Chanel and Prada, Ralph Lauren, and Graff.
During lunch, I told Paul that I love the grand hotels of the past (I once owned San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado, a National Historic landmark). He said that the Peninsula owners had wanted to restore glamour to the travel experience, and they’ve succeeded.

Whenever I’ve stayed in the minimalist hotels that are supposed to be hip, my reaction is, “Did the owners run out of money when decorating?” But the Peninsula, which New York architect David Beer worked on for 11 years, is so luxurious (even walk-in closets) and comfortable that guests might never want to leave.

With the tree-lighting and trimming, I think the spectacular Peninsula has started another grand new annual Shanghai tradition.
The outdoor terraces at the Peninsula offer spectacular views of the Pudong District across the river.
My Own Hairy Crab Thanksgiving

For my first Thanksgiving in Shanghai several years ago, I invited my international friends to a traditional American dinner at the elegant Jean-Georges Shanghai restaurant (whose then-chef was American).

This year, I thought it would be fun to celebrate Thanksgiving based on a Shanghai tradition: the Hairy Crab Feast. The Chinese love good foods like the French do and eating with friends and family is an important occasion.
Shanghai friends said that l00-year old Wang Bao He restaurant was still the hot spot for feasting on hairy crab, a seasonal specialty.
Artists Barbara Edelstein and Jian-Jun Zhang divide their time between New York and Shanghai.
At 6, the room was already packed with diners and smokers. (Smoking is big here still, but the laws are beginning to change).
Yimin Fu (left) and Lynn Zhang, supervising the menu selection (fortunately!), discussed the balance of taste and texture at length with the server.
Doesn’t hairy crab sound unappetizing? The are small (fist-sized), grey-green river crab with bristled legs. They are in season from September to November, when they fatten up from the cold.

Though I had been wanting to try a hairy crab feast for the longest time, I was a bit apprehensive. How would I eat the crab (da zha xie), which I heard is quite an ordeal? And since I had many foreigners don’t like the crabs, I wasn’t sure my friends would enjoy them.
Presented at the table, the live, hairy-clawed crabs were tied up with raffia, doubtless to keep them from pinching.
Some diners prefer male crabs (bigger and meatier), while others like the females (with rich roe, sweeter overall). We ordered half and half.
We began with a selection of little dishes to accompany the crab.
Shaoxing-style “yellow” wine, fermented rice wine, is the traditional accompaniment for a crab meal. I was glad Lynn and Yimin ordered as the menu was written entirely in Chinese without any photographs, which thankfully is usually the case.
A Shanghai native, Jian-Jun Zhang gave us pointers on cracking, crunching, sucking and picking out the flavorful crabmeat, which is served with several dipping sauces.
Lynn Zhang Barboza, Barbara Edelstein, David Barboza, Jeanne Lawrence, Jian –Jun Zhang, and Yimin Fu, braving the hairy crab dining experience.
On the other hand, how could I live in Shanghai without ever tasting one of the city’s specialties? Which of my friends are adventurous eaters? I knew art consultant Lynn Zhang and her husband New York Times correspondent David Barboza would be game, as would Shanghai-born artist Jian-Jun Zhang, his wife artist Barbara Edelstein, and businesswoman Yimin Fu.

The crabs by tradition come from the Yangtze River delta, and the most prized—tastiest, biggest, and most expensive—come from the famous Yang Cheng Lake. Being somewhat cynical, we joked that our crabs had probably been raised elsewhere and tossed into the Lake just long enough to merit their exorbitant price.
A crab feast is an unusual way to spend an evening with friends, and we laughed a lot. As David said, “the process [of eating them] is half the fun.” If you plan to try such an event yourself, I strongly suggest going with a local, the better to enjoy the experience.
Eating hairy crab is a messy business (that’s part of the fun), and you have to work at it (like New Englanders with their lobsters and San Franciscans with their Dungeness crabs).
“I’ve never liked hairy crab,” said artist Barbara Edelstein, after tasting one, “but this is delicious. I think I’ve changed my mind.”
The end of an unusual dinner experience.
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.