Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Shanghai Social Diary

The PuLi Hotel is just a block away from Nanjing West Road, one of Shanghai's busiest streets, home to luxurious shops and high-rent business districts.
by Jeanne Lawrence

SHANGHAI—Now that I've returned to the U.S. for the winter and have finally downloaded and organized my photos in Lightroom, I'm back to writing about my fall adventures in China.

As you walk to the lobby, the lighting creates a more dramatic atmosphere.
Though I flew first-class to Shanghai in October, after the 14-hour, nonstop overnight flight from New York City, I needed to unwind and get out the kinks when I arrived.

So on my first night, I headed straight to the boutique PuLi Hotel and Spa, which calls itself an "urban oasis."

I wanted to indulge myself in the spa and spend a relaxing night in a serene and comfortable room before I immersed myself back into the hustle and bustle of daily life in Shanghai.

PULI HOTEL AND SPA—"An Urban Resort"

One of the Leading Hotels of the World, the PuLi—contemporary, with traditional Asian accents—was recently singled out for Best Hotel Design by Trends Magazine.

The luxurious, boutique hotel has just 206 rooms and 20 suites but provides all the services of any larger, high-end facility.

Its mission is to offer guests a sense of "coming home," and it really delivers. The atmosphere is intimate and calming, and the service and amenities are top notch and customized.
Guardian Lions. Adjacent to the Jing'An Park, the PuLi Hotel and Spa is part of a centrally located multi-use development with office towers, stores, and restaurants.
You turn off the noisy, hectic streets of Shanghai onto a bamboo-lined driveway, where the PuLi entrance is discreetly tucked away.
You immediately sense why PuLi calls itself an "urban oasis."
Sculpted animal heads, called horse stones, flank the entrance. In ancient times, rich families installed the stones to tie up their horses, so the stones came to symbolize wealth.

General Manager Martijn Van Der Valk greeted me and invited me to tea as I checked in. A native of Holland, he was introduced to me at a soiree hosted by gallerist Pearl Lam. His making himself so available and so incredibly accommodating is one of the reasons the hotel has a 30% repeat business.

"Shanghai is New York on steroids," Martijn said. "It's buzzing and it's safe. And visitors enjoy the combination of old and new, East and West."
GM Martijn Van Der Valk is usually in the lobby ensuring that his guests are happy. He seems to know them all personally.
When you enter the hushed lobby, your eye gravitates to the view of Jing'An Park, a panorama filtered by the bamboo shades.
I loved the Asian-influenced décor. Its soothing, sophisticated palette of browns, creams and whites immediately creates a mood of tranquility.
The absence of blaring music, the presence of subtle lighting and the glow of candles at night make guests feel welcomed and relaxed.
I joined Martijn for a glass of Champagne at the Long Bar; at 104 feet, it has one of Shanghai's "longest" selections of wine.
In the intimate Guest Library located off the main lobby, you can sit in front of the fireplace, enjoy drinks, surf the Internet or chat with the concierge.
Yet another reason why the PuLi qualifies as an oasis is the presence of water elements everywhere.

Since the weather was still perfect, guests were enjoying cocktails on the Garden Terrace, which also serves lunch and late-evening drinks.

I met up there with friends visiting from Italy. International, fashionable and chic, they are representative of the clientele the hotel attracts. I hear that Giorgio Armani stays here when he's in town.

Everyone seems to be coming to Shanghai looking for business opportunities. I've seen many come and go in my time here.
When the weather is fine, the Garden Terrace is open for lounging, drinks, and food.
GM Dutch Martijn Van Der Valk greets his visiting clientele in the garden.
Shanghai-based Adriana Mannering, with visiting friends Maria Valeria Forlenza and Andreina Longhi, founder of the Milanese communication agency, Attila&Co.
In the foyer, I met artist Kris Ruhs and gallerist Carla Sozzani, who founded Milan's 10 Corso Como, a "mini lifestyle emporium."

While escorting me to my room, Martijn showed me the Jing'An restaurant. Even at breakfast, he explained, it serves both Western and Eastern dishes—eggs and fried rice as well as oatmeal and congee. "Though congee is a poor man's food," Martijn said, "here it's a barometer of the quality of the menu, like the coffee in the West: it must be good!"
The Jing'An Restaurant on the second floor overlooks the Jing'An Park. The room has the same clean, contemporary look and palette as the lobby.
The Asian "make-it- yourself" noodle selection in the restaurant offers Chinese and Shanghainese specialties.
Foie Gras with Smoked Chocolate. Chocolate parfait with strawberry sorbet.
More Asian-inspired touches.
On levels 20 to 26, the PuLi has 61 rooms and suites that offer Club Floor service: you are assigned a personal butler and have access to a private lounge and complimentary drinks.
In my room, a dragon-scale screen separated the foyer from the bedroom.
Like the rest of the hotel, the bedroom décor was sleek and modern, and the beautiful ceramics and wooden floors were lovely touches.
The floor-to-ceiling window offered an incredible view of the city, with the night-lights twinkling. I had only to touch a button to lower the blinds.
I loved that there were only three buttons on the phone: one for the spa, one for ordering food, and one to reach the Service Center, which coordinates everything. Since it's so simple, the system eliminates any language problem.
Beneath the window is a wall-to-wall banquette where you might curl up to read and enjoy the park view during the day, watch the lights at night, or pound away at your laptop.
Located in the business district of Nanjing West Road, the hotel has easy access to major roads—important in a city with so much traffic.
Some 70 percent of the Fortune 500 companies and many esteemed brands such as L'Oreal, Lancôme, and LG Condé Nast are headquartered in the neighborhood.
The TV at the foot of the bed was situated so you could watch it either from the bed or from the banquette and the desk.
The spacious and compartmentalized bathroom opened to the bedroom. You can close off the bathroom with sliding doors.
If you were sharing accommodations with a business partner, I think you would find a suite like this most suitable.
What a sublime pleasure to soak in the gigantic tub while enjoying the view of the Shanghai skyline!

Before I turned in, I decided to enjoy a light bite to tide me over until morning, so I ordered from room service. I love that it's called Home Delivery.

The combination East/West menu included eggs, burgers, pizza, ham and cheese, and mac and cheese (on a children's menu), as well as congee with chicken and beef pot stickers.
The hotel offers a typical (in China) intriguing selection of organic herbal tea infusions: African Nectar, Mint Melange, Chamomile Citrus, Ginger Twist Herbal and Anantara Chrysanthemum.
I chose a light dinner of shrimp wonton soup, which was served with three little pots of sauces, including soy sauce and hot sauce.
I was delighted to discover that though the mini-bar offered no alcohol and food, it offered fruit drinks, soft drinks, bottled water, tea service and the Nespresso coffee machine—all at no charge. And I liked that all the surfaces were clear. The new trend of putting all the mini-bar offerings on a table, clearly to tempt you, just makes me feel as if I'm living in a kitchen.
At dawn, I enjoyed a view of the Buddhist Jing'An Temple (Temple of Peace and Tranquility), with its golden elements.

After putting my things away, I headed to the Anatara Spa on the fifth floor. When I browsed the extensive list of treatments from China, Thailand and India, I was amazed by the variety.

Several inspired by the healing properties of tea especially intrigued me. The Green Tea scrub, wrap and bath was to detoxify, the White Tea package would balance me, the Rose Tea treatment would beautify, and the Chrysanthemum Tea would clarify. How to choose? I wanted them all.
I selected the 90-minute hour sports massage, to get out all the kinks, in the large private room big enough for two.
The treatment began with a footbath in a basin filled with water and rose petals, followed by a sea salt and honey scrub.
I climbed onto the table for a heavenly massage, so relaxing that I dozed off a few times. Afterwards, I was offered chrysanthemum tea to sip while I relaxed.
A perfect little lap infinity pool surrounded by Balinese lounging sofas is reason enough to stay here.
Guests also have the wonderful view of the Jing'An Park below.
I enjoyed the hot tub, steam, sauna and Jacuzzi on the woman's side and admired the fully equipped gym for those who want a workout.

When I returned to my room, the shades had been pulled and the bed, with the sheets turned down, looked inviting.

But before I went to sleep, I turned on the Chinese CCTV station and watched the story of China's first space lab module or station—Tiangong-1 ("heavenly palace"). "Thirty years ago this would be science fiction, but today it's reality," the announcer said.

The program also reported that 9,000 NASA workers have been let go. As China is forging on with a space program, the U.S. is downsizing, laying off people in an industry where there are no other jobs for them in an economy that's slowed down.

I turned off the TV and enjoyed the most relaxing and welcome sleep. What a great way to start my Shanghai visit!
Tiangong-1 blasted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern Gansu Province.
A Long March-2F rocket carried the unmanned spaceflight module as part of a mission to test space docking with another spacecraft later this year.
This paves the way for China to become the third country in the world to operate a permanent space station around 2020.
Shenzhou 5, in 2003, was the first manned spaceflight into orbit by China.

The next morning, I was reluctant to leave the PuLi—an "urban oasis" for sure. With all my traveling, I don't often find a hotel that offers such attentive, thoughtful, and luxurious service in such a relaxing urban setting.

I'll be highly recommending it to my friends when they visit Shanghai. Be sure to say hello to Martijn if you stay here; he'll take excellent care of you.

Many modes of transportation exist in Shanghai.
Chinese like red, which is considered the color of good luck and auspiciousness.
The following are just a few sites on Nanjing Road.
Jing'An Temple at the intersection of Nanjing and Huashan.
Entrance to the mixed-use Shanghai Center, where you find service apartments and many cafés, restaurants, and coffee shops.
The Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Shanghai Center.
Across the street is the Shanghai Exhibition Center. Built in 1955, in Stalinist style, it was then called the Palace of Sino-Soviet Friendship.
Next door is the exclusive Plaza 66, whose 66 floors offer some of the city's most expensive office space. Plaza 66 is considered the most exclusive shopping center, home to the flagship stores of many luxury brands including Chanel, Hermes, Dior, Prada, Fendi, and Prada.
For an American, it doesn't make sense to shop in Mainland China, as the luxury tax on imported goods can be 30 percent or more.
Many fly to instead to Hong Kong, where the prices are lower.
Others don't seem to mind and take pride in being able to pay whatever it costs.
I buy everything in the U.S. before I return to Shanghai.
Lately there has been talk of a European-style form of tax refund for foreigners. We'll see.
On Nanjing Street are many Western-style shopping malls such as Citic Square and Westgate. There you will find top-tier international and local brands, restaurants, and movie theaters.
Isetan, the flagship Japanese department store chain, carries many Japanese products and foods.
You can find almost every international brand name in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing, and certainly in stores such as Isetan.
Since I first arrived in Shanghai in 2008, I've watched as Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road) evolved and upgraded.
Gone are many of the local lower and middle-price shops, replaced by stores carrying high-end luxury international brands.
China has gone global, and little girls play dress up around the world. You can eat Eastern or Western food in the food halls.
Full employment.
The big malls end here, and individually owned boutiques, housed in buildings from another era, line the streets.
Off Nanjing Road, several entrances lead you to quiet pedestrian gated communities.
Behind these gates stand the typical Shanghai-style lane houses, called "lilong" (li means neighborhood, "long" means lanes) where many of the local populace lives.
My friend, Andrea Mingai Chu, an author and publisher, chose this area for lunch because she thought—correctly, it turned out—that I would find it interesting.
This urban traditional housing is made up of two- or three-story townhouses connected and arranged in straight alleys (long-tang).
These row houses fuse the characteristics of British houses and Chinese courtyard houses.
Many are being turned into stores and boutiques, as shoppers are looking for a unique experience that malls don't provide.
Andrea choose this intimate little café tucked away on the first floor of a lane house with tables in the little courtyard.
Having grown up in a lane house, she recalled what life was like in such dwellings.
Andrea Mingai Chu is author of the bi-lingual book, “Modern Shanghai Vintage Houses,” in its second printing. The book has the most wonderful photographs of typical Chinese homes and design.
After lunch, we went on a mini-tour of this neighborhood, whose unique qualities help give Shanghai its special flavor. A typical Chinese restaurant in one of the lanes.
Many wish the government would put more of "Old Shanghai" under architectural protection.
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.