I recently returned from another fall season in Shanghai—that exotic, endlessly fascinating and ever-changing city. I’ve compiled the best of the stories and pictures I gathered about social life and travels in China in diary form, and I’ll be posting them from time to time. Here’s another:
NATIONAL DAY HOLIDAY
SHANGHAI—I stayed in town on October 1, which is National Day, the beginning of the weeklong holiday that commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on that date in 1949.
This holiday is one of the two “Golden Weeks.” The other is Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Holiday, which usually occurs in January or February.
I try never to travel on either of these occasions because of the crowds. If you watch director Lixin Fin’s award-winning Chinese documentary film, Last Train Home, you’ll understand. He documents “the world’s largest human migration,” when 130 million migrant workers return to their rural homes for the Spring Holiday. (It’s as if half of America traveled home for Thanksgiving!)
MAISON DE L’HUI IN ROCKBUND NEIGHBORHOOD
With so many people out of town for the holiday, Shanghai was relatively quiet. I was especially delighted to be invited to an elaborate lunch by Shelley and Edward Lim and Wang Hui Min (who uses the English name Faye Wang). Faye is the founder and powerhouse behind the Xiao Nan Guo brand of restaurants and spas.
We lunched at Faye’s new upscale brand concept restaurant, Maison de l’Hui (Hui means wisdom). It had just opened in the Rock Bund, a six-block historic area that is one block from the famous Bund Promenade.
When I first moved to Shanghai in 2008, I wouldn’t have dreamed that the neighborhood, then a slum, could ever hold promise. But when the scaffolding came off, the area, with its architecturally interesting Colonial buildings, became known as the Rock Bund. (I’ve written about it in a previous dispatch, here)
CAROLYNE ROEHM IN SHANGHAI
I had been to the Maison de l’Hui before, when New Yorker Carolyne Roehm and Simon Pinniger came to town briefly and we met for lunch with Shelly Lim at the elegant Peninsula Shanghai lobby restaurant.
Since Carolyne is a designer herself, Shelly thought she might be interested in seeing the design of Faye Wang’s newest restaurant that hadn’t yet open. The designer for the Rock Bund Maison de L’Hui was San Francisco-based Anne Getty. She and her team Maria Quiros, Taylor Nagle and Beth Townsendflew in to design the space, while Shelly was the local design coordinator.
LUNCHEON IN HONOR OF PAOLO SABBATINI
The Maison de l’Hui was the setting for an elaborate luncheon in honor ofPaolo Sabbatini, the departing Director of the Italian Culture Institute for five years. Paolo, who hails from an illustrious Roman family, was being relocated to Prague to direct the Institute there.
“I am honoring my extended family on National Day, and I am celebrating my first day as a ‘free citizen,'” Paolo said. As the new Italian Director Alidoro Catocci had arrived, Paolo had just turned in his official credentials. Alidoro was my luncheon partner. Since he doesn’t speak English, we conversed in our broken French.
One of the things I like so much about Shanghai is the intermingling of the different nationalities. Though we don’t all speak the same languages fluently, somehow we communicate. It’s amazing how much you can understand even without words.
The exquisite Chinese cuisine luncheon for twenty was served formally, with a series of little dishes, rather than in casual family style, where people at round tables help themselves from a Lazy Susan in the center
The courses were too numerous to recall, but the portions were such that guests left without feeling stuffed. Naturally, in the Chinese tradition, many toasts were made.
STROLLING THE ROCK BUND
After lingering over that Sunday afternoon lunch, I decided to walk to the Bund, the embankment along the Huangpu River. I love walking in Shanghai; there’s always a new adventure or a new discovery, and sometimes I feel as if I’m in a movie set.
In the Rock Bund neighborhood, I enjoy walking the cobblestone streets and observing the distinctive Colonial-style architecture of buildings such as the former Union Church, the grand former British Consulate and its gardens, and the elegant Peninsula hotel, which opened in 2010.
I continued walking through the streets, following the crowds, until I reached the Bund Promenade (“Waitan,” in Chinese), the famous tourist attraction that was completely reconstructed by 2010. The river walk is lined with landmarked Colonial-era buildings that once housed banks and trading houses.
Despite the crowds, every visitor, young and old, city or country dwellers, foreigners or locals, can’t miss a stroll on the Bund, lovely by day and spectacular at night.
PIETRO AND MARGHERITA MESCHI VISIT FROM ITALY
We saw more of the wedding scene when my friend Pietro di Meschi and his daughter Margherita Meschi arrived from Lucca, Italy. Pietro has been importing flower goods from China for more than 30 years.
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.