Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shanghai on a Budget

The following is an excerpt from an article from the NY Times on exploring Shanghai on a budget. Shanghai has long past, as well as being a city of the future.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to to the full article. There is a nice slide show that goes along with it. Enjoy.

Frugal Traveler
In Shanghai, Balancing the Past, the Future and a Budget
IN Shanghai, the present does not exist. Want the past? Stroll along the Huangpu River and gaze at the stretch of Greek temple banks, Neo-Classical-style skyscrapers and Art Deco hotels. This is the Bund, a relic of Shanghai's golden age, built a century ago by the international coterie of businessmen who had transformed a river town into the richest port in Asia.
Want the future? Turn your head 180 degrees and gape at Pudong, the spanking-new financial district. This is the home of the Oriental Pearl Tower, the silvery tiers of the Jinmao Tower and a feng shui fantasia of glass, steel and construction cranes — a fitting symbol for the international coterie of businessmen currently transforming Shanghai into a new symbol of globalization.
But what, I wondered on a hot afternoon last August, is Shanghai today? On one side I had history (partly my own; I'd been here 18 months before); on the other, speculation — and that worried me. Not because there was no now now, but because the nostalgic and the futuristic rarely come cheap.
I had $500, or just under 4,000 yuan at 7.9 yuan to the dollar, for the weekend, and more than a third was already committed to my hotel, No. 9. A five-room B & B in a 1920s mansion tucked down a quiet lane, No. 9 blends China's distant past, recent history and immediate future in equal measure: Life-size wooden gods from the walled city of Pingyao guard the ground floor, Deco wardrobes and desks adorn the guest rooms, and high-tech touches like Wi-Fi, touch-sensitive desk lamps and heated mattresses abound.
Equally important are its staff members, who pad around smiling in soft black knits, and the owner, David Huang. A furniture designer born and raised in Taiwan, David moved to Shanghai and retook control of No. 9, which his grandfather had owned before the family fled the mainland in 1949. He is the hotel's animating presence, a giver of lavish dinner parties, a wine connoisseur happy to share his collection, and a low-key fixture in the city's art scene who knows all the best openings. At 700 yuan a night — considerably higher than Shanghai's budget inns, but well below the Four Seasons — No. 9 is the Frugal Traveler's favorite hotel in the world.
But since David wasn't around when I checked in, I put my bags away, walked out through the lane — where grandmothers played mah-jongg outside pink stucco homes and cicadas chirred in the trees — and grabbed a quick snack of jian bing, a crepe stuffed with egg, chili sauce and a piece of fried dough, from a street vendor (1 yuan).
Then I caught a taxi to the Bund (fares are cheap; my dozen rides totaled just 218 yuan), where I pondered Shanghai's temporal-ontological issues until the intense heat drove me indoors. Fortunately, many of the Bund's architectural treasures are being converted into air-conditioned malls. No. 18 on the Bund, for example, was once the Macquarie Bank Tower; today its first two floors are full of boutiques like Younik, which offers one-stop shopping for local designers like Lu Kun and Jenny Ji, one of whose sporty striped T-shirts (325 yuan) I bought for my wife, Jean.
But Shanghai knows its visitors want culture with their consumption, so you'll find a headless sculpture by Liu Jian-hua in the lobby of No. 18 on the Bund; the Shanghai Gallery of Art inside Three on the Bund (a 1916 building renovated by Michael Graves); and a must-see ceiling mural at the former headquarters of HSBC at No. 12.
Apart from Younik, however, most of the shops along the Bund are generically fancy — Dolce & Gabbana, Zegna and so on — so I hopped a cab to Lane 210 on Taikang Road, whose affordably chic offerings had wowed me in 2005. The stores were unchanged: La Vie carried more Jenny Ji; Shirtflag still sold cute, propaganda-inspired T's (“Worker, Peasant, Soldier — let's kiss!”); and Kommune remained a hot cafe, where I paid 35 yuan for a smoothie. But a slew of buildings had been knocked down, and my favorite stall for xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, had vanished without a trace. No one I asked even remembered it. Such is the magic of Shanghai today: now you see it, now you don't.
I needed a shower before dinner, so I rushed back to No. 9, half-worried the wrecking crews might have beaten me there. Still no sign of David, but my American friend Ryan soon arrived, and we walked down Jianguo Road in search of food, passing yet more quaint blocks scheduled for demolition.
Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at Yoma, a cozy Japanese restaurant with a dozen blond-wood tables and a harried but friendly waitress. We'd gone there partly because of Japan's historical entanglement with Shanghai, partly for its homey classics like tuna tartare and fried tofu in dashi broth, and partly for its affordability. Spending 200 yuan each meant we could splurge on dessert.
And if there's one place for sweets in Shanghai, it's Jean-Georges, on the fourth floor of Three on the Bund. Ryan and I settled into a black banquette in the dark and sparsely populated lounge and ordered the chocolate tasting — a quartet of cacao-accented flavors that ranged from coconut to Sichuan peppercorns (138 yuan, including coffee). It more than satisfied my cravings, without emptying my wallet.


ms_lili said...

When do we leave? Does your friend have any trips planned for the near future?

Rick Matz said...

This writer has a pretty good gig.