Saturday Oct 20th and Sunday Oct. 21
Off to Shanghai. We left Beijing at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and headed to the airport with Amanda from the Kohler Shanghai office. We settled into the top floor (21st) of the Sheridan Four Points in Daning, John’s usual stomping ground and the same place I stayed a year ago. This is a high-end retail area, conveniently located one block from an Apple store (where I took my wireless keyboard in for inspection, only to learn that I needed simple AA batteries.)
Halloween is now pretty much created in China!
Thoughts on change in Shanghai: hawkers, shopkeepers, baby girls.
This is my fifth visit to Shanghai in the past seven years, and, although I hesitate to generalize about such a surprising, enigmatic city of 23 million people, I see certain trends.
1. Of course, things are more expensive. Now my rule of thumb is, “How much would this cost at Kohls?” After all, it’s the same stuff.
2. Shopping, at least in some places, is less of the wild “Thailand” experience that it once was. For example, in the huge Shanghai fabric market, the shops seem more upscale, and the offerings have switched from raw material to finished goods. The first time I went to the fabric market in 2005, it was a chaotic place, a mammoth open building with loosely separated stalls and tables piled with fabric sold by the meter. The shop keepers would pull you (physically) to their booths. “Lady, lady!” There were tailors ready to sew all night for you and deliver your purchase to your hotel. Then on return trips, and thanks to a government which moves like lightening, I found that the raw material offerings at the same fabric market were replaced in large part with ready-made garments, in nicer booths and actual shops, where the owners carried business cards with email addresses. The market still abounded with tailors who will whip up your wardrobe items in a day or two. But now, the shop keepers are less likely to call you “lady, lady,” and they have ceased touching you as you pass. (This might be a good thing – but I liked the wildness of the 2005 shopping experience.) Bargaining (in these places) is still the rule of thumb, with the original “best price” offered by the shopkeeper being about 1/4 to 1/5 of what you should pay.
3. Shanghai seems less polluted. There are days when the sky is yellowish, but it doesn’t seem sickening as it did that first summer I was here. Maybe I’m just liking it more each time I come? Maybe I didn’t notice the green spaces tucked away in the courtyards of the apartment buildings and in the parks before? Maybe I have just given up the expectation of seeing benches in parks and people with dogs.
4. Am I seeing more families with little girls? Earlier I was struck by the ever-present three-member family, two parents and a male child. Now it seems I see an equal or larger number of little girls. I need to check when the laws went into effect in China banning ultrasound identification and sex selection, and whether the laws are enforced. But then again, OF COURSE I’m looking at every little girl baby In China right now! (And they are adorable.)
5. Despite the rising status of many Chinese citizens, however, there are still so many people pulling hand trucks piled high with paper, plastic or scraps of metal through the streets, and so many people loitering in doorways or sweeping the streets, stooping with pathetically ineffective whisk brooms and dust pans. Not everyone is moving up in China, and the divide is widening.
Dinner in Tian Zhi Fan in the French Concession. We had a great re-entry into Shanghai tonight with a dinner in the Old Town shopping/restaurant area in the French Concession. We wandered the narrow streets for a bit, admired watching one Chinese parents dote on their little girl, and then settled on, of all things, a “Swiss” fondue restaurant called Glismatten. It was cute and fun, a cute hole-in-the-wall type place with small tables and a Swiss cow bell hanging behind our table. The place was bustling! What fun to be back at Tian Zhi Fan, the place where we found our little Tibetan shop on the last trip.
Pearl Village. Again. Sunday Oct. 21. This was the best day of the trip for me – John was free all day and we set off for the Old City and Yu Garden area and our favorite pearl vendor over the years, Jenny Tong at Tongxin Jewelers. She is in her stall #11 on the third floor of Pearl Village seven days a week. (What kind of life is that for a young woman?)
Once again, we picked out necklaces and earrings for the growing number of girls in our family. Hannah is getting fresh water pearls and multi-colored pearls like her sister already has. It was such fun, with a couple of waiting Chinese customer ladies helping us in our selection of little silk bags for each treasure. Jenny seems to give us nice discounts and a bunch of free things, and her new offerings were a funky mix of freshwater pearls, various shells and stones. (Unfortunately, my new pearl ring broke later that night, but as John says, “Mei you wen Ti.” Whatever.)
Shanghai dumplings. We then set out in search of Shanghai dumplings; John is an expert at knowing where to find them. We went to Yang’s Fried Dumplings, a dumpling shop near the Kohler Showroom. If you’ve never had them, put Shanghai dumplings on your bucket list. You bite into the steaming hot dumpling and try to manage the burst of boiling hot broth that explodes from the crispy casing. Then you savor the pork sausage within – and you do it all with chopsticks! (Sent my black pants to the hotel laundry after this!)
Then off to the knockoff market, the expansive Ya Tai Xin Yang Clothing Gift Market near the Science Museum. I hesitate to say what we bought there on the outside chance that the Canada Goose jacket wasn’t really made in Canada as the label (and the shop owner) claim it was. (Oh yeah, made in Canada?) The shop owner, Michael, whose last name does not appear on his business card, clearly has a number of regular customers. (I feel very guilty about the Oklahoma DVD we bought earlier too.)
We took the metro to the pedestrian walkway near the Pearl Tower and admired the incredible view! It’s a sparkling vision of China’s future, with a vision of China’s colonial past across the river.
We walked along the Bund and then down the fashionable Nanjing Road.
That night, after dropping off our purchases in the room, we found a Korean restaurant in the neighborhood and had another hilarious “lost in translation” conversation. After we pointed to pictures of the food we were going to eat, the waiter lady pointed to my packaged napkin and said something. We said in English, “What?” And she said the same string of words only louder. We ventured different guesses. Did we order enough? Did we order too much? This process repeated itself over and over again as the woman sitting at the next table broke into giggles. Finally our dining neighbor said, “She wants to know if you want to use your napkins, because otherwise they won’t charge you for them!”