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Discover SHANGHAI!

Enhancing life energy using ancient principles

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Story by Michael Ho

Feng Shui, which literally means “wind-water,” refers to the ancient Chinese system of placing and arranging spaces in order to achieve harmony and enhance the flow of life energy (Qi).

Shanghai. The name immediately conjures up a mysterious mental image for the uninitiated. Six months ago when I announced to my most learned friends that I would be moving temporarily to Asia with a home-base in Shanghai, a few looked slightly bewildered. Turns out, many of them knew next to nothing about the growing metropolis of 20 million formally known as the Whore of the Orient. One fellow, who for his own good shall remain nameless, said, “Shanghai, um, is that in China?” If you’ve never visited, Shanghai should be your next vacation. Surprised? Before you discredit me as some kind of big city smog-lover, you should know I’ve fled Vancouver’s shores for the warmer beaches of Sayulita, Mexico an embarrassing five times over the past three year years. Clearly, it was time to go someplace else. First, a disclaimer: Shanghai is not for everybody.

If you have special dietary needs, a strong aversion to riding in taxis with no seat belts or encountering endless streams of second-hand smoke, become upset if your hair deconstructs in humidity, bristle at construction noise, squirm from squeaky breaks or have issues with personal space, just stay put. But if you are interested in Chinese culture, love cities like New York and London, consider Happy Hour one of the three meals of the day, are flexible and open-minded, you’ll love Shanghai. One of the main reasons to visit the city now is that you’ll have the unique opportunity to see a metamorphoses happening at breakneck speed right before your eyes. For the pampered travelor, Shanghai is as high-end as you want it to be. Gleaming luxury hotels tower above the city. Soon to be the tallest building on the planet, The World Financial Centre’s 101 floors are almost completed.

Each day I stumble onto and sometimes unfortunately into (apologies to guy riding the green scooter on Fuxing Lu last week) something new and wondrous. What makes Shanghai fascinating arethe contrasts existing side by side. Modern and traditional, rich and poor, shining and filthy, glamorous and shabby, brilliant and backwards. Many streets are packed with bicycles, cars, buses, scooters, wheelbarrows, carts, street sweepers and more bicycles. After acquiring a shiny, red, two-wheeled steed of my own, I soon came to regard the inexplicable moving circus of varying transportation as a beautifully executed ballet. You just have to know where you fit in. Basically, anywhere there is a space to be filled. Why do we love big cities?

It’s the pace, the energy, the people watching and the food. When it comes to dining, you will find just about anything you desirein Shanghai from chic up-market restaurants like Jean-Georges on The Bund or Mesa in the former French Concession to the oiliest but most delicious hole-in-the-wall Mom and Pop Shanghaiese joints with no English menus serving piping hot regional seafood specialties in bubbling clay pots (which most importantly, must always be washed down with a liberal dose of the inexpensive local Tsingtao brew).

There are museums, art galleries, theatres, malls, boutiques, and a seemingly endless list of night clubs, lounges, live music venues and pubs to check out. The city is under one giant renovation. Modern storefronts, retro-fitted lane houses and resurrected colonial architecture host nightclubs, art galleries and flower shops. If you’re a devout foodie, like Vancouver Food Stylist Nathan Fong, he’ll tell you Shanghai is not to be missed. Specialties from every region in China can be found anywhere in the city. If you like spicy, try the Hunan restaurants. If seafood is your favourite, you’ve come to the

That’s contrast. That’s Shanghai. Without getting into massive history lesson and boring you senseless (although Shanghai’s history is actually quite titillating), here’s the story: right place. That’s the Shanghaiese diet. If you have a really adventurous palate, I’ve seen “snake heads done two ways”, pig’s trotters, and even (stop reading aloud to Sparky) dog on a few menus. While many Shanghaiese do not go for any of these northern and southern Chinese dishes, they are available here in cosmopolitan Shanghai. If you’re like me and you like to mix it up, you’ll head for one of the many French, Italian, Indian, Japanese and Spanish restaurants after the MSG kicks in one too many times.

Even English pubs and German beer halls compete for your RMB. There is no tipping in China, so if you do decide to visit, please don’t go ruining it for the rest of us like my step-father just did recently, dolling out the Yuan to every taxi driver in town. The good people of Shanghai will try to give the money back to you. Shanghai’s neighbour hoods are diverse. My favourite is the former French Concession area with its quiet, leafy, tree-lined streets, tired 1920’s colonial mansions, consulates, Wi-fi cafes, bars, and the best selection of restaurants in the city.

Another must-see is Old Town where you may walk the busy, winding lanes amongst traditional but dilapidated homes called Shikumen houses red brick homes with tiled roofs surrounded by colourful laundry, plenty of curious locals, vegetable and fish stands. At the edge of Old Town, Chinese ladies stand arguing over the price of a live chicken next door to a massive, shiny, glass highrise condo complete with tennis courts. In my neighbourhood one set of neighbours drives a new Lexus and BMW.

The other set are 10 migrant workers living in one room who sleep on bamboo mats, and because they lack a shower in the shared bathroom, they have a nightly spongebath in the garden below our living room window. It’s quite entertaining.

Shanghai was once a bustling fishing village until the Brits started trading opium for silks and next thing you know, the Chinese cannot stop chasing the dragon.

The government tried put an end to the very profitable opium trade by proclaiming the drug illegal in an attempt to help the people, but the Brits, ticked off by the potential massive revenue loss, invaded the city and kept the opium coming. They, along with the French, set up neighbour hoods, The British and French Concessions, where many examples of colonial architecture remain today.

The Americans soon followed. During this time, the city became known as The Whore of the Orient because of its penchant for partying, gambling, jazz clubs, sex trade and all round good times. It was one big party until a certain somebody named Mao proclaimed the fun over. Under communism, times were tough. (Read author Nien Cheng’s “Life & Death in Shanghai” to get an idea of the grim picture). In the 80’s, with Mao gone and new recruit Deng Xiaopingat at the wheel, Shanghai once again opened tentatively to foreign investment, launched manufacturing, and voila, the race was on to catch up with the west. Shanghai’s come a long way baby.

Shanghai proper is called Puxi. Across the Huangpu River is the famous Pudong financial district that at night is lit up like a set from StarWars. The entire skyline was built over the last fifteen years and now boasts the massive World Financial Centre standing at 492 meters and resembling a giant bottle opener.

Hot on its heels is the Burj building in Dubai which will surpass the WFC by many more stories. While Pudong is worth a visit and you may actually want to stay therein one of the uber-fabulous hotels like the Shangri-la or Grand Hyatt, to me the “real” Shanghai is Puxi, and that’s where you’re most likely to explore, eat, cycle, party and shop.

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With every new business tower, mall or five star hotel, the echoes of Communism grown fainter. For poorer folk that might not be good news, however there’s a sense of energy and hope in the city, although it’s still not all new dishwashers and microwave ovens for everyone. The skies are littered with cranes. Migrant workers from the country toil morning to night and on weekends towards faster completion dates for architectually interesting glass commercial and residential towers.

China is definitely on one giant upswing, and Shanghai is the new financial centre. Although it’s all very exciting, particularly if you’re an architect, this rapid progress is not always a good thing. Bulldozers turn the charming, old, red brick Shikumen houses to rubble to make way for new expensive housing projects, ones that won’t be hosting the families who once lived on that land. They end up in the suburbs, and while they may now have that dishwasher, they sadly lose the richness that city life offers. The average yearly salary is still quite low compared to Canada, but shopping malls have sprung up everywhere.

If you have a weakness for labels like Armani, Burberry, Prada, Chloe and Lacoste, they’re all here, but the real fun, when it comes to shopping, is at the fabric market. If you are here for a week, one of your first stops should be the three- story market on LuJiaBang Lu near the famous Bund waterfront district. Choose a fabric from one of the many tailors and have a suit made. See friendly and efficient Mr Bao Zhong Yuan at stall number 261. He can have your new duds ready within three to four days. You’ll need to return for a fitting to make sure it’s perfect. If you have a favourite shirt, bring it with you and have it copied.

When to go

The best time of year to visit Shanghai really depends of your tolerance for heat. June, July and August are the hottest months with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius some days. Add some serious humidity to the mix and every day is a bad hair day. In my opinion, the nicest months are early spring and late August and September, perfect for dining al fresco. Book the vacation time now.

Actually, it’s not all about the West

Contrary to what weso often hear,China and its people are not so interested in all things Western. They’ve got their own thing going on. There’s a vibrant pop music scene, local TV shows, theatre, comedy, art, movies, sports, clothing designers, tabloid magazines, spirituality, architecture, plus thousands of years of recorded history.

The Bund – The ultimate Shanghai juxtaposition. Pudong’s modern skyline is just across the water from yee old England.

Best Places to Sleep
For views of The Bund, Pudong offers a luxurious vantage point so make sure you reserve a river view suite

Grand Hyatt – 88 stories high. Wake up on top of the world. Need we say more? Jin Mao Tower, 88 Century Blvd (5049 1234)

Pudong Shangri-La – perched on the river’s edge, admire the weaving water traffic with a glass of Moet firmly in hand. 33 Fu Cheng Lu (6882 8888)

St. Regis – 24 hour butler service is something we could all get used to. 889 Dongfang Lu (5050 4567)

Shanghai Jinjiang Hotel – Built in 1931 for the French, the charming courtyard with five heritage buildings aims to recapture the golden era. 59 Maoming Nan Lu (6258 2582)
Ruijin Guest House – an English country manor from the 30’s built by Morris Benjamin, a Shanghai Brit who made a fortune in dog racing. Stumbling distance to the famous Face Bar. 118 Ruijin Er Lu (6472 5222)

Old House Inn – down a quiet lane, around the corner from the Hilton, this renovated heritage listed house-turned-boutique hotel is the best value in Shanghai if you don’t mind a harder mattress. Lane 351 Huashan Lu (6248 6118)

Tomorrow Square JW Marriot – dramatic city views from this tall space rocket- shaped hotel can be enjoyed after a visit to the spa 399 Nanjing Xi Lu (5359 4969)

The Peace Hotel – opened in 1929 by Victor Sassoon, this famous grand dame is currently being refurbished by new owners Fairmont Hotels. Fingers crossed they’ve enhanced the charm. 20 Nanjing Dong Lu (63216888)

The Westin – these impressive 5 star digs features a knock out atrium lobby and seven in-house restaurants to chose from should you require a night in. 88 Henan Zhong Lu (6335 1888)

For that old time Shanghai feel, stay in the former French Concession

For that central urban feel stay near People’s Square

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Best places to eat

The Bund may have the view, but the French Concession is where you’ll want to be.

Guyi – 87 Fumin Lu (6247 0758) Modern Chinese and packed every night. Reservations a must.

Citizen Bar & Cafe – 222 Jinxian Lu (6258 1620) Very San Francisco. Damn good seafood quesadilla if you’re craving something familiar from home. Excellent mojitos. Free wi-fi.

Mesa – 748 Julu Lu (6289 9108) Sexy converted 2 story warehouse. Fine dining downstairs. DJ spins down-tempo beats upstairs. Ask for a patio table.

People 7 – 805 Julu Lu (5404 0707) Don’t let the secret door-release keep you away. Arthur Erikson would love this concrete modernist Japanese joint.

Crystal Jade – Xintiandi Plaza (6385 8752) Traditional Dimsum is a must.

Jean-Georges – 3 on the Bund – 4th Floor (6321 7733) Asian take on French cuisine. Award winning Chef. Old New York City feel. Treat yourself to brunch.

New Heights – 3 on the Bund (6321 0909) For the best view of Pudong Skyline on a clear night. Reserve on the patio. Glamour Bar is right around the corner if the night is still young.

Lost Heaven – 38 gao You Lu (64335126) An eight looks like a ten under the seductively low lighting of this beautiful Chinese eatery, tucked away on a heavily treed part of the former French Concession. Dishes are what you’d expect: heavenly

For Drinks

Cottons – 132 Anting Lu (6433 7995) Gorgeous landscaped patio in summer. Beautiful Hunanese owner Cotton will find you a cozyspot near the fireplace in winter.

Sasha’s – 9 Dongping Lu (6474 6167) French Concession villa with English speaking staff, a great cobb salad and large garden patio. Zapatta’s (the Roxy of Shanghai) is steps away if you care to witness Expats and Chinese table dancing while throwing back tequilia shots. Follow the sounds of remixed 80’s tunes to the door.

Face Bar – Ruijin Guesthouse (6466 4328) Shanghai’s most famous bar has an unbeatable setting in a 1920’s villa set on a manicured lawn. Drinks are half price between 5-8PM.

Where to boogie

Glamour Bar – 20 Guangdong Lu (6350 9988) Slick, modern, dark and sexy.

Barbarossa – 231 Nanjing Xi Lu (6318 0220) Three story Moroccan style Kasbah situated on a lake in the middle of the city by People’s Square. Most unique spot in town.

Attica – 15 Zhong Shan Dong Er Lu (6373 3588) Where the beautiful people get messy.

Live Jazz 

JZ Club – 46 Fuxing Lu
Jazz 37 – Four Seasons Hotel, 37th floor
The Blues Room – 146 Tongren Lu.
The Peace Hotel – on The Bund

When you’re not eating…

Try your bargaining skills at the Fabric Market. Cycle around the former French Concession. Book a foot massage at Dragon Fly. They have locations throughout the city. Be adventurous and have a “blind massage”. Ask your hotel concierge for a recommendation. Visit the fascinating, underground Propaganda Poster Museum on Huashan Lu for a snap shot of 1939-1979. Don’t forget your mother. Find bobbles for mumsie at the Pearl Market.

Dance to the jazz at the Peace Hotel’s downstairs tavern and experience 1930’s Shanghai. Walk the crowded, colourful lane ways of Old Town to see how the other half live. Check out the trinkets and treasures of the outdoor Antiques Market. Place a bet at the cricket fights at the Jingan Bird and Flower Market Zip up the Pearl Tower on a clear day for a view of the entire city. Pick up a few tips at the Chinese Sex Museum. Repent and light some insense for Buddha at the Jade Temple.

Make like a local and dodge the fake watch salesmen on The Bund and Nanjing Lu. Motor across the harbour to Pudong on a harbour ferry. Sip green tea over a copy of The Shanghai Daily at the TaiKang Lu Art Street. Join the Shanghai Sailing club on their open Sundays excursion to a nearb y lake. Jat lagged?

Try early morning Tai Chi with the seniors in Jingan Park. Count bats after sunset while sipping drinks at Face Bar on the Ruijin Guesthouse estate grounds. A quintessential Shanghai experience

Is Shanghai right for you?
Take Lisa’s Shanghai compatibility quiz to find out!
1. Are you a city person?
2. Would your friends describe you as flexible and open-minded?
3. Are you not averse to traveling in a non-English speaking country and learning a few helpful language phrases to get by?
4. Do the words ‘tailor-made suit at a ridiculously low cost’ cause your pulse to quicken?
5. Are you in favour of eating and drinking your way across town as sport?
6. Are you okay not having access to a seat belt?
7. Can you suppress your inner control freak?
8. Are you fortunate enough to not suffer from asthma, claustrophobia, germaphobia or indigestion?
9. Do you throw dietary caution to the wind when on vacation?
10.Are you a smoker who wishes it was still 1975?

If you answered No to 3 or more questions, stick with Maui.
Fast Facts:
Did you know, Shanghai is home to an indoor ski mountain, the fastest train, the tallest building in the world, a Formula 1 track and the annual Masters Tennis Cup

Party like a local. Find out what’s on at and Recommended travel guide: UK publication, Time Out Shanghai

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