Center of an Impressive development
Shanghai is home to a financial center and the heart of the Chinese economy. It is the largest city in China, with a population of 20 million. The Shanghai World Financial Center building is the highest in the country (1,614 ft) and has the highest observation deck in the world. Shanghai is located at the mouth of the Huangpu River in the Yangtze, the longest river across Asia (3,914.6 Miles).
We flew Aeromexico and landed at 1 p.m. As we arrived, we went to one of the most exclusive commercial area in Shanghai, the Nanjing Lu West, where the Shanghai Centre Serviced Apartments complex is, and we entered our apartment. This option is preferred by family groups, group tours and for long stay business trips. There are two apartment towers, East and West, with the Portman Ritz Carlton hotel between them. Just a few steps away Shanghai a wider range of options and places of interest opened, walkways, ATMs, even refined grocery stores
The apartment had two bedrooms with a bathroom and complete furniture. For the price of a hotel room we had a kitchenette, refrigerator and washer-dryer, so convenient when traveling light. The rent included breakfast at any of their 4 cafes, and as guests of the apartments, we had access to the Ritz hotel facilities. The location was excellent, right on the popular Pudong area.
When we saw the beds we decided to begin reversing the lag time. We had taken off at 10am and landed at 1pm –midnight, Mexico time. To tie our biological rhythm of the day, we decided to eat light and take a short nap.
We woke up at 6pm local time (5am in Mexico). It was a Sunday, so we reviewed the list of places that had been suggested to visit in the spare time that the visits and meetings that led us to this trip would allow.
We walked along the beautiful Bund pedestrian street in the west banks of the Huanpu river. Bund is a “nickname” of the street. The Chinese name is Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, which translates as First Street East Zhongshan. It was originally British settlement but was paved in 1846 and reinforced the levee to give way to the modern development we see today. I was fascinated looking at people that close, their tranquility and relaxed body language as if they were at a family reunion or a school gathering.
The Bund was one of the main financial centers of Asia a century ago. Its skyline shows the profile of the most significant buildings of the colonial era. Standing out are the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation, HSBC, built in 1921which was the Town Hall from 1950 to 1990. Also iconic is building of the Peace Hotel, crowned with its green pyramidal roof.
We looked for a place to have dinner and to our surprise, we found the unexpected: a Spanish restaurant run by its owner and chef, Guillermo “Willy” Trullas. Ham croquettes improved our mood, which was good just to be able to speak Spanish. A great gazpacho followed, of course, being El Willy’s motto “Happy Spanish Restaurant”. We listened to suggestions, and succeeded with a low temperature cooked octopus wrapped in prosciutto.”Ozú!”, what a dish! With an excellent red Rioja we went on to desserts, cheeses and breads, to finish off with a “carajillo”. We took one last view of the city through the huge windows of El Willy, and started going towards the hotel for our next round of sleep and get ready for work next day.
Our day ended at 6, perhaps out of compassion. We were still loaded with the jet-lag fatigue and a confusing schedule. We were hungry and had been in non-stop meetings all day long since 8 A.M. Luckily, the first meeting was at a breakfast at the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund. The multilingual staff is friendly, which is a touch of class that looks even more than the flawless decor of the cafe, with its soft illumination and windows framed by heavy red curtains.
The simplicity of the morning Yin dishes matched the perfection of the preparation. Melon with honey on two slices of ham, poached eggs and a perfect espresso!
After the last meeting we walked a few blocks to the Yuyuan Gardens, a great idea to relax and move a bit, after hours of sitting down. They are over 400 years old, and were built in the time of the Ming Dynasty. It is a haven of peace, one of the largest parks in China and certainly the most famous. With 20,000 sq meters (215,000 sq ft), Yuyuan means health and happiness, and it’s an adequate name indeed.
We crossed underneath the Huangpu river through Tenmin Tunnel to West Shanghai. We went to the Jade on 36 Restaurant, on the 36th floor of the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel. The restaurant was well worth the underground trip. It is rated as the best Shanghai French menu, mastered by Chef de Cuisine Franck-Elie Laloum. The decor highlights generous lighting, which is almost matched by the vast cityscape that invades the windows.
For starters, Fraicheur of Legumes Retour du Moyen Orient: avocado with lemon and olive oil, light Lebanese Hummus, steamed green asparagus, mint pesto and Yogurt of grilled pine cones oil. As a second entree, Oeuf Fumee Iodee: boiled egg cooked at 65 ° C, smoked green asparagus, Real Kaluga Caviar, asparagus juice slices of asparagus.
The list of desserts offered “ Puissance Acidité et Douceur” (Bitter and sweet energy) Crispy vegetable roots, Sabayon Arabica Coffee, We chose a white Marsanne of Côte du Rhône, which kept us excellent company through dinner.
The bright sun made us realize that the three previous days had been a bit cloudy. The task that day was to visit Jiaotong University, where more than 1,500 foreigners study mainly the Chinese language. The school has 835 full time professors, 15 members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, 20, of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, 24 research professors. More than 70% of its faculty have doctorates or post-doctorates degrees. Its programs in English are recognized by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The main campus, Xuhui Campus, was built nearly 100 years ago and old buildings are still in perfect shape. Newer buildings house the scientific disciplines. The Ming Hang campus is much larger than the Xuhui, which begun construction 20 years ago and continues to grow. Due to the size of this University, there are free buses and lots of bicycles.
Once getting the information we needed, we thought of a typical Chinese meal. Much has been said that there are dishes made with dog meat, although were informed that it is not very common to find a place that would serve it. It is typical of the south of the country, in Shanghai, mainly pork and beef have become common dishes.
We went to the Yuanyuan, not far from the University, 201 Xingguo Street. Their red roasted meat is delicious, an invitation to eat. The soy milk curd is also excellent, both in taste and aroma. I could verify why their dish Xien Ke Huan is famous, which consists of delicious crab eggs. Once satisfied, we returned to our base to rest.
We had early breakfast at Din Tai Fung, 123 Xin Ye Street. Its architecture reminded us of Europe, but it also has elements of “Shikumen”, an amalgam of Eastern and European styles that emerged in the early 1900s. We were determined to try the famous Dim Sum, traditional buns different to those we know in America. These are steamed with flour, usually filled with pork and served piping hot, raw or lightly fried with soy sauce. The buns filled with truffle were preceded by great popularity which we found it was well deserved. It was a real discovery which we enjoyed with a bowl of tea. These buns are the fast food breakfast locals grab in the street in their way to work. The Din Tai Fung is consistent with its quality and neatness. The chain Din Tai Fung has been recognized as the best of Shanghai in typical Chinese food.
The job was done at noon, so we had the rest of the day. We were flying back in 24 hours. We decided to take this free time to visit some of the places that we hadn’t seen yet. We had already been to the Yuyuan Gardens with its traditional buildings, ponds and meadows, and surrounded by the Wall of Five Dragons, we had walked around the Bund and admired the stunning panorama that includes the Jinmao Tower, a building with its 1,380 ft high and 88 floors, on the opposite bank of the river. We knew Pudong, abundant in skyscrapers, luxury shopping, world-class hotels and gourmet restaurants
We went to the elegant Cloud 9 Bar, at the Jinmao Tower. It was hard to find because the building has no signs. But “You get to Rome by Asking” and so to Cloud 9. Once settled in front of a breathtaking panorama of the city and the ocean, I asked for my Mexican beer. In the conversation I learned more details about this famous bar. To begin with, the Grand Hyatt is the world’s tallest hotel, the Cloud 9 is the highest bar in the world, that there is a Piano Bar in the 53rd floor and a Patio Bar in the 56th. Sure, the ovations go to Cloud 9 at the 87th floor. The windows surround the place, the view is spectacular by day and even better by night. Western visitors tend (we tended) to climb one floor more, to the 88th, to something we did not imagine, the appreciation of the smooth curvature of the earth, which was visible at that point.
We wanted to see more, so we interrupted this fascinating moment and by a recommendation, we went looking for a place to eat in the old part of the Wujiang street, in Suzhou, in East Shanghai. Again, as in the Bund, the real treat was just looking at people walking; we did not see any tourists. Parked and moving bicycles, hairdressers, an impressive array of restaurants, you name it. The signs of course were written in Chinese characters which we could not decipher or memorize. It did not matter, the advice was to eat where it seemed appetizing and clean. So we did and ordered by sign language. I was happy with my three skewers of crab, fish and shrimp with vegetables, delicious beyond my expectations, and again some beef, pork and truffle buns. Also three, along with the available beer: Tsingtao. The ingredients were fresh, the place was clean and many diners ate standing outside the restaurant as Wujiang Street is a pedestrian only street. We were happy to be in a truly Shanghai local restaurant.
We visited the fascinating Shanghai Art Museum, in the People’s Square. The building facade resembles an ancient Chinese vessel. The pottery and porcelain gallery from the Tang Dynasty is brilliant. The paintings collection includes works from the Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasties. Don’t miss the coin collection, the minorities’ art, the ancient jade and the Chinese sculptures.
We had dinner at the Portman Ritz Carlton bar. Its decor is exotic and well planned, with black dominating the decor but with enough light to make the ambiance pleasant. The bar is huge as is its stock of liquors. We needed to dine without taking too much time since we needed to pack, so I ordered a potato with herb crust in tartar sauce, chicken breast with tomatoes and french fries, for dessert a dark chocolate “brownie”. As expected, it took us a long time packing because the talking, the euphoria of the return and the bragging to each other our shopping made during quick escapes to Nanjing Road. I purchased tailored shirts from WW Taylor Chang & Sons -at-the Hilton and silk at Yuyuan. There was no time for more.
We did not mind sleeping just few hours, as we would have more than enough to recover during the flight back. We had Breakfast Buffett offered by the departments. We enjoyed a menu with a variety of delicious fresh fruits, juices, and ham and cheese on bread; more than worthy of the occasion. At nine we headed to the Shanghai airport (Pudong), with one of the largest traffic in China. When we arrived into Shanghai, we left the airport in a hurry, now; we had time to look closely at the ultra-modern architecture of the building, the shops, cafes, restaurants and people. It’s always fun to watch people , and an airport is the best place to do it. So we spent the time walking, getting last minute souvenirs, a cup of coffee and watching people go by, until we took off back to Mexico. That ended our trip that, despite being work related, it left us enough time to get a feeling of this stunning metropolis. “Hasta la Vista”, Shanghai.
Text: Antonio López Garfias ± Photo: DREAMERON / MadGrin / clownjoke / mariusetsylvie / VACAZIONAVIAJES / XCHNG / GOWAY / Impress PR / ENTENDENCIA