All Hyped Up in Shanghai

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17th Sep 2008




Shanghai

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Pudong District view of The Bund
The new Shanghai is right at home in our Attention Deficit world, and that is part of why it and some of its Chinese sister cities are attracting so much hype at the moment.  Dive deeper and one finds that behind all this hype is some substance, a fact that remains true even after the shiny veneer of this city is stripped away to show its many layers: revealing a posse of Canadian immigrants who hold sway over large segments of "Cool Shanghai" - a mysterious result of reverse immigration! And, who knows, red-rope discrimination.

If you like architecture and building sites, Shanghai is your city. Although slightly fewer cranes litter the city today than before (they've all populated the skylines of Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi now) the fact remains that Shanghai is a boomtown, sucking up people, resources and power at an ever increasing rate. Pudong, which was a farce only 10 short years ago, is now a gleaming metropolis, complete with its own suburbs stretching down the Hangphu River. The city beams under the neon bulb of progress and has gentrified rapidly, with results especially evident in the last four years. Designer shops litter the city and a new vibe of creativity permeates décor, nightlife and fashion. Now if only they could do something about that nasty, choke-inducing air!

arrivals

There's a Shanghai legend that says if you turn on your laptop while riding the highly-hyped Maglev train as its leaving the station, the electrical charge will erase the contents of your memory drive. While that's unconfirmed, the real reason to skip the train is that it drops you in a random part of Shanghai, making the journey to wherever you are staying that much more annoying, especially during peak hour gridlock times, which in Shanghai is always. So your better option is to arrange a driver for an airport pickup. Try Mr. Niu, a local fixer albeit with little English experience but who drives a nice car and is very polite. You know how to shake your hands a little and motion and make yourself understood. If Mr. Niu is booked he can arrange others in his ring to pick you up and chauffeur you to your hotel in a brand spanking new Camry or Buick so you can relax on your ride in manic traffic into town. +86 138 1608 8591

where to stay

Since it opened in Pudong, internationalists and locals alike flock to the Shanghai Park Hyatt. It moves the centre of gravity up to the 79th floor as one of the world's highest hotels, staffed by a team of personal butlers and chefs, at the new Shanghai World Financial Centre.  This stunning hotel features an array of designer luxuries and ridiculously appointed rooms in a "vertical city" that rises a total of 101 stories into the clouds, or make that smog on a bad day. But never mind, your view inside is just as worth it.

Although everyone talks about Pudong, and it is easy to admire the beautiful Grand Hyatt and Shangri-La as well, its not really the place to stay if you can help it. Far more fun is to be had in Puxi, near the central People's Square. It's the urban heartbeat of the city. Jia Shanghai, offers luxuriously appointed rooms in the tradition of Philippe Starck in a well-located small hotel they call 'residence'. For the more corporate set, because you're there for a meeting not a night out and about, the new Le Méridien offers fantastic facilities, rooms, and location, making it the hard to beat option.

The new W Shanghai Pudong will also open in December 2009

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food

'xiao long bao'. Everywhere you look, the signature dumpling of Shanghai is worth every mouth watering soup-and-mystery-meat-filled bite. Some describe the experience as an inside out helping of matzah ball soup, but twenty times tastier. Restaurants in the Xintiandi food district offer surprisingly good xiao long bao, and the noodle and cooking shops between People's Square and the Bund have various delicious versions of the magic dumpling. For some restaurant advice, we've dropped in on Carson Block, co-author of the new Doing Business in China For Dummies (part of the series) for his inside tips on the food scene: "Di Shui Dong (several restaurants) is awesome Hunanese food. It is cheap as chips and very popular with both locals and foreigners. Basic, basic décor. Laris is one of the few world class restaurants in Shanghai. Fusion food with a happening bar scene on Thursday nights says a eurofied-americanized Hong-Kong grown local shaker. South Beauty is part of a chain from Beijing with high-end Sichuan food. Decors are all high end, but theme varies from location to location. I wouldn't say this is touristy, but it's more foreigner-friendly than a lot of Chinese restaurants. Reasonably pricey for Chinese." And for that late-night food fix, we couldn't forget City Diner, which offers milkshakes, hamburgers and speedy Wifi, even if the service is the opposite.

activities

If you're trying to get in on the booming Chinese contemporary art scene, head down to Suzhou Creek to check out some of the Chinese warehouse galleries making money hand over fist. From Zhang Huang to up and comers like Xu Zhen, this is where the big money is sprouting in the Chinese art world. A stroll through the various colonial concessions for the architecture and cultural vibe, day or night, is also a must.

With all the cultural ferment, there has to be at least one bar, one lounge, one club that is so crazy and underground as to make you believe in the unavoidable youthful revolution. If it does exist, you don't know about it because its likely to hide in a no-name hyper-populous suburb far, far from the international areas of the city centre where not a word besides Shanghainese is spoken. Venture there and you might never return. One favourite that approaches this ideal though is Logo, situated in the southern end of the city and far enough off the beaten track to detour the hordes of tourists tramping through stretches of bars overlooking the Bund on any given night.

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Building in the French Concession
Michelle Garnaut's Glamour Bar remains a Shanghai institution and a must see, if only for the fabulous moment it imbues on your experience, but Logo is where you go for dirty, rampant partying in a smoky atmosphere with cheap fruity drinks and DJs who specialize in things like "noise art" and minimal techno. It rocks, and so do their live music nights, which feature random acts like MIAMI, a twin-set of Japanese girls from Shibuya with an amazing sound ­that epitomizes cool cultural rebellion and complete lack of knowledge about musical instruments. For the late night set, clubbing in Shanghai continues to get better and better — we like Mint (less pretentious than some other locations with fewer working ladies) and Club Deep — which specializes in thumping, pumping, grinding house music that will leave your ears ringing until next Tuesday.

Some other of the moment and very chic oases are Velvet Martini Bar in the French Concession, Bar Rouge and Lounge 18 at the now famous location Bund 18, http://www.lounge18.com. You can order bar bites such as foie gras dumplings and drink Ylang-ylangs. Ideal for a fun night out or sealing a business deal. Avoid the weekends - like most major clubs in the world's most popular cities.

With all that hype, a hype-filter may be in order to help navigate the city, and that comes in the form of Shanghaiist.com — a wonderful part of the ist collection of city blogs around the world. Shanghaiist cuts through the riff-raff and does a good job of pinpointing what is worth checking out in this gigantic, rapidly evolving city.

Sure, you can shop till you drop, but even the locals know its better to head to Hong Kong to avoid the stiff luxury duties that come with international goods in China, and in this day and age of lead-laced local goods, buying the knock-offs just doesn't have the appeal it once did. So do what they always did in Shanghai — eat and drink your way through the city, confident in the knowledge that it is cooler and hotter and slicker than ever before, and thus, maybe, so are you. If you believe the hype, that is.

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