At the airport after another invigorating day in Shanghai. Yesterday I delighted in the underground market exploration, similar to night markets but all underground. I made many friends through long negotiations. It's interesting how you slowly get moved from one room into another secret chamber as secret walls suddenly pivot and open up to slimy alleyways scattered with garbage and scurrying rats, and then into yet another layer of secret rooms; it's a bit scary being a woman who's alone, but also an adventure to remember... in retrospect, a bit too adventurous.
It was a relief going to Peninsula Hotel's luxurious shopping arcade with well-dressed security guards everywhere, and best of all, it was so wonderfully chilled! Not quite in my budget, but very elegant… nobody except security guards around; how do these luxury retail stores stay in business? The High Tea Lounge at the Peninsula is elegant and sophisticated, but has no view of the Bund. It looked somewhat similar to the High Tea Lounge at the Peninsula Hong Kong in Kowloon, but lacked the ambiance and inhabitation of guests as it was empty both times I went there.
After, I took a cab to the Xintiandi area, which is filled with charming old brick buildings, narrow side alleys, a rich variety of restaurants and small stores flanked by large shopping center with new and upcoming Chinese fashion designers on level 1. Relaxing while sweltering in the sticky heat, but fulfilled by inhaling such a wonderful quaint ambiance, I could definitely imagine opening a satellite office there...
After checking out of Les Suite Oriente Hotel, I took a cab to my next hotel: the Waterhouse Hotel. I must admit this alternative unusual boutique hotel is a rather intriguing and a very different experience. The building is a former army warehouse which has been roughly renovated--patched concrete walls and floors, narrow winding concrete stairs and remnants of old tile overlaid with quotes of famous writers. It has only 19 rooms, all with some sort of peek-a-boo or exhibitionist effects: reflecting shutters and/or large windows between public areas and guest rooms. My room was extremely small, with large windows along the 2 sides. One large window was facing the courtyard with controlled views and open mirrored shutters to some guest rooms and public areas across the narrow courtyard; the other turned out to face directly into the neighboring guest room some 4 feet across a narrow void, and the void further connected a peak into the lounge bar one floor below. Fortunately, drapery could control the limit of exposure.
Dinner was served on a long communal table at the hotel restaurant Table No.1, a small but amazing restaurant serving the most delicious taste sensations I have had for years. The restaurant consisted of 3 small 2-person tables and 4 long communal tables for 12 guests each with vintage Scandinavian furniture. This place is all about family style (sharing dishes); unfortunately, I had nobody to share with, but each dish was such an amazing tantalizing taste and ingredient combination: pate with truffles, scallops and a tiny dollop of black bean/vinegar reduction as appetizer, a main dish of sea bass dripped with a soy sprinkle, topped with smoked oysters, and dessert of mixed fresh berries (yes, raspberries...) with a raspberry reduction and green tea/lemon/tarragon sorbet sprinkled with edible flowers. The meal was a visual delight, a sensory feast, to be remembered. Very small servings make each bite extra special, and people-watching/listening is quite intriguing when dining by yourself.
Heavenly satisfied, I ventured upstairs through a series of narrow, chipped old winding concrete stairs with peeks to some guestrooms to the roof terrace, which turned out to be a very romantic rooftop lounge: an amazing location with the skyline of Shanghai and the black river dotted with brightly lit tour boats as backdrop. Soft candle lighting just barely lighting the lounge, it took a while to adjust to the dark but satiated experience. Corten steel bar and sunken maze-like small lounge pockets interlaced with herbal gardens for the restaurant enhance the views and create intriguing layered experiences. No wonder the food tasted so fresh at table #1! The sky was softly hazy and steamy hot, which added to the sensual layer of mystery and drama. It would be such a romantic place to have a cocktail with someone special! I seemed a bit out of sync being there by myself… after mentally recording the special experience, I ventured back down to the lounge to peruse Shanghai lifestyle magazines and books, lounging alone in an eclectic mix of retro Scandinavian furniture from the sixties blended with some over scale eclectic, modern accessories, while my favorite Blue Bar music was playing.
This morning I ventured into Old Shanghai Street, which is a very crowded Chinese tourist area. The smell of incense from a couple of old temples next to the entrances layered the already hazy air. I spotted narrow, colorful alleys with all kinds of Chinese artifacts--a wonderful visual feast for the eyes. Holding tight to my purse zipper, I tried to photograph them, but it was difficult as it was too crowded and hazy. A zigzag bridge leading across a koi fish garden was a popular photo point but too crowded to try and explore. Hawkers try to lead you upstairs to their pearl and jade stores, and probably to more obscure places if you are looking for purses. Different massage places offer exotic treatments such as hot wax ear massage, glass cupping and a Japanese-style massage where they lightly beat you with bundles of bamboo sticks. Not enough time to explore these offerings… it's time to head back to the hotel prior to going to the airport. Next stop: Guangzhou… the Hengqinwan Hotel.
Shanghai opened my eyes to an intriguing city so rich in history, yet booming and vibrant. What a great opportunity to explore the world while designing resorts! I just wish I had someone special with me to share the experiences. Writing them down will help me remember the special moments and maybe share them with special friends and colleagues.
Wow, it has been hectic and exhausting, but also exhilarating! Shanghai is quite fascinating--now I understand why so many artists and writers moved here in the early 1920's. The Bund, the name of the river, has a stunning wide, elevated river walk with a spectacular view similar to Hong Kong on the Kowloon side but is so much more beautiful and engaging: full of people and families with their kids, even late at night. Beautiful buildings in Neoclassical or Art Deco style with 5-star hotels/high-end retail or government agencies flank the Bund on one side, while the other side has an amazing mixture of bustling high-rise buildings with animated lighting that are constantly trying to outdo each other.
On Tuesday we researched 12 hotels which would be competitors for our new hotel and then took the bullet train to Nanjing. Nanjing is said to be a beautiful city, but all we saw was a hotel and our client's high-tech office headquarters in a business park across from the hotel. The day was filled with multiple presentations before we headed back by train to Shanghai, with client meetings till 10:00pm. Just before midnight we checked into the Waldorf-Astoria, an old grand neoclassical hotel along the Bund. Such a treat, luxury can become so addicting.....sophisticated and stylish pampering. The old building used to be a gentlemen's club--a large new addition was designed in a more contemporary Neoclassical style.
This morning consisted of more hotel research in a charming area consisting of old Shanghai-style brick houses with narrow alley ways turned into chic restaurants and retail--so relaxing and different. Lunch at Shanghai Tang cafe: soy and chili marinated jellyfish with fungus as the appetizer--about as strange and exotic to taste as it sounds--chewy and spicy... We have a design workshop this afternoon with a client and are anxiously waiting for new ideas to finalize all vertical circulation and area locations. We need to resolve all circulation within a few days as the structural engineers are to complete DD drawings within 10 days and they are to start construction in two weeks. The concept design ideas were approved and it is exciting to move forward with this fashion-inspired boutique hotel mixing contemporary hip and cool interiors with a new Art Deco exterior along a narrower river Bund.
It's 10:30 PM, I just moved all my heavy luggage (not all clothing… mostly work samples!) to another hotel, Les Suites Oriente, along the Bund to continue the hotel research--much tighter accommodations, but the bath tub centered at the window overlooking an amazing angular view of the Bund with views to both sides of the river is a unique experience. The bath tub has a headrest but I'm not quite sure if I'm ready for the exposure. The toilet has a phenomenal view as well, yet there's no view from the bedroom; the interiors all have Scandinavian classics blended in as furniture.
Tomorrow is Saturday and I am so ready to relax, explore Xintiandi, a charming old Shanghai-style area, possibly delight in some retail therapy, sip tea at one of the cozy cafes, and explore a bustling underground market with all the designer wares imaginable while holding on tightly to my purse and negotiating with my limited Mandarin language skills. It all seems so fun, passionate and enduring. After, I'll check out of my loo with a view to explore in depth an eclectic boutique hotel named the Waterhouse that's also on the Bund, but in an area that's barely developed. The hotel is small--19 rooms only, and designed in an old warehouse setting, again, with Scandinavian furnishings..., reminds me of my Danish roots. The hotel has a fabulous cafe with the most tasteful morsels, but one night only and then off to Guangzhou for 2 days of coordination meetings and then a design workshop in Hangzhou, which should be a beautiful city built around a lake that emperors used to bring their concubines to cool off. I forgot to mention it is about 96 degrees with very high humidity; sweat is dripping from my forehead, a melting sensation satiating and layering the exotic experience.
Time to count some Z's.
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