Monday, July 23, 2007

Of summer in Shanghai

Day 3 (Part II)

We arrive at Bund 18 where I plop myself down at the Sibilla Boutique Cafe, a charming Italian cafe, with another handsome manager. I'm starting to think the service industry in Shanghai deliberately employs the handsome guys. Once again I meet Exhibit A of the Shanghai manager---fair skin tone, tall and handsome, with good skin, no spectacles and a relatively good grasp of English. He recommends a few Italian pastries but i tell him i am allergic to milk. He doesn't understand what allergy means, and I am grateful for a little Mandarin prep that I did back in Singapore before I left. I duly spout out a sentence my ex-bf taught me regarding my milk allergy. "wo dui niu nai he niu you de chan ping you ming gan", i say in rather stilted Chinese. Or something of that sort.

Doesn't matter. Handsome manager understands. Ming Gan! He exclaims. Oh then you cannot eat all these! He looks a bit flustered. This sure is one expressive man. Perhaps he could consider a career in the movies? I ask him what the soup of the day is and if it contains milk. He rushes off to find out for me, and comes back beaming. The soup is milk free and the Italian bread that it is served with is also milk free he says. And happily ushers me to a seat.

Bund 18

Sibilla Boutique Cafe

The waiter on hand is called Orlando. He asks me where I am from. I say Singapore. I ask if he is from the Philippines. He says yes. I tell him i recognise the Filippino accent. I ask him why he chose to work in Shanghai which is so far away from the Philippines, and no one really speaks English here. He shrugs and doesn't answer.

Enter two men and with even closer links to Singapore. One of them loudly announces in English to his friend that the Patek Philippe watches here are much cheaper than in Singapore, and they don't have a goods tax slapped on them. Sadly, they don't carry the model he wants. All this in a Singaporean accent. Which is recognisable anywhere.

And then he announces (deliberate choice of verb on my part), again in English, that he has to use the toilet, and noisily walks off.

Well at least that will give me a bit of quiet. His companion isn't so loud and in fact, rather mousy in appeareance. The noisy one then comes back, and i take my leave.

I explore the various boutiques in Bund 18, mainly to check how the prices compare to that in Singapore. I walk into Cartier checking out charm bracelets---my current love---but nothing catches my fancy. Then i wander in and out of Ermenegildo Zegna, which has a huge store here, spanning 3 floors. Bottom for accessories, 2nd for ready to wear and sportswear, 3rd for bespoke suits. I meet more cute sales people in there. One is particularly helpful but no, nothing catches my fancy.

Then it's off to check out Younik, an upmarket multi-label boutique that only stocks Chinese designers such as Shanghai Trio, Jenny Jen etc. I used to think that most Asian designers mainly dabbled in overly avant-garde, deconstructionist type pieces that while showcasing creativity, is not very functional, but I manage to find some rather fashionable, yet wearable, pieces here. The sales people are snooty and so after some browsing, I exit the shop.


Next up is Allan Chiu, a huate couture outfitter from Hongkong that has set up shop in Shanghai. His ready to wear is pretty nice, with knee length gowns for the younger crowd like myself. But i'm not in a mood for trying clothes.

Beside Allan Chiu is the Ports 1961 store.

Now this is a label I am quite excited about having read about it in TIME magazine a few years back. I see a really cute teddy bear and I ask the sales lady how much it costs. She tells me the bear comes as part of a travel set that includes luggage, note book, bathrobe, and such. All in all, the travel set costs 8000 RMB. I am not interested in a whole travel get up (especially when i don't like travelling to begin with) and so i turn my attention to the other clothes. I flip through the catalog and mainly like what I see. Some pieces are a bit plain and on the whole, it is none too bad. While one of the sales ladies rustle up some dresses for me to view, I pick up a Shanghai society magazine and come across a fashion spread featuring a model all decked out in Chanel. The sales ladies helpfully answer my query as to where Chanel can be found in Shanghai (I want to see how much the 2.55 costs here) and write down precise directions in Chinese for me.

That is good service. And I'm off to the Chanel boutique.

Or so I thought.

I get distracted by the other shops on the bund and decide that Chanel can wait for another day. Instead, I pass by the colonial-era buildings now housing banks and other large firms, as well fashion flagship stores.

Like Shiatzy Chen.

"Is this 3 on the bund?" I ask the salesman upon entering. "No, it is number 9".

No matter. This store is AWESOME. I'm not exactly crazy about the clothes but the layout and the decor is far more tasteful than many a luxury boutique in Singapore. It spans two levels and is really huge. Shoes, handbags, accessories, women's wear, men's wear, furniture. It is all here, stately displayed among dark teak furniture and huge screens playing her fashion shows. I am the only one in the store and a helpful sales girl follows me around. The store exudes refinement and taste and is a nice respite from the noise and heat outside. I take a business card and make my way to 3 on the Bund.

Shiatzy Chen

Along the way, I make a stop at the Dolce and Gabbana flagship store. Then turn the corner and ta da, it's 3 on the Bund. Lots of cars stop by the front entrance, and I spy Giorgio Armani and Hugo Boss flagships. I look around the Hugo Boss store, take the elevator up to the Evian Spa (that uses Clarins products), pass by Barbers at Three, and then come down all ready to go back to the hotel. There weren't any taxis at the entrance so the lady at the frontdesk kindly offered me a seat.

Three on the Bund

But no taxi was keen on crossing over to the Pudong. It was peak hour and the tunnels were closed to taxis. The doorboys tried to convince them but they loudly refused, and I didnt' dare enter a taxi with an angry driver. The manager Sean came out and explained that during peak period, no taxi wants to cross over to the Pudong because there would be a huge traffic jam and they were not allowed in the tunnels. When does peak period end then? I asked. I was starting to get a headache and was keen on getting back asap. After 7, but to be safe, come back down at 7.30.

Faced with such a situation, I decided to have a drink up at New Heights and wait out the peak period.

I asked for Chrysanthemum tea, the waitress doesnt seem to understand. So i say "ju hua cha". She says Camomile tea. I say: Oh nono. Chrysanthemum, not Camomile. She says ju hua cha is Camomile tea. In the end, I order watermelon juice.

And I prepped myself for the hour long wait. I was so bored that I carefully studied the staff, amusing myself with the way one waiter lit up a series of tealights---he only manages to light up two, at most 3 before the flame consumes the matchstick. The watermelon juice isn't fantastic. The air conditioning doesn't seem to be working properly, and there is another man sitting all alone at another table. I flip open the Shanghai Chic book to see if there is anything interesting to read, but I am still restless. Lots of foreigners stream in, most western, some asian. The Western expatriate presence is so strong that, if I am not mistaken, two managers here are Western. A handful go out to the balcony to take in the view (it's not called New Heights for nothing) but the sky looks smoggy---health hazard, i think to myself. So i remain indoors.

But there is only so much of waiter watching that anyone can take. So I tell the waiter I am going outside.

The air doesn't smell too bad, and there is a slight breeze. But it is the view that is truly captivating. How much nicer it would have been if not for the smog. I take a few pictures and lean along the rails, watching Shanghai go by.

The view from New Heights.

I see my hotel from the balcony. So near yet so far.

A Caucasian man starts setting up a tripod stand and mounting his camera on it. He takes lots of pictures of the waterfront. Now chatting to people I don't know is highly uncharacteristic of me, but I decide to ask him, "Why don't you take a picture of the Chinese flag as it flies across the Bund? It would be quite iconic if you can catch it at the right time---red flag of communism flying high above the Bund, now synonomous with capitalism." (Furthermore, in the background stands a building quite reminiscent of the Empire State Building). He says that he was thinking of that as well, but the shutter speed of the camera prevents the fluidity of the flag movement from being captured nicely, so instead, he will record the movement of the flag on video.

The photojournalist's name is Alan and he comes from Memphis, Tennessee. He's on assignment around the world to find connections to Memphis. "Oh, Memphis." I reply. "Elvis right? And Grace( I forget to add -land) Mansions". Alan is surprised. "You're the first person here I met who knows Elvis you know."

Now it's my turn to be surprised. I thought everyone or almost everyone knew Elvis. But then again, China had shut it doors to the world from the early 1950s on, and it was only in 1978 that Deng Xiaoping "opened" China to the world. In the meantime, Elvis, whose career bloomed mainly from 1956 onwards, continuing on to the late 1960s, had died in 1977, before China has opened up. No wonder no one knew about Elvis here---the Elvis phenomenon had peaked and waned during the period China remained closed.

I asked about more about Memphis and Tennessee and Alan helpfully fills up the gaps in knowledge I have about the city. I learn that FedEx is from Memphis, and am reminded that Ray Charles is from Georgia (how could i forget! He wrote "Georgia on my mind"). I ask if Mark Twain is from Memphis. No, he isn't. But he writes lots about the Mississippi River that flows through Tennessee. I see a replica of a 19th century riverboat ploughing allowing the Huangpu. "Look! Riverboat... Memphis Connection!" I tell him. "Good you're thinking," Alan replies. Alan then asks how come I know about Memphis and Tennessee. "I'm a history major," I say, "we make it our business to know a bit about everything."

Alan's colleague Trevor then arrives. Alan nicely asks if I'd like to join them. But I'm tired, and it's nearly 7.30pm, and I really want to get back. So I politely decline and take a cab back to the Pudong. Still, meeting someone interesting was a great way to pass time.

The aforementioned flag that got the conversation going.

Diners at New Heights. I took this photo to show how the balcony of New Heights looks like, before I got to know Alan (he's the guy in white). So if you ever happen to see this photo Alan, please don't be offended, it was taken to showcase how New Heights looks like, and yes, I took it before I got to know you. And you can see my watermelon juice in the foreground.

The cabbie is nice, and if I understand correctly, his neighbour is a Singaporean and he has just fetched a Singapore lady who has been working in the property sector here in Shanghai. I tell him that a lot of Singaporeans find it hard to do business in China because they are easily swindled as they are too trusting. This trusting mentality came about because the Singaporean government is so efficient, Singaporeans simply trust the government to make everything alright for them. As a result, when they travel overseas, some bring this naivete along, and hence are easily cheated. He tells me that he finds Singaporeans are very "liang xing" that might present some difficulties in China's competitive environment. I am just grateful I have God to help me up wherever I go.

I change and get ready for dinner. James is the concierge on duty today and I ask him to recommend a restaurant. I wanted to go to Cloud 9 at the Jin Mao tower for dinner, but they don't serve meals, just snacks. James recommends I try Jade 36 here at the Shangri-la. I go there only to find it is fully booked. I come down and ask James to recommend another restaurant. It's nearly 9 and I haven't eaten. I'm hungry, I tell James. He passes me the list of restaurants available here. I have eaten at almost all of them, and I am not interested in Japanese food. Finally, I settle on the cantonese restaurant. I ask James to call to see if they are full---to save me the trouble of having to travel to an already fully booked venue.

I listen in to the conversation. No, they are not full, James says.

Alright then, I'll go.

Table for one, he tells them. Yi ge xiao pen you lai.

James puts down the phone.

I look at him and say, "I am not xiao pen you James. I am 21."

James just smiles.

Photographs from:,, my own camera.

1 comment:

jennifer said...

hahaha u forgot justin timberlake!!! hes frm memphis too! i think lah