Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Shanghai Fever

Just spent the past weekend in Shanghai, China and had a great time. This was my second visit to the city, having visited for the world expo in 2010, and I came away from this trip with a distinctly different impression than my first visit.

The nicest HoJo ever!
I left work a little early on Friday and the flight from Seoul was short, only an hour and forty minutes away. My Samsung colleague Matt was traveling with me and had booked a Howard Johnson hotel in the stylish area along Nanjing Road near People's Square. It was, without question, the nicest HoJo I could imagine!

We settled ourselves around 10:30pm, the perfect time to get out and explore the Shanghai nightlife. Matt's friend invited us to join her at the Craft bar in the French Concession district. The place was full of foreigners! There couldn't have been more than a half dozen Chinese in this crowded, edgy club. It felt strange to find so many white people in this Asian enclave...a bar like this simply doesn't exist in Seoul. After a few drinks, Matt and I relocated to Club 88 to find some Chinese people for a more "authentic" experience. Even here, there were more foreigners than I would have expected, and some of the Chinese women here were clearly looking to earn a nightly stipend, if you know what I mean ;-). I didn't see this racy, dangerous side to Shanghai when I first visited!

Dylan and I at the "marriage market"
On Saturday, my Darden colleague "Dylan" (Zhibin in Chinese) met Matt and I at our hotel. We walked through the Saturday marriage market in People's Square Park (a favorite!) and strolled to the Xintiandi neighborhood for a dumpling lunch. Xintiandi looks newly remodeled and is super nice. We ate a delicious xiǎo​lóng​bāo lunch at the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant and then visited a museum designed as a traditional Shanghai house. The museum felt a little strange given Shanghai's stunning modernity now. I enjoyed reuniting with Dylan and hearing his views on Shanghai's rapid transformation and Chinese politics. Also, like most people I met this weekend in Shanghai, Dylan has never visited Seoul, and I felt a bit like a Korean ambassador on this trip!

I took an obligatory trip to the Bund in the early evening but the view was totally obstructed by fog. Unfortunately we picked a misty, cloudy weekend to visit Shanghai, though it was considerably warmer than Seoul.

Saturday night consisted of a birthday dinner with Matt's expat friends in a trendy Western-style restaurant. The drinks were flowing and we had a lovely time, but again I felt rather unusual being surrounded by so many Westerners. It almost feels like Shanghai has returned back to its 1930s colonial heyday.

We relocated to the Dakota club, another French Concession expat hangout. I got into a long conversation with one expat who has lived in Shanghai for 3.5 years – she said that Shanghai has become considerably trendier for foreigners since the 2010 expo and that she has seen a rapid influx over the past two years. Certainly, Shanghai has far more expats than Seoul, and I would not have predicted on my first visit that life would have changed for the foreigner community so rapidly here. Then again, change comes to Shanghai faster than almost anywhere else!

Rachael and Matt dig into some "North" Korean BBQ
Sunday, Matt and I had a most unusual experience – we visited a North Korean restaurant in Shanghai! The Pyongyang Restaurant in Xuhui is quite delicious, actually. Matt and I introduced another Shanghai expat friend to our new Korean comfort foods -- grilled pork belly (samgyeopsal), seafood pancakes (hameul pajeon), kimchi, and all the assorted side dishes. The waitresses were certainly selected for their pretty looks and political loyalty.  I didn't get into any conversations with them and didn't dare take their pictures (though that may have been allowed), but they were happy to indulge me by letting me order in my broken Korean.

After a therapeutic massage and a ridiculously swift train ride to Pudong Airport (430 km/hour!!!), we were back to our home city of Seoul. A great way to spend a weekend!

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