Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Shanghai, the first stop on our Chinese odyssey
We began our Chinese odyssey in Shanghai. It's a massive, vibrant city, and we loved it. One thing is certain – Shanghai looks much more developed than any city in India, particularly with respect to roads, buildings, and infrastructure in general. It actually looks more similar to the U.S. or Europe than India. Prior to visiting I had the perception that Shanghai would be an ultramodern concrete jungle based on what I had heard but actually we were pleasantly surprised by how charming the neighborhoods in western Shanghai are, particularly the French Concession area. It's a little piece of Europe in China.
We went to Shanghai mostly to hang out with my college roommate Ravi, who's been living there for the past three years and working for Frog Design. He has a lovely home and a fantastic group of friends. We spent five days in Shanghai and Ravi did what he does best – he showed us the pulse of the city after dusk. Ravi and his friends took us to some of the best of Shanghai's restaurants, bars and clubs. We know several people who haven't enjoyed food in China but we ate extremely well. Taiwanese noodles at Noodle Bull, Japanese Yakitori, Shanghainese dumplings at Din Tai Fung, and the best of Shanghainese cuisine at Jesse. We also partied at a "Chinese" club called No. 88 drinking bottles of Chivas Regal mixed with green tea (quite tasty actually) one night, and listened to Ravi's friend Nat spin at a live music venue called Shelter the next night.
The other thing we did in Shanghai was shop. We were shocked at just how conspicuous the markets that sell fake knockoffs and pirated goods are. You hear about China taking a stronger stand against piracy...doesn't look like it. A four-floor mall selling fake branded bags, shoes, clothing and Rolexes and a DVD store sprawling with pirated movies and TV show box sets right on the main shopping streets in the center of town. Unbelievable. But yes, good deals.
Ravi also introduced us to his tailor, Tony the Tailor, a Sindhi guy from India who worked in Hong Kong for more than 20 years before moving to Shanghai five years ago because that's where the action in Asia is these days. Entrepreneurial. I got two suits made and Kruti got a cashmere coat. Apparently Tony's father tailored suits for former President Reagan, and Tony himself was summoned to measure President Obama when he was in Shanghai a couple months ago. Bizarre that Obama would get suits made by an Indian guy in China, and that this type of news wouldn't lead to more bad press, but who knows, Tony has the photos to prove it, and we decided we can't go wrong with that company.
We had a fantastic time in Shanghai and even think it's a place we could live someday (once we learn Mandarin, and find some interesting work to do). Ravi was the perfect host and we can't wait to come back and visit him again.