My Shanghai Story: contrasting escapes from the tempests in teapots and more

11 05 2014

One of the fabulous things about Shanghai is that there is a great abundance of places not just to chill-out in, but also find the escape that does appear to elusive amongst the crowds and frenzy of its rather busy streets. Ranging from the many modern cafes and bars that are in keeping with the sophistication of contemporary Shanghai, bars that offer the best views in the city, to teahouses that offer a feel of the more traditional side of Shanghai, there are a great variety of places that offer a contrast in the experience of chilling-out in the city.

What the two full days of the Shanghai Adventure did provide was a chance to have a feel for some of the variety of experiences,  starting with the traditional and which also included an experience of the ‘high-life’ that the modern side of Shanghai does have to offer …


The Traditional

Set in a pavilion that in being surrounded by water to which one must negotiate a path of right angles on a bridge with nine corners is the Huxinting (湖心亭) Teahouse. Well protected from the unidirectionally inclined demons of the old world, it is where one does find an escape from the demons that now plague the new world.

Time seems to stand very still in the Huxinting Teahouse.

Time seems to stand very still in the Huxinting Teahouse.

In its interior, bathed in the earthy hues of its wooden walls, screens and furnishing, one finds a side of Shanghai that does seem forgotten in the city’s relentless march towards modernity.

The calm of its wooden interior.

The calm provided by its wooden interior.

The teahouse, now a veritable Shanghai institution, has been an occupant of the 16th century Ming Dynasty wooden pavilion for most of the time since it first occupied it in the mid 1800s. Despite the teahouse today being more of a destination for out-of-towners, it is over a pot of tea sitting by the window at one of its marble topped tables, that one does find that slice of a charming old world from which one can also observe the demons of the new that lie, at what does seem to be an arms length away, just across the crooked bridge.

Huxinting Teahouse and the nine-cornered bridge.

Huxinting Teahouse and the nine-cornered bridge.

A pot of tea starts off at around 60 yuan, and if you either have a preference for a caffeine free beverage or take joy in the sight of a dried flower coming seemingly alive whilst being infused in a clear glass teapot, flower teas are an option. Tea is also served with several bite-sized snacks, which include small tea-eggs made with quails’ eggs. And if you do decide to have a pot of tea, do keep a look out for a photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, having tea – not in a manner she would be accustomed to, in the teahouse.

Pots of flower tea.

Pots of flower tea.

Watching the world go by at Huxinting.

Watching the world go by at Huxinting.

The interior.

The interior.

The early 'crowd'.

The early ‘crowd’.

The upper floor.

The upper floor.

A 'window seat'.

A ‘window seat’.

An employee of the teahouse.

An employee of the teahouse.

Serving tea.

A member of the teahouse’s staff serving tea.


The French Connection

An area of Shanghai that does have a huge appeal for me is  the former French Concession, with its wonderful works of architecture, its history and the atmosphere one does now find in and around many of its tree-lined streets. The French Concession does also have an abundance of establishments to dine in, as well as to chill-out in, from the cafes of Ferguson Lane, to several other street-side cafes and bistros, some set in gorgeous works of architecture dating from the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.

The street side cafes of the French Concession are great modern places to chill-out in.

Reflections on a cafe. The street side cafes of the French Concession are great modern places to chill-out in.

Rumors Coffee on Xingguo Road, promises a peek into the world of new Shanghai in its 'coffee culture'.

Rumors Coffee on Xingguo Road, promises a peek into the world of new Shanghai in its ‘coffee culture’.

Some of the bloggers on the Shanghai Adventure having a good time over coffee and cake.

Some of the bloggers on the Shanghai Adventure having a good time over coffee and cake.

A street side view.

A street side view.

Just next door to Rumors on Xingguo Road, a bistro that is said to offer some of the best cocktails in the city.

Just next door to Rumors on Xingguo Road, a bistro, Mardi Gras, that is said to offer some of the best cocktails in the city.

A room inside the Mardi Gras off Xingguo Road. The Mardi Gras occupies a Spanish-style villa, one of the magnificent examples of the rich architecture of the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.

A room inside the Mardi Gras off Xingguo Road. The Mardi Gras occupies a Spanish-style villa, one of the magnificent examples of the rich architecture of the Treaty Port era of Shanghai.


High Points

One of the must-dos in and around the area of Shanghai’s Bund has to be to elevate oneself to the roof tops of one of the high points, to take-in some of the best views one can possibly get of old and new Shanghai on both sides of the Huangpu. Perched on the roof (levels 32 and 33) of the Hyatt on the Bund’s West Tower, the Vue Bar, for a 100 yuan cover charge, provides just that – the best views not just from the glass protected interiors, but also an open wind swept terrace on level 33 at which you can literally chill in a very inviting whirlpool and feel quite literally, on top of the world,

The entrance to the Vue Bar.

The entrance to the Vue Bar.

Inside the Vue Bar.

Inside the Vue Bar.

Wine racks are part of the bar's decor.

Wine racks are part of the bar’s decor.

A whirlpool with a view. The open-air terrace at Level 33 of the Vue Bar.

A whirlpool with a view. The open-air terrace at Level 33 of the Vue Bar.

The view of Pudong that the Vue offers.

The view of Pudong that the Vue offers.

And a view of the Bund.

And a view of the Bund.

A view of the Waibaidu Bridge or Garden Bridge. The bridge is the first all-steel bridge and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

A view of the Waibaidu Bridge or Garden Bridge. The bridge is the first all-steel bridge and the only surviving example of a camelback truss bridge in China.

On top of the Hyatt and on top of the world.

Chilling-out on top of the Hyatt, and feeling on top of the world.


 

 

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My Shanghai Story: the arrival of Spring

8 05 2014

The arrival of Spring, Spring Airlines that is, did spring me a pleasant surprise. That came in the form of an to, quite literally as it did turn out, soak Shanghai up over a weekend, the weekend that coincided with the launch of the Shanghai based Low Cost Carrier’s Shanghai to Singapore route.

The iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai - a pleasant Spring surprise that did await me.

A survivor from the treaty port era of Shanghai, the iconic former Normandie Apartments in the former French Concession of Shanghai – a Spring surprise that awaited me in Shanghai.

The launch of the route, coupled with the no-frills carrier’s attractive fares (overall, Spring’s fares are said to be some 30% below their competitors), does make Shanghai, just five hours away, a rather appealing destination for that short break away from Singapore.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

The attractive fares it offers does put Spring Airlines on your mind when it comes to a trip to Shanghai.

Spring, which was founded in 2005 and operates a fleet of Airbus A320 aircraft – one of the world’s youngest fleets, sells its tickets directly through their website and mobile apps. Flying over 50 routes, which are mostly domestic, it does have offer several international destinations in Japan, with the latest offering being Singapore.

A high-five to Spring.

A high-five to Spring.

More than any other city in China, Shanghai has a fascinating mix of the vestiges of what was a rather colourful past together with the emblems of its current renaissance driven by its position as the financial centre of a booming land of opportunity. Within easy reach of several other popular culturally rich destinations such as Suzhou and Hangzhou and several water towns, Shanghai does seem to have it all for the traveller, whether on a short break or on a lengthier trip. A big plus is the excellent public transport network does make travelling to many of its attractions quite a breeze. In its shops, cafés, and eateries, ranging from the trendy to the traditional, as well as its bazaars and markets, it does have an appeal for many especially so from Singapore.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

On the Metro, a convenient means to move around the city.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

Taxis, which are metered and are rather affordable, are also a good way to move around, although communication can sometimes be difficult, and many taxi drivers do often take tourists on a roundabout route.

I had two full days at my disposal. While that didn’t quite give me enough time to fully appreciate what the city and its environs did have to offer, the Shanghai I did see, even on what did turn out to be a rain soaked weekend, did have a huge appeal to both the photographer and the traveller in me.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

Rain falling off the roof of Huxinting Teahouse.

The rain did bring an air of freshness and joy to the streets of Shanghai, offering an alternative perspective of Shanghai and its many sights from the umbrella painted pedestrian malls, vendors touting umbrellas at Metro station exits, to reflections of Shanghai’s famous lights colouring its nighttime streets.  The rain did not as well dampen any of what Shanghai is to me all about, a city rich in contrasts and with it contradictions in its mix of old and new, tradition and modernity, and in a heritage that tells us of the meeting of east and west, a meeting that has as much to do with the clash of civilisations as it has about the embrace the civilisations did also find themselves locked into.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square  along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The neon coloured glow of Century Square along Nanjing Road in the rain.

The traditional garden - the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the Ming Dynasty.

The traditional Suzhou style Chinese garden – the must-see Yu Garden in the Old City that dates back to the days of the Ming Dynasty.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé record company.

A western style garden setting in Xujiahui Park with the building that was the former offices of the Pathé (later EMI) record company.

The T'ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century that is touted as the  cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft.

The T’ou Sé Wé Museum, looks at the Jesuit run Orphanage that dates back to the 19th Century. The orphanage is touted as the cradle of western influenced modern Chinese arts and craft – an example of the embrace of the civilisations.

The contrasts and contradictions that gives Shanghai its soul is indeed very much in evidence all around. It is in Shanghai that one can take as much pleasure from sipping tea in a traditional teahouse with centuries of history behind it, as in chilling out over a slice of cheesecake and a cup of espresso in one of the many hip cafés that line the streets of what is today a very Bohemian part of Shanghai in the former French Concession.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession and its modern cafes.

Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession with its modern cafés is one of the places to be seen.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

Tea in the Huxinting Teahouse, which has a centuries old tradition.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The contradictions are very apparent in the tourist sites of the old city.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The tree-line streets of the former French Concession does seem to transport you far away from China.

The contrasts one will find does certainly not end in the places to chill-out at. From hairdressers, to eateries and places to shop at, sometimes just a few doors away from each other, to Shanghai’s public spaces; the collisions of time, cultures, and even ideologies, seemingly at odds with each other are very much in evidence. All of this does provide Shanghai with a rather unique flavour and one that for me is the Shanghai Story that the city did tell and it is this story I hope will come out in the posts on My Shanghai Adventure that will follow.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

An old world hairdresser seemingly out of place in the now very chic former French Concession.

In contrast with shopping in less trendy settings at the Dongtai Road Antiques Market.

Shopping in the rough: Dongtai Road Antiques Market, which is full of atmosphere. Sadly, I am told the market will make way for redevelopment very soon.

Shopping at the brightly lit and trendy Nanjing Road.

In contrast, the the brightly lit Nanjing Road, provides a more sophisticated shopping experience.

Shanghai is a city that is comfortable with its many contrasts and contradictions.

Shanghai is a city that does seem at ease with its many contrasts and contradictions.


About Spring Airlines Shanghai to Singapore Route

Spring Airlines is China’s first and only low-cost airline, which was founded in 2005 by Spring Travel and has become a dominant player in the domestic travel market in China. Currently Spring Airlines offers flights on the Shanghai (Pudong Airport) to Singapore route three times a week. Each ticket comes with 15 kg baggage allowance (inclusive of cabin baggage). Do also look out for some of the really good travel deals Spring does also offer from time-to-time including a current offer for flights from Singapore (for travel up to 31 May 2014) that includes two nights free accommodation in a five-star hotel in Shanghai (more information including terms and conditions can be found on the Spring Airlines website).

P1040487

Spring Airlines has a huge online presence (in fact their website and mobile apps account for all of their ticket bookings), and besides their website, they can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and can also be contacted through Skype (id: springairlines001).

A view inside Spring's A320 passenger cabin.

A view inside Spring’s A320 passenger cabin (click to enlarge).


 





Macau: a celebration of contrasts

24 09 2012

Having spent a amazing four days in Macau courtesy of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) and Tiger Airways, I was able to see for myself the wonderment that is packed into the 29 square kilometres of the tiny former Portuguese territory. It is for me a world certainly worth exploring, a world which is more than just that unique blend of east and west we have come to expect, but also a fascinating world where two other worlds, the glitzy new world has collided with the charming old world. With the two now forced into a tight embrace, it is in the compact territory where contrasts, and as one might see it the contradiction of new with old, are as apparent as black and white, black and white as is how it looks to me:


The celebration of the new world:

A scene from Franco Dragone’s The House of Dancing Water playing at the City of Dreams.

The Outer Harbour with the Friendship Bridge and the waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf at the break of day (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The waterfront at Fisherman’s Wharf at the break of day (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Breakfast at the Café Bela Vista in the Grand Lapa Macau (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Roman Amphitheatre at Fisherman’s Wharf (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Daybreak over the Roman Amphitheatre (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Ponte Governador Nobre de Carvalho as seen from Sky 21.

Bottles behind a frosted glass counter, Sky 21.

A new arrival embracing the arrival of the new day in the new world.


Windows into the old world:

The window into an unseen side of Macau – the quays at the Inner Harbour (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A window from the past … louvered windows seen at the Taipa Houses-Museum, which is housed in a set of charming old colonial houses at Taipa Village.

Fish being dried in the sun.

A street named happiness, the Rua da Felicidade.

An almond cookie maker on the street of happiness.

Almond cookie samples to be offered to passers-by near the ruins of St. Paul’s.

A street food vendor.

A side street near the street of happiness.

Shutters of an old shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Street scene.

Barra Square.

East meets West and old meets new: A western couple leaving the A-Ma Temple.

A fortune teller at the A-Ma Temple.

An archway under a building along an old street of Macau.

A car workshop in an old shophouse.

A female worker at an old building being refurbished.

Disused pellets by the quayside at the Inner Harbour.

Where two worlds are made to collide: the bow of a ship peeks out at the Inner Harbour.

Coloane Village scene (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A square in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The writing on the wall in Taipa Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


The visit to Macau was made possible by the kind sponsorship of MGTO, flights were sponsored by Tiger Airways with check-in baggage allowances included.


Useful Links:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting starts on 28 September 2012 and details can be found at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.






Hanoi in its shades of grey

6 01 2012

Hanoi, which I visited this winter, is city that has made a big impression on me. It is a city that for a long while, I had wanted to visit. It is a city that has intrigued me in the past, having lived a good part of my younger days in a region whose political climate had very much been influenced by the Cold War, the Vietnam War and its aftermath. Hanoi, along with the rest of Vietnam, is today a very different world from the one that must have emerged from a war that would have devasted it. The city does still have many reminders of the war, as well as of the somewhat chequered history the nation it is a capital to has had. There is always that reminder of the Communist Party that still governs it in flags, banners, posters and also Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum making it difficult not to realise that, even as the country has embraced economic policies that would have those who led it during the war turning in their final resting places.

Two ladies pose in the traditional Ao Dai at the Temple of Literature. Hanoi is where tradition ...

... coexists and blends in with the new world.

An itinerant vendor stares into a shop window.

The charge of the two-wheel brigade on the streets of old Hanoi.

Two wheels that sometimes see well dressed riders dressed fashionably with killer heels.

The juxtaposition of new on the old is evident especially on the streets of the Old Quarter.


More juxtapositions ...

The is a lot of the old that is not just juxtaposed with, but blends very much in with the new that the country’s economic progress over the last two decades has brought. The Hanoi of old, set in the colourful narrow and bustling streets of the Old Quarter, sits beside the Hanoi of the French Colonial masters – its wide avenues and elegant buildings in stark contrast. In both, there are the sidewalks dominated by itinerant vendors or the low tables and stoold set up by vendors operating out of narrow doorways, in instances right next to a shop window with a display of the latest objects of desire. It is at the low tables and stools of the sidewalks where in fact the best fare in a city that celebrates its food can sometimes be savoured. Here well dressed men and women are often spotted sitting on the low stools in what almost seems a posture that lacks dignity, enjoying their night out in the city, or a bowl of pho in the morning before heading into the office. It is in scenes such as this that best illustrates Hanoi as a city that is full of contrasts and perhaps contradictions where it isn’t just where black is seen against white, but where there also are many shades of grey.

Two wheelers prove to be useful in many ways ...

... and many can't leave home with it.

Diners at Chả cá Lã Vọng - a well known restaurant that serves Chả cá - a must try "Grilled Fish" dish.

A pho restaurant spills out into the sidewalk in the Old Quarter.


Sidewalks are the domain of the many itinerant vendors.


Views of more sidewalks.

A young lady having a bowl of pho for breakfast on the sidewalk before heading into the office.

A back lane.


The sidewalks are where many locals are seen enjoying their night out.

Some of the best food can be savoured at the low tables and stools of the sidewalks.

A food vendor operating out of a doorway.

A sidewalk food vendor.

Evening falls on Hoan Kiem Lake - looking at Turtle Tower.