Most people go to the beach or skiing during the winter holidays. Not me. Always up for an adventure, my wife and I traveled to China where we visited friends and family, saw the sites, ate, shopped and got lost. As always, my eyes were open for insights on culture, consumers, branding and marketing - you'll find them in this set of posts - most starting with a bit of business, followed by some fun (and strange) trip stories. (2nd in a series)
Insights - This was an amazing day. We walked all over the city, sans travel guide. So yes, we got lost, but we saw a bunch of cool stuff and we made it happen for ourselves. Such is the allure of the experience economy. Seeing everything from the inside of a tour bus would not have been nearly as compelling. The getting lost and shuffling through maps and guide books made it all the better when we finally figured it out.
There’s definitely a balance between making things easy for your customers and giving them enough room to craft their own experiences with your brand. As your doctor, I advise you to err on the side of making things easy. At the same time, create additional rabbit holes for folks to slide down if they’re inclined to take matters into their own hands. Those are the experiences they remember and credit you with.
On another note, we did have some good books from Lonely Planet, Knopf, Time Out, and our hotel, but we had to work through all of them to find the right combination. Carrying a stack of maps and books through a strange city is not the way to go. One of you has to come up with an easier way to find all the relevant information about a city. Let me know if I can help.
Trip Notes - Shanghai isn’t exactly one of the world’s culinary capitals. I don’t think Michelin is paying it much attention yet and Gayot doesn’t even offer a full Review Guide. I’m sure that’s likely to change as the market continues to mature. To be clear, there are a lot of nice hotels and upscale restaurants, just not too much in the way of special food.
Whampoa Club is one exception to that. Located in the tony Three On The Bund, Whampoa boasts Shanghainese cuisine at its finest. We at there last night and were neither particularly impressed nor disappointed. The food was very good, but I think the concept of Chinese fine dining still has to set-in.
The other big star of Shanghai is French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, whose eponymous restaurant is also at Three On The Bund. We didn’t eat there (though I think we should have), but the chef also designed the brunch menu at our hotel, which was memorable. In the room was a brief article in which he talked about his favorite street food, jian bing, from one of the stands along Xiangyang Road. Sort of a Chinese breakfast quesadilla, it was delicious and worth the half-hour of being lost while we tried to find the street. We also had a couple baozi and shared a bowl of freshly cooked soy sauce noodles. Full and very satisfied, we spent less than $3 on breakfast.
From there, we slowly worked our way toward the east end of the city, hoping to reach Pudong — the city’s picturesque business district — by sundown. We didn’t make it. We got lost several more times in French Concession (the up-and-coming cultural hub), Xintiandi (upscale shopping and residences, where we saw the only Aston Martin and Lamborghini we’d encounter on the trip), the White Cloud Taoist temple, and finally made it to Old Shanghai.
Old Shanghai is a maze of 19th century streets jam packed with tourists, peddlers, crazy foods, designer fakes, the list goes on. Lots of fun to walk through and take pictures, but after six hours of that we were beat. We found an oasis of quiet at one of the city’s oldest teahouses for a little gong fu tea ceremony before catching a cab back to the hotel.
Dinner tonight was Italian food courtesy of my new friend Salvador — who works for the Spanish embassy in Shanghai —and his girlfriend Bianli, followed by an amazing foot massage for $3 at their favorite little neighborhood spot. Thanks guys!
Click here for pics from the Shanghai photo album.