Shanghai

Music, T-shirts and Dim sum // China Trip 12/20

Hi Panda brand 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. (3rd in a series)

Insights - Today we hung out with Archie Hamilton, a partner in the Chinese concert promotion outfit Split Works. With offices in Beijing and Shanghai, Split seems to be holding it down in China for indie and progressive music. They’re currently producing the Jue Festival in both cities, which features Chinese and international music and art.

For all my sponsors reading this, you should be all over the Jue Festival.

We also found some pretty cool brands you might not know about. Not the $5 “Zegna” ties, although they were plentiful. I’m talking about Hi Panda — a Sino-centric pisstake on Hello Kitty — and Produc-T, owned by an award-winning designer whose propaganda-style graphics featuring surprisingly subversive messages. The one I bought said “Never forget the life we had under a planned economy. But is commercialism the answer?” I didn’t think you could say things like that in China.

Trip Notes - Saturday in Shanghai, and the top priority on my agenda is dim sum! If we’ve never eaten together, let me tell you now that dim sum is near the top of my favorite meals list (By the way, LA has some great spots, so hit me up if you ever want to join us.)

Dim sum is Cantonese, and is typically associated with Hong Kong, not Shanghai. But Time Out said the city’s best dim sum was either at Crystal Jade or Din Tai Fung, both foreign chains with locations in Xintiandi. Since I’ve been to Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, off we went to Crystal Jade.

The main difference from the dim sum we know was that there were no carts. That’s kind of a bummer, since I consider ordering off a passing cart central to the experience, and because it ruins the “no waiting” advantage, but the food was very good. Maybe not Yank Sing good, but very good. The roast duck was awesome, and Christie loved the red bean cake.

At the table next to us was an American couple. From Detroit, they had been living here since summer, and were understandably happy to be away from Detroit. Not only for the weather, but the guy worked for “a major supplier to the automakers.” He wouldn’t say which one. They told us about a little arts district nearby called Tai Kang Road.

Chilean wines in China

This was our last day in Shanghai, and we had big plans to hit the Jade Buddha Temple at the west end of the city, find a tailor who could make me a custom suit, take the subway to the Science & Technology market, which apparently sells the best “designer” bags, and again, be in Pudong for sundown. But, the arts district sounded really cool, so we went there first. Once we found it, the adventure began. There were easily a dozen tiny streets that seemed woven together like an MC Escher painting.

After an hour or so of trekking through the maze, we stumbled onto the Wines of Chile store, which was handing out free tastings. Wine in China is still many steps behind the US, and I was thirsty for a good taste in addition to being intrigued by the concept of a Chilean wine shop in the middle of Shanghai, We tasted a cab that was actually very good.

Click here to see more pics from Shanghai.

Experience DIY Travel // China Trip 12/19

Bund skyline from the Hyatt 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.

Christie and me at the Whampoa Club

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.