After living in Shanghai for almost a year and exploring the city daily, I thought I’d found all the unique places. But personal shopping guide Francine Martin, whose company is called East of the Sun, led me to some delightful new discoveries.
New York public relations guru Susan Magrino recommended Martin. And after reading about her in Shanghai Daily, China Daily, and The New Yorker—Patty Mark covered her in “Off the Avenue,” in June 2008—I made plans to spend a day with her. Although I’m not a shopper, I’m always on the lookout for something special, and I wasn’t disappointed.
At 8:30 a.m. on a steamy, 97-degree day, we were grateful to be in an air-conditioned car as my driver began our round of markets, specialty shops, and boutiques.
As we rode, Martin filled me in on her background. Born in America, she’s lived abroad for four decades, growing up in France and spending time in Tokyo, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and, for the past four years, Shanghai.
She knows Asia well, and after years of escorting visiting friends and families, she knows what Westerners want to shop for, so she decided to make her
pastime a career.
She uses the same skills she developed in her former life as a financial editor—researching, staying current, finding reliable sources, handling details, editing out what’s second-rate and ordinary, and listening to a client’s needs.
For any traveler trying to make the most of her time in this city of 20 million people (and what seem like almost that many shops!), Martin’s a great resource, and not simply for her discerning eye and ability to find the best of everything.
Using her Mandarin, she negotiates for you. She charges an hourly fee rather than take commissions (as many guides do), and she can get special discounts in a number of shops.
We took a break for a cool, quiet lunch in the 1930’s villa that houses the members-only KEE Club, then resumed our tour. The pictures are better than words to show you where we went and what we saw.
A day spent with Martin isn’t just about the shopping. You enjoy the city with inveterate explorer and an enthusiastic, knowledgeable guide. I wish I could keep her on retainer!
Photographs by Jeanne Lawrence.