Shanghai Social Diary: Treasures of China’s Heritage, Part 1

On a nine-day trip to China with the Global Heritage Fund, I explored some truly incredible, off-the-beaten-path historical sites, among them the Xuankongsi Hanging Temple that clings to the side of a mountain in northeast China.

Treasures of China’s Heritage: Touring with the Global Heritage Fund
(First of a Seven-part Series)

For many, a trip to China is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, usually limited to the must-see places such as Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, and the other major cities. But if you have the opportunity to make return visits to this vast and varied country, I highly recommend stepping off the tourist trail and venturing into the provinces.

I first visited China in 1987 and quickly fell in love with its intoxicating beauty, rich culture, and welcoming people. I immediately vowed to return—and not simply as a tourist. Since 2008, I’ve lived in China off and on and have seen many places that are still largely undeveloped and therefore undiscovered by outsiders.

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Shanghai Social Diary: Chongming, the Eco Island of Shanghai

On a visit to the ecological island of Chongming, near Shanghai, my group visited Dao Zhong Dao, a stunning concept hotel and restaurant.

CHONGMING, THE ECO ISLAND OF SHANGHAI

After a late arrival on a flight from the U.S. to Shanghai, I awoke the next morning to an enticing email invitation to Chongming Island. My friend, French architect Jean-Pierre Heim, wanted me to join a group visiting his hotel project there.

The alluvial island, also called Eco-Island, formed from silt and rock, is in the Yangtze River Delta and had long been on my must-see list.

But Heim’s group was leaving in only two hours! I abandoned my plan to spend a few days recovering from jet lag and was soon out the door.

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Shanghai Social Diary: Shanghai Conservatory of Music, in the Former Shanghai Jewish Club

Our group of supporters in front of the Shanghai Jewish Club, now part of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Two American friends, architect Ben Wood and international attorney Barry McComic included me in a planning committee hoping to renovate the former Shanghai Jewish Club, now used by the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. Their idea was to preserve the historic building as a useful performance space.

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Shanghai Social Diary: Shanghai Dining

One of my favorite activities in China is sampling authentic regional food, such as the Shanghainese fare of Jesse Restaurant, a favorite among tourists and locals alike.

One of the great pleasures of traveling, to me, is the chance to sample the extraordinary variety of cuisines around the world. Some of the most exotic meals I’ve ever tasted were in Asia, thanks to Chinese friends who made sure I didn’t overlook any of the best dishes on the menu.


AUTHENTIC SHANGHAI CUISINE AT JESSE RESTAURANT

I’m savoring the memory of a whirlwind two-week “culinary discovery” trip of Asia with stops in Hong Kong, Taipei [Taiwan], Singapore, and Shanghai, organized by George Chen, the restaurateur behind San Francisco’s Betelnut and Shanghai 1930.

George’s latest project is China Live, an upscale Chinese food emporium (à la New York’s Italian Eataly), planned for SF Chinatown. (I’ll be sharing details on this highly anticipated attraction in an upcoming column.)

Our first restaurant stop in Shanghai was the “original” Jesse, a “hole in the wall” that draws hordes of locals and foreigners in search of traditional Shanghainese cuisine.

Our group of culinary adventurers included Stephanie Lawrence, Richard Miyashiro, Cecilia Chiang, George’s wife Cindy Chen, George Chen, and Jeanne Lawrence.

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Shanghai Social Diary: Culinary Adventures in Shanghai

When in Shanghai, I love trying foods both new and traditional. One of my favorites is Beggar’s Chicken, one of the famous dishes of China.

One of the many reasons I travel is to taste the various cuisines of the world. In Shanghai, I’ve had the opportunity to entertain and dine with my friends in a variety of venues. In this dispatch, I’ve picked a few dining experiences that were special.


LUNCH WITH FASHION DESIGNER HAN FENG

On a lovely Saturday afternoon, I met up with my friend Han Feng, the peripatetic designer of fashions, opera sets, and costumes, who spends alternating months in New York City and Shanghai.

Han Feng and I had lunch at the luxury Andaz Hotel in Shanghai’s Xintiandi neighborhood in the former French Concession.

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Shanghai Social Diary: Guo Pei, China’s Empress of Haute Couture

On a Beijing runway, legendary American model Carmen Dell’Orefice strutted in an extraordinary gown by Guo Pei, China’s “Empress of Haute Couture,” which was so heavily embroidered that four men had to assist her.

BEIJING – Every day in China is an adventure for me, and one of the most fascinating was my visit to the Beijing studio of couturier Guo Pei, a singular talent yet to be introduced to many Westerners.

The gifted Beijing beauty produces some of the most sumptuous and exquisite fashions I have ever seen. Take a look at some works from her recent Beijing show: boldly colored, intricate designs and intriguing silhouettes, masterfully executed by needlework artisans.

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Shanghai Social Diary: A Day in the Ancient Water Town of Zhujiajiao

Zhujiajiao, one of the best-preserved Chinese water towns, is often called the “Venice of Shanghai.”

Back from another extended stay in endlessly fascinating and ever-changing Shanghai, I’m posting another installment of some of the social, cultural, culinary, and travel highlights.


ZHUJIAJIAO’S HISTORY

Zhujiajiao, founded more than 1,700 years ago, was an important trading center during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties.

Its impressive canal system was originally built for irrigation and travel. Today it is a town of 60,000 with gondolas, arched bridges, centuries-old architecture, and picturesque lanes that give it an enduring charm.

On my first visit, a bicycle trip, our guide told us not even to try to pronounce the name, which sounds like “jew ja je-ow.” I’ve returned a few times, most recently for a day of photographing capped off by a private viewing of Oscar-winning Chinese composer Tan Dun‘s musical production Water Heavens.

Located just 30 miles from central Shanghai, Zhujiajiao is one of the many ancient water towns that dot the landscape of the Yangtze Delta.

Tranquil Zhujiajiao is a mere 50-minute ride but a world away from Shanghai, with its cobblestone lanes, traditional homes, temples, and tree-lined canals.

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Shanghai Social Diary: Chinese Cooking School

I’m always tempted by the local street food stalls in Shanghai.

Back from another extended stay in endlessly fascinating and ever-changing Shanghai, I’m posting another installment of some of the social, cultural, culinary, and travel highlights.


TRAVELING TO EAT

Travel is my passion. It’s a chance to experience other cultures, traditions, art, music, history—and especially food. I can’t think of a better way to get the flavor of a country than by sampling its cuisine.

From haute cuisine to street food, all around the globe I love the adventure of being introduced to unfamiliar dishes … well, not too unfamiliar. I don’t just love tasting everything, but also learning about the local markets, exotic ingredients, and indigenous cooking methods.

It’s fun to sample the many varieties of food and dishes.

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Shanghai Social Diary: More New Art Museums in Shanghai

The China Art Palace, built as the China Pavilion for Shanghai’s 2010 World Expo, has been transformed into a modern art museum.

MORE NEW ART MUSEUMS IN SHANGHAI

Last fall, the Shanghai Biennale inaugurated the new contemporary art museum, the Power Station of Art.

Two other art venues opened at the same time: the China Art Palace (CAP) and the private OCT Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT).

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Shanghai Social Diary: Shanghai’s Art Scene

The ninth annual Shanghai Biennale took place in the city’s new museum, the Power Station of Art—a perfect setting for Huang Yongping’s towering mixed-media piece, “Thousand Hands Kuanyin.”

Back from another extended stay in endlessly fascinating and ever-changing Shanghai, I’m posting another installment of some of the social, cultural, culinary, and travel highlights.


TWO MAJOR ART MUSEUMS DEBUT

The art scene in Shanghai was booming this past fall with the Chinese government’s goal of expanding its emphasis on its culture, arts, and heritage. Two new major art museums in Shanghai, the Power Station of Art and the China Art Palace, both opened on October 1, 2012, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China.

For this column though, I’ll focus on the Power Station of Art, the venue for flourishing contemporary art.

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