Monday, August 23, 2010

Final thoughts on China

Overall the trip was most excellent.  If I had to do it differently, I would have picked a cooler time of year - spring or fall would have been perfect.  The heat and humidity was a little sapping.  And of course, more time would have been better - we still want to go to Beijing, Tibet, Hanzhou, Hainan, Guilin and a whole host of other places.

Some interesting observations:
  1. There are a heck of a lot of Chinese people.  I know it's been said, but this country and its people will be a force to be reckoned with.  In fact, China surpasses Japan as the world's second largest economy last month - and is forecasted to overtake the US in 20 years if they progress at their current rate.
  2. Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan and relatively unknown in the US, has an official population of over 5M.  Plus a whole of others who live and work there but are not registered.
  3. The Shanghai Louis Vuitton boutique greatly surpasses the San Francisco flagship store.  This is not surprising, in and of itself.  However, there are also giant Louis Vuitton boutiques in Chengdu and Xian - much smaller, much more provincial cities.
  4. Corollary to the last observation, many Chinese have a lot of money.  And they like spending it.  LV is extra expensive there with an additional luxury tax!
  5. The Chinese don't have the same queuing philosophy as the West.  If there is any space within the queue, they will move to fill it.  Even taking a minute inconsequential step forward is of paramount importance.  Seriously.  We almost came to blows over standing in line.
OK, I'm done now.  I'm so behind on all my posts - I must move on to Thailand...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shanghai BarbieWorld!

Ok, this was a somewhat random stop on our part - especially since my two girls never ever really liked Barbies and we don't have one anywhere in our house at this point in time.

But it's the world's first and only Barbie World!  How could we miss that?!  To be honest, I was curious about the experience - wondering if it was as immersive as the American Girl stores.  And being a connoisseur of retail experiences, I dragged my girls along with me.

First of all, it's totally unprepossessing from the street.  You actually enter something that looks like an office building, and there is a single escalator from the lobby.

Here's where the pink started.

Funnily enough, the girls were ahead of me in the escalator and when they got to the top, the both turned and their jaws just dropped.

It was a giant spiral staircase with hundreds of pink Barbies and in general, just an explosion of pink everywhere!

The Barbie Design Studio where you could supposedly design your own Barbie turned out to be a bit of a dud.  You really just picked the accessories that you could have with one of 5 standard Barbies.  Not the customized experience I thought it would be.  Although the Design Studio was pretty cool looking.

There was also a number of limited edition Barbie displays.  I especially liked these two - the Kate Spade and Lilly Pulitzer Barbies!

And finally, the Barbie Cafe (alas we did not partake).

By the way, the store was not terribly crowded but the number of Asian adult females greatly outnumbered the children in attendance.  I may have had their target demographic wrongly pegged!

Friday, August 13, 2010

High Design vs Good Food...

For dinner one night in Shanghai, we headed into Xintiandi, a lovely warren of little streets that have been rebuilt in a Disneyfied vision of old Shanghai.  Since I'm a big Disney fan, I have no objection to that!

The restaurant I had originally wanted to go to was booked that evening, so our concierge sent us to the Shanghai Tang Cafe.  Funnily enough, I didn't quite associate it with the Shanghai Tang fashion empire, of which I'm a big fan.  Of course, it turned out to be the cafe owned by the same firm, just around the corner from the main boutique.

Upon first glance, everything looked very promising.  The dining room was outfitted with Shanghai Tang accessories and was extremely dramatic in the fashion line's familiar color scheme.  I fell in love with the placesettings and wondered if I could pocket the beautiful chopstick stand and napkin ring without being noticed.  Alas, while I was contemplated my descent into crime, the waitress came by and quickly removed all temptations.

We ordered a big selection of food including a number of dim sum items.  Everything was just gorgeous when it arrived BUT to my deep disappointment, it all looked much better than it tasted.

The dumplings with different color wrappers were a nice touch.

The taro pastry swans reminded me of a similar dish at the fancy hotel at HK Disneyland, but there, it tasted divine.  Here... meh.

Why couldn't we have had high design AND good food in a single fabulous package?!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thailand and USA!

As I've mentioned earlier, the Expo was very much characterized by very long lines everywhere.  People would carry around these small foldable stools which they would pop up and use while in line.

Thailand had a large and very popular pavilion, also with a 3 hour line (3 hour lines seemed to be the norm).  However, any Thai citizen can by-pass the line by flashing their passport at the VIP entrance.  I love my country!  And so we scooted right in and checked out the exhibits, movies and 3D experience inside the pavilion - it did a good job of explaining some major milestones in Thai history, a little about the culture and the people  Thailand is a very popular holiday destination for the Chinese, so this was as much as travelogue as anything else.

Then we wandered over to the USA Pavilion.  I had read online that US citizens DO NOT get to cut the line (misguided equality principle!).  So we walked into the store/exit area and I found a nice college student from the Mid West, fluent in Mandarin, who was on a 2 month rotation, and she helped us bypass the main (3 hrs of course) line.  Thank goodness!

If you've read any of the background on the USA Pavilion, you would have heard that Congress passed a law some years ago that prohibits US government funds from being used to fund any Expos and trade fairs.  So the US was the ONLY pavilion funded entirely by private contributions.  And that the US was the last country to sign up for the Expo and we only managed to get the thing funded through extensive personal lobbying from Hillary Clinton.  Which was a good thing, it would have been terrible not to have been represented.

The USA Pavilion consisted of three theatres with different movies, starting with Kobe Bryant who greeted the audience in Chinese.  I'd rate the whole Pavilion a solid B.  After you exit, you then end up in a corporate sponsorship area where all the corporations have little exhibits.  A little cheesy but seemingly the best solution in the end.

Good thing we were able to bypass some lines - otherwise, we would not have seen any of the major country pavilions!  We walked past impressive structures for France, UK, Italy, Australia, Korea and Switzerland (complete with a cable car ride!) but could not stomach the wait.
And Denmark actually brought the Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen Harbour over to Shanghai for their pavilion - apparently also surrounded by Copenhagen Harbour water!  At least we could see that from the walkway outside, so didn't have to wait in line.
Lastly, I give you a massive photo of our glorious leader, Colonel Khaddafi, hanging in the main entrance of the Libya pavilion.  Who needs those Swiss cable cars when you can experience items like this one!

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Glimpse of the World

After lounging around in our fab hotel room for a few hours, we finally muster up the courage to head to the World Expo - leveraging the free ferry service.  Of course, I didn't realize just how slow the free ferry service would be, since it took us well over an hour to get there (vs 15 mins by taxi).  But the views were beautiful and it was a very relaxing journey.

As I posted in FB, the Shanghai World Expo = the World Showcase at Epcot in Disney World x 100, with 450,000 of your closest Chinese friends in 95 degree heat.  And NO concept of "my personal space bubble", as my 12 year old daughter calls it.

When we finally got in around 7 pm, we noticed the line at the Japan pavilion was 3 hours.  This did not bode well for the rest of our visit.

We decided to focus on the Axis of Evil and other small but interesting countries' pavilions - countries that we were unlikely to ever visit in real life.

Our final list across 2 days at the Expo included such perennial faves as Libya, Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Angola, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Nepal, Vietnam, all the Chinese provinces and our personal favorite, Lithuania (where hubby enjoyed Lithuanian draft beer and we had some unmemorable Lithuanian delicacies).

The kids got their little Expo passport stamped at all these countries, which makes for a nice souvenir.