Out and about in Shanghai

Inspired by Casual Connoisseur’s “Out and About” series, Gunter hits the Bund

A few weeks ago I had the chance to nip over to Shanghai for the first time.

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Flight delays conspired to make this a very short trip, and I didn’t get to cram in all I wanted. Still, I think I got in a little bit of the vibe of the city during the jazz age, when it proudly went by the title “whore of the orient”.

I was surprised by how clean and orderly the parts of Shanghai that I visited were. The bit of the Huangpu river where the Bund overlooks Pudong is positively gleaming, the buildings of the Bund perfectly restored and sitting behind a brand spanking new riverfront promenade. All in all, a much more pleasant experience than Beijing.

Thanks to the aforementioned flight delays we only had one proper evening on the town, and we made use of it by visiting Fu 1088.  Somewhere in or near the former French concession, and set in  a colonial bungalow that might have housed a moderately prosperous expat bank employee in the early 1930s.  Private rooms only, where high-end Shanghainese cuisine gets served up amongst faintly chipped and worn remnants of the city’s heyday. As this is not a food blog, I’ll save you the descriptions, but the food was damn good.

Some shots inside Fu 1088:

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Gunter wears a Moncler Gamme Bleu Oxford Shirt while preparing to tuck into a tea egg with caviar:

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After dinner we took a taxi back to the riverside to stroll along the wonderfully restored Bund. The dowdy vibe of “Clive James’ postcard from Shanghai” is long gone. We popped into the building which used to house Shanghai’s British Club. Now converted into the Shanghai Waldorf-Astoria hotel, it boasts a recreated version of the British Club’s notorious Long Bar – all in all a step up from the mid-90s days when it housed a KFC.

To my immense surprise the jazz trio in the Long Bar (bass, drums, piano) was several light years beyond the usual Asian hotel lobby “jazz band” hacks, and managed to jam out something which to these ears sounded like late 50s hard bop.

Gunter prepares to down a passable Gimlet at the Long Bar while listening to jazz:

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While our stay was short, the whole jazz age vibe of the trip was considerably enhanced by having chosen the Fairmont Peace Hotel as our digs. Close to the northern end of the Bund, the hotel is actually the former Cathay hotel, now immaculately restored.

When it opened in 1929, the Cathay was the most luxurious hotel in Asia and luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin, Noel Coward and Douglas Fairbanks passed through its doors:

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The restoration job is great, and the whole building is fascinating to wonder around in, but the slightly deserted nature of some of the public rooms on the upper floors gave of the vibe of a more art deco version of the Shining:

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It’s even more spooky when you consider that these rooms once housed the most happening night club in Shanghai, complete with jazz band and Russian prostitutes.

The actual rooms themselves are extremely well appointed and the ground floor with its’ art deco galleries is also a great place for loitering. I even managed to sneak an “Acid Casuals” T-Shirt into one of the shots:

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The last day on Sunday was spent exploring the vicinity of the Bund and sneaking in a brief interview with Subculture Shanghai main man Drunk Monk (coming soon to this blog) before taking the Maglev to the airport. All-in-all, I can’t wait to visit Shanghai again.

Gunter crosses the bridge over Soochow creek and ponders the Broadway apartments:

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Pondering Andre Malraux in the Farimont Peace Hotel’s fantastic French Bakery:

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But before closing out this post, a special mention is needed for the builder of the Cathay Hotel – the notorious Victor Sassoon, a man who would merit a long Eastern Terraces post of his own.

A member of the notorious Sassoon family of Baghdad jews whose commercial interests followed the British Empire eastwards, he first intended the Cathay Building to be an office building, but later changed his mind and put the city’s most luxurious hotel and most happening nightclub on the upper floors. Never one to do things by halves, he then ensconced himself in a penthouse suite on the top floor (in the pyramid-like structure you can see on top of the hotel). Following an air crash and partially crippled, he walked only with the aid of two canes.  Convinced therefore that women would only love him for his money, he dealt with the problem by postponing marriage until old age (he eventually married his nurse) and in the meantime regularly putting some of the city’s most beautiful European and Chinese women on his payroll. As one article puts it:

“Sir Victor had four major passions: beautiful women, thoroughbred horse racing, Chinese art, and photography…..Sir Victor not only had white lovers, but also Chinese ones, at a time when this was uncommon. He often photographed his conquests in the nude, thus combining his interests.”

http://suite101.com/article/sir-victor-sassoon-builder-of-1930s-shanghai-a132604

Sir Victor’s hight times in Shanghai definitively ended with the Communist takeover, whereupon he retired to the Bahamas and remarked: “Well, there it is…..I gave up India, and China gave me up.”

A photo of the great man (one hopes this lady was not one of the ones on his payroll):

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Finally, a picture of the guidebook that Porfirio Crane carried with him on his 1935 visit to Shanghai:

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Posted by Gunter Sacks

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