...shopping in Sainsbury's supermarket in Croydon...and he's emptied the shelves of ALL the cereal bars, crunchy nut corn flakes, and PG Tips teabags (oh, and Nutella jars as well...which costs at least RMB75/GBP£8 a jar in China...in the UK it costs around £2.30 a jar (about RMB20))! Shopping for groceries never felt so good (!)
Yes, in Hong Kong, Suzhou, Shanghai, and other Chinese cities with an expat population we can get such goods, but they are mostly imported (i.e. they've most probably have been on a container ship for at least 3 months), and cost at least 3 or 4 times the price we pay in the U.K. (Tesco in China is nothing like the Tesco in the U.K. - it's localized to the Chinese consumer).
When you are living for 90% of the year in a country where not many local retailers understand why foreigners drink black tea with milk at 4pm with cakes and biscuits (I can't live without it!), and why we eat cereal with milk every morning, your homesick body craves for such stuff when living 6,000 miles away (my Chinese/Australian/American and other expat friends who live in the U.K. do the same when they go back home for THEIR holidays to their countries).
Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
To have REAL English tea in China is a sheer luxury ('Lipton Tea- Yellow Label' is what we get in China, and that is not strong enough): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Flying from China and onto the Arabian Sea (we came over from Shanghai, Suzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Kunming, Nepal, Karachi, and into the Arabian Sea), the Airbus A330 comes close to the end of it's journey into it's final destination Abu Dhabi. Sunrises are always spectacular. Oblivious of the significance for earthlings, the sun rises on just another day above the skies at 39,000 feet.
Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Costing around US$222.5 million (€215 million) each, the Airbus A330-300 is one hell of a sexy machine. Etihad Airways has six of these beauties in their fleet, mainly operating on long haul routes out of their base Abu Dhabi. I had the pleasure of reviewing this flight from Shanghai Pudong to Abu Dhabi on board aircraft registered A6-AFB. A big thank you to the Captain and the Etihad Airways team for making this photo shoot happen!
Etihad Airways is a relatively brand new airline (established in 2003), and has one of the best cabin crew in the world from over 120 nationalities...and they have a kick-ass in-flight experience product too with all luxury comfortable seats, 5-star meals...give them a try next time!
Nothing beats the experience of walking underneath a beautiful A330-300, and being so close to this beauty.: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
The Maglev train in Shanghai: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Shanghai's Maglev train is a fascinating bit of technology (you wonder why Europeans cannot build something like this- and they will never be able to- except maybe the Germans). Balanced about 15mm above the tracks, it feels more like sitting in a plane rather than a train as it breezes the whole of the 30 kms between Longyang Road Station and Pudong International Airport in a remarkable 7 minutes 20 seconds (even the Japanese passengers on board today were impressed). It costs RMB 50 (approx.US$8) for a one-way journey. Now, compared with a taxi which may cost around RMB 250, and take around 40 minutes for the same trip- i'd say it's worth every single cent spent.
To get to the maximum commercial speed of 431 kph takes about three minutes (it’s done 501 kph in testing). Amazingly there are NO seat-belts - though I suppose that at this speed it’s not worth worrying about the consequences irrespective of whatever may happen.
The posh seats....:Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
...the not so posh seats: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
rom the Flair bar atop the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pudong
, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant colonial style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Shanghai is a city that has that magic romantic attraction blended in well with elegance, glamour, and sheer sense of global economic standing. The city used to be known as 'The Paris of the East'. While some old fashioned people may still refer the city with its nostalgic title, I however believe that this city has surpassed even the delights of New York and London (these two cities are not even close to where Shanghai is...in terms of everything...economically, culturally, and for beauty too). You realize this when you visit places such as the well renowned MINT club (you never know who you may bump into there). When you are in Shanghai, it feels like the center of the world (it really does).
The changes to the city in the last three years have been enormous. I used to live in Shanghai and nearby Suzhou for a number of years, and miss it so much. Make a point of coming here for a holiday, have lunch at the Yi Cafe at the Shangri-La Pudong (read this
); afternoon tea at the Peninsula Hotel (read this
), dinner at Le Sheng (read this
!), have a drink at Hyatt on the Bund (read this
); and then bop it off all night if you wish at the MINT nightclub or at Bar Rouge with some good company. Then bask in the history of the city which is spearheading China’s incredible growth.
Three giants drift into the mist...Jinmao Tower (mIddle), ICC tower (left), and the Shanghai Tower (right): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
The grand entrance to the TVB Pearl Tower- Shanghai: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
A large 'grass snake' greets tourists in Pudong- (2013 is the Year of the snake): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Puxi side as seen from the Pudong side: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Shanghai is a 24 Hour city...bop it off all night at the Park Hyatt bar- the highest in the city: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Feel like royality at The Ritz-Carlton, Pudong: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Hop-on, Hop-off tourist buses have made good dollar from tourists around the world in every major city you can think of. Shanghai is no exception either, and the 24 hour tickets are cheaper here than most other places in the world. Notice that the top deck has covering to protect the passengers from the excruciating sun in the summers, the heavy monsoon rain, and the bone deepening humidity that throngs Shanghai.
Breakfast in Guangzhou (Shiqiao)
Milked fresh every morning from dairies around Guangzhou: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
No tea or coffee today...sometimes I can be VERY Chinese in my approach to lifestyle. A glassfull of fresh cold milk (taken from well fed local Chinese cows in Guangzhou!), and a couple of delicious Cantonese Egg Tarts did the trick.
Delicious Cantonese Egg Tarts!: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Lunch in the air (somewhere over Shaoguan, Guangdong)
Lunch provided by Juneyao Airlines- served somewhere over the city of Shaoguan, 30 minutes after takeoff!: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Afternoon Tea at the Shangri-La, Pudong (Shanghai)
Now that's what I call REAL English tea (alas in Shanghai!): Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Shanghai is romantic, hectic, elegant, and nothing short of standing by it motto of being 'The Paris of the East'. From the Jade 36 bar atop the Shangri-La Pudong hotel, under July’s leaden skies; the futuristic skyline of Pudong contrasts with the elegant old-world style of The Bund on the Shanghai side. Go and see it as soon as you can...and enjoy the Afternoon-Tea at the Shangri-La, Pudong.
...your table ends up looking more messier than your fellow Chinese diners. I still end up doing this after all these years!: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Plenty of designer goods available in China: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
You'd be surprised how many people don't know that in some parts of China the cost of living is more expensive than in the West (they laugh when I say that sometimes), and you'd be equally surprised at how little knowledge most people have of China's global super power status in the world. I spend most my time myth busting because most people in the West (esp. Europe) still have the wrong stereotypical negative image of the country and its people in their minds. I recently came across a highly educated Romanian (Cambridge graduate) who for some reason kept on complaining about everything to do with China. She kept asking me questions such as: Do people ride bicycles in droves there?, Do Chinese eat weird food?, Do they have shopping malls like we do here? Do they have ATM machines in China? Whats the food like? I heard they eat all kinds of meat? and so on. She even mimicked the Chinese accent at one point. It didn't take someone to be Einstein to work out that she was totally unaware of the culture, and at some point came across as xenophobic. Most people even compare China with India, which I think is wrong because there is no India-China competition. Though I have not been to India since 1998 (I am not an Indian citizen for those that don't know), but having spoken to many people (including native Indians) who have been to India, I can tell you that economically China is perhaps a few decades ahead of India. In my opinion, it would be an impossible task for a country like India to be as successful as China because of many factors including religion in India. Without being
stereo-typically negative, the Indian culture comes across as being too conservative/closed compared to China, and that's something that
cannot be changed (and should not be changed of course because every country has their own ways of living a life, and that's the beauty of life).
Of course there is a gap between the filthy rich and the desperate poor in China, however the good thing is that everybody gets their bowl of rice. In fact, to think of it, I have come across more people that are homeless and begging on the streets in European cities than I have in China. In some ways London itself does feel like it is the Western version of a 3rd world country because of its poor over used infrastructure (try taking an overcrowded commuter tube/bus/train in London with no air-conditioning!). It's only when you live in China you realize that the West is lagging behind in terms of infrastructure, quality of life, and economic stability.
If you happen to walk in a place such as Shanghai, you'll see that most of the middle class Chinese women are all carrying a Louis Vuitton bag (real not fake!), or wearing Prada glasses, and Gucci shoes. Shanghai really does feel like the Paris of the East. In some of the affluent parts of Shanghai or Beijing if you happen to walk into a Starbucks or a shopping mall, and you happen not to wear any designer clothes then you are not in (yes, it's that important of a status symbol).
I am not a generalist, and not a fan of stereotyping...however it would be somewhat of an accurate observation to say that the typical Middle Class Chinese person probably drives a Maserati or a Mercedes, learns English at Wall Street English (where prices start from around RMB 40,000 for a one year English language learning course!), loves their Starbucks coffee every morning, loves treating themselves to a good Steak meal at a top 5-star hotel, owns an expensive DSLR camera/s, and loves spending money to shop for designer clothes.
In my opinion Shanghai is more expensive than London to some extent (depending on where you live and what your cost of living is). For example, to rent a decent one bedroom accommodation in a nice part of Shanghai (Pudong or downtown Puxi) it costs around at least RMB 7,000 a month (that's about GBP 760, or around USD 1140 a month). Taking a taxi or public transport is still relatively cheaper in mainland China than in London or Hong Kong (taxi rates start at around RMB 14 for the first mile). However, the cost of weekly shopping and eating out at a restaurant might be almost the same as in Hong Kong (though Hong Kong food is more expensive than London sometimes). If, for example, you are going to eat in Xintiandi (trendy fashionable place), then for example the cost of a giant plate of food and a nice glass of wine costs the equivalent of about £15.00. But hey, if someone has lived in somewhere like Sweden, then China wouldn't give you any physical pain every time you come here!.
China's growing abundance of modern infrastructure contains numerous 5-star hotels (some have amazing architecture), world-class international schools (Dulwich College Suzhou for example), large number of airports, and so many other impressive things that are modern and clean - it makes the United Kingdom look like a Western version of a 3rd world country (no wonder why the former PM Tony Blair pays monthly visits to meet the CEOs of Chinese banks!). In some parts of the country, life comes across as being so much better than anything I have come across in Europe that it would make any other global economy envious. The fact is that Europe and America had their time of growth after the World Wars, now its the turn of Asian economies to grow. This, flamboyancy, of course, does have its kickbacks and downsides. The biggest myth that derives from is that many Western business persons immediately think: 'If I go to China then I can become financially successful!'. While it always doesn't end up like this (read this), it is true that in the long run, China is the place to be in. That's where the future is, and that's where the money is (in my opinion).
Bright neon in Shenzhen: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Renmenbi!!!!!!: Photo Copyright Navjot Singh
Ever since the 1930s, Shanghai has always been the city that brought along the blended emotions of nostalgia, fashion with a posh flair, and above all else, romance. With over 19-million people on the move 24-hours a day, seven days a week, there is a certain rat race going on by everyone planning on having a stake in the booming economy of China’s most westernised and fastest growing city. This is perhaps the most happening place in the world. Everybody wants to be here for their own economic gain, and nothing else. If you have money, then Shanghai is the place to show-off, and there is certainly an air on snobbery in the place. Yes, it has come to this. Indeed this is the place where business deals were signed, and to some extent the same thing happens nowadays. It's common to see board room meetings being held at nearby boutique hotels, and then they all go and have a good time at the likes of the KABB restaurant.
The latter term may be applied even more so in the well preserved Xintiandi area of the city. The original form of Xintiandi’s antique walls, tiles, and, exteriors have been preserved by the Shui On Company. The whole area is enhanced, which is home to art galleries, trendy boutiques, international restaurants, bars, and lifestyle luxury shopping. I cannot resist falling in love with Xintiandi every time I come here. The area would perhaps easily pass as the most elegant, and certainly the most western in China. It’s the kind of place where you just have to be careful on what you are wearing, how you talk, and how you behave. It’s the place to see, and be seen at.
Nestled neatly amongst this nostalgic yet chic Xintiandi area, is the 88 Xintiandi boutique hotel. The property, which has been owned by Langham Hotels since 2011, is a re-creation born out of the sprawls of a sublime Shikumen residence. Inspired by beautiful artifacts and designs, this hotel will simply blow your mind away when it comes to attention of detail as presented by a boutique hotel. I love it. When you are in this part of Shanghai, you can’t feel for a whisker of a second that you are in China. When one stands on one of the suite balconies looking the park with the Pudong side in the horizon, they could easily be forgiven for thinking that you are in New York or London. The view is very deceiving that I would actually given this city the slogan of ‘New York of the east’ instead of ‘the Paris of the east’.
The hotel’s 53 well-appointed rooms & suites range from 41 sq m to 140 sq m and come along with a blend of exquisite Chinese and Western design concepts designed by Shui-On architects. Dark woods, well-equipped kitchens and bathrooms, oblique angles, designer toiletries by Gilchrist & Soames, complimentary wireless internet, state-of-the-art gym, and plenty of intimate space that would make you effortlessly feel like royalty- it’s no wonder that the 88 Xintiandi has attracted the likes of architect Kengo Kuma to create a spanking new Shang Xia suite in the hotel. Oh, and not to mention the in-room blender, microwave over, in-room foot massage machine, and even a barometer so you don’t forget to take your umbrella (which is, of course, provided). Therefore, effectively it seems that nothing is left forgotten, and all the creature comforts are provided. Or, are they?
While food lovers can order from one of the hotel’s thirty strongly recommended trendy restaurants and bars in the Xintiandi area, or indulge in all-day limited amount of finger food at the Club Lounge; there is not much else in terms of food available at the hotel itself. Hats off to the hotel’s management for providing a fine choice of eateries in the neighborhood however the ordering of food from nearby restaurants may not be everyone’s cup of tea because of the hassle of ordering food from a restaurant outside of the hotel’s premises. I personally tried it and happened to have a good experience. The ordering of food is quite convenient. Effectively this hotel is essential for the essentials. Mind you, the Club Lounge has some treats on offer too. One of the dishes that started on their "breakfast dish of the day" became so popular that they have made it a standard item on the buffet.
I also had the pleasure to attend an 'agarwod ceremony' being performed at the Shang Xia inspired suite at the 88 Xintiandi. Agarwood is the infected wood of the Aquilaria tree. Historically the Muslim Sufis and Japanese Shaman use agarwood oil in their esoteric ceremonies. The agarwood oil and smell is meant to enhance mental clarity and bring calmness and tranquility. During the ceremony, the healer inhales the agarwood many times to get the smell to perfection. I must say that during the ceremony it did feel a bit awkward just sniffing the agarwood smell in a certain pattern. 'Would this be addictive, and good for health?', I wondered. I have give kudos to the ceremony master, Ms. Wendy, by showing her utmost professionalism when performing the agarwood ceremony She must have a lot of good patience to be able to maintain the exposure for such a long time.
On one particular evening at the hotel, one of the senior executives of an unmentionable multinational I was having light dinner with posed a common yet challenging question to me (it always happens). ‘What’s your favorite city in the world?’, she asked curiously. My answer was equally compelling. ‘Any city in which I have had a good experience or any city that I am residing in currently’. Therefore, it goes nicely with those wonderful words that at that particular moment in life my favorite city was Shanghai (though Suzhou, and London are equally favorable . I was surprised she did not ask me the same for my hotel, for which I would have given the same answer back. Therefore, here’s cheers to the 88 Xintiandi for making my day (and night). If it sounds like a love affair I have with this city, then you won’t be far away from that mark too.