I wonder what it is with sons of carpenters. One launches an entire institution of religion and the other, saves us from bad travel experiences and gives us the gift of luxurious, resilient travel bags.
The name Louis Vuitton evokes in me, not the large conglomerate fashion house with Marc Jacobs as artistic director of the empire, but rather the humble beginnings of the son of a carpenter who at age 14, in 1835, packed his bags in Anchay, Jura where he was born in France, and headed for Paris – on foot. He took odd jobs along the way to pay for food and lodging, all this while, perfecting his carpentry skills and expanding his knowledge on various types of wood.
400 km further away and one year later, Louis arrived in Paris to find a flourishing haute couture culture, where lavish and elaborate dressing was all the rage. It was here that he learnt to pack such elaborate outfits to perfection. And it was his dress packing skills and not foremost his carpentry skills that attracted the attention of Empress Eugénie. He became her favourite packer.
It was not long before he combined his dress packing skills with his carpentry skills to produce the first flat, stackable trunk for transportation. These stable and solid trunks were covered with grey Trianon canvas.
Geely HQ and Cixi Assembly plant
Friday the 15th of November was the fifth day of our visit to Shanghai in 2013. We had focused quite some on the Chinese automobile industry and today it was time to meet with Geely. Both the Geely Cixi Assembly plant and the Geely Headquarters are located in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, a few hours drive inland, from Shanghai.
A seduction of the senses at first step through its doors. Deep ruby red against black lacquered wooden furniture, plush table settings and good Yunnan food. Outside, around the corner in a short stroll, the beautiful lights of The Bund after sunset. It is little wonder as to what elements make Lost Heaven an appealing dining venue for that just perfect romantic Shanghai night out.
On the second day of our visit in Shanghai, we had the pleasure of meeting with the Director of Advanced Technology & Research at the Volvo Group Headquarter in Shanghai. If it is confusing for a Swede to keep track of the difference between Volvo Cars (owned by the Chinese Geely Holding Group) and Volvo AB, very much still a Swedish company, it is even worse for the Chinese, where a representative from Volvo Group Shanghai told that she often got questions from relatives if she could help them buy a Volvo car on staff discount.
When looking at the facade of the Crowne Plaza Shanghai Fudan Hotel it is difficult to not read into the facets of its facade some influences from the constructivist art movement that grew out of Russian Futurism in the early years of the 20th century.
Constructivist architecture flourished in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and early 1930s. Its ideas were revolutionary at the time and combined advanced technology and engineering with social purposes.
This era was also a formative one for Shanghai, as it acted as an eastern melting pot between East and West in the Warlord epoque of China in the 1910s, around the years of the Russian revolution and the financial boom of WWI. As such one would not be too surprised to find traces of these ideas right here in the Yangpu district of Shanghai where much of China’s academia flourishes today.
It is even difficult not to draw references to Russian industrialism and earlier, the cubism of Picasso and Braque, in the facets of the facade looking like human beings standing on top of, lifting, carrying and supporting each other. Architecture depicting the human strive to higher and higher achievements.
The Russian bicyclist painting by Natalia Goncharova (Cyclist, 1913) comes to mind as another reference to the Russian futurism of the 1910′s. This can be seen in contrast to the slightly older painting by Ramon Casas, of himself and Pere Romeu on a Tandem, 1897. The two works of art illustrate a dramatic change in ideologies and thus realities, that had come by in a mere few decades. The latter was painted specifically for the interior of the Els Quatre Gats in Barcelona, a restaurant and bar that was pretty much the center of the early Modernisme art movement in Barcelona at the turn of the century, and also the very place where Picasso had his first exhibition.
Walking through the streets of Hangzhou, I could never quite grasp the sentimental feelings of its romantic past even as my eye caught the elegant lines of temples, the fine pagodas and the many intricately carved bridges that made the landscape so picturesque.
But arrive at the calm and mirroring waters of West Lake, and the realization sets in – that the city through numerous phases of transformations, carries within its aura a purity of natural beauty and a sense of timelessness. And it is perhaps this, that rocked the souls of the literati both past and present.
Even before my first visit to Shanghai, friends were recommending I visit two places, the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Blue Frog restaurant that as a friend put it, served “very good fusion food”. And I couldn’t have done serendipitously better than by dining at the Blue Frog at the Shanghai World Financial Center!
Shanghai’s changing cityscape is reminiscent of the changing skyline of Singapore, where every time I visit I find myself looking at a skyline that is augmented in some manner especially in Lujiazui, which also most reminds me of the Singapore quiet in the Central Business District by Raffles Quay by night.
Waking up in China’s largest city that is Shanghai, amongst its more than 24 million inhabitants certainly puts a perspective on how much of an impact you might make during a single day in your life when you finally step out the door and make your way around with your errands.
In just about twenty to thirty years, Shanghai as a city has grown at an amazing speed. The skyscrapers seen today along the Huangpu River, The Bund and Lujiazui were non-existent just a stone’s throw back in time, where it would’ve been difficult for most anyone to recognize the landscape and skyline of the central finance district between these decades if you were not at first shown pictures of the landscape from then till now.
The past decade alone has seen a paradigm shift in Shanghai from a city with Communist ideals to one that is cosmopolitan with a global outlook. Much of this is the fruitful result of the Chinese government’s efforts at economic reforms in China beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
If any organization could trace and reflect an aspect of Shanghai’s modern history in global trade and the resulting impact of the Chinese government’s efforts at bringing China and its state-owned enterprises to the global scene, then Baosteel Group Corporation, the second largest steel producer in the world with approximate annual revenues of around USD $21.5 billion would be a good case study to examine. With 45 wholly owned subsidiaries in markets across the world, in countries with as diverse cultures such as Brazil, France, Germany, Russia and in Asian and Southeast Asian countries such as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore , Baosteel reflects the speed and tenacity at which Chinese organizations are able to make themselves visibly global whilst simultaneously catering to their very demanding and highly competitive domestic market.
Still, amongst the city’s global ambitions supported and run by its busy inhabitants who seem to maneuver through the city via just as many noisy and exuberant vehicles that never cease their honking, you’ll find in Shanghai that some waking hours beckon a certain lull to the senses, and are in effect… quieter than others. And it is in these hours that you can sit, think and breathe the calmer soul of the city as a mist that invites you to contemplate its living as an artfully drawn landscape, one perhaps seen in Chinese watercolour on silk or paper. It is these brief lulling hours of Shanghai, at dawn or just after dusk, that paints a picture of the place both past and present, juxtaposed in front of your very eyes in material form.
I grew up in the decades of Singapore where people did cart their goods around and sold them from their bicycles, and where food such as bowls of noodles, plates of fried kway teow and even cold food such as ice-shaved desserts called ice-kachang (a Singapore and Malaysian variation of ‘sorbets’ made from just rough shaven ice and sweetened with colourful syrup dripped all around the cone of ice shavings) were sold from wheel-carted trolleys. For warm dishes, burning charcoal was used for fuel in the mid-1900s for cooking and later on, small portable gas units were used.
Still, the scene in China is much more rustic and unaware – people just didn’t think if you stopped and stared at them eating, because for them, it was all part of the natural process of the day, just another practicality that you have to deal with, seamlessly interwoven into their main activity of the day, which is working. Living and working seamlessly – that is what you’ll witness at lunch hour at Yuyuan.
When in Shanghai, the last place I expected to find myself exploring come sundown is Lujiazui, the city’s financial district, as the more popular of nightspots would include Xintiandi or even the quieter street of Hengshanlu lined with all sorts of eateries from Turkish and Thai to Hunan cuisine.
My personal involvement in the Swedish East Indiaman Gotheborg III project was so early that I had not myself realized it back then. In the project newspaper GotheborgsPosten that was distributed in 360,000 copies throughout the entire western Sweden in 1996, it was outlined that one of the research objectives that would be targeted was Swedish-Chinese Business Communication. The Professor that in 2003 would arrange for me to receive the Anna Ahrenberg Research Funding Scholarship to help me start a PhD research (graduated in 2009) in doing precisely that, was interviewed. Strange indeed are the paths of life. Today, I go off to work everyday by ferry straight across Wargö Håla, the historic departure point of the Swedish East Indiamen in the western Swedish archipelago. In fact the house in which we live features one of the ship’s actual water provision wells in our very garden.
Currently at work, at the University of Gothenburg School of Executive Education AB, prevalent topics of discussion circle around Swedish-Chinese business relations and the future of work prospects with Sweden’s competitive growing economy that earned acknowledged nods from Swedish leaders, specifically that of its Finance Minister, Anders Borg, of the country being a Nordic tiger economy (ref. Di, DagensPS and Epoch Times). All this showing that the Swedish East Indiaman still has a relevant role to play, more so today than ever in its importance of growing global contacts. Its shared goodwill initially created by the East Indiaman Project is everywhere present.
In the media recently, a passionate discussion has arisen about what to do with the ship, now when its initiating ideas have been completed – the ship built and it has traveled to China and back. What now?
Many suggestions including turning it into a museum, an amusement park and why not – firewood – have come forth. Personally not even at today’s energy prices does the idea of firewood sound very brilliant.
Eventually, the original Founders of the project have chosen to step forth, and in this weekend’s local newspaper GP, have briefly presented their views of how the ship could continue to earn its keep and do much more than that.
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.M. Queen Silvia, disembark the Gotheborg III in Canton, China, 2006.
From the point of view of Anders Wästfelt and the Think Tank Gotheborg, the ship is far from done sailing:
In view of the past few days defensive debate in the media and our City Council, on the future of the East Indiaman Gotheborg, it is time to lift our eyes beyond the horizon. In the right hands the Götheborg III – our ship – is a regional and national asset with huge potential.
She has great future tasks, functioning as a symbol of our community, an inspiration for continued work and as a source of financial revenues. She is well-built and with proper maintenance, she can sail for another 20-30 years.
The project to build a replica of the 1700s Swedish East Indiaman began in 1992 as a private initiative. It was well thought through and enjoyed the support of international shipbuilding expertise, the best marketing specialists, lawyers, economists, politicians, sinologists, university faculties as well as members of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Trade Council.
Every New Year most people will find themselves writing new resolutions for the year ahead – a healthier year ahead, a more successful year ahead, new goals to be attained or renewed interests in old goals previously unattained – but for me, as 2010 passes and this night welcomes 2011, I can’t help but go back to what has been there for a very long time. A time when I was growing up, of photographs now a natural sepia in family albums.
One such place where time has seemingly stood still, and which now come to mind from my travels in the past year is The Astor House Hotel along the Bund in Shanghai.
It was with great expectations that I went to visit the Geely headquarters in Hangzhou, the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co. Ltd, as part of a Swedish delegation from the University of Gothenburg. Geely’s acquisition of the Swedish car manufacturer Volvo with their headquarters in Gothenburg was announced on Monday the 2 August 2010 and with that, the Zhejiang Geely corporation had concluded the largest ever acquisition of a foreign car company in the history of China.
A warm sign at the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group headquarters that welcomed the visit by the Swedish delegation.
Just inside the Geely headquarters entrance.
Having followed the Ford and Geely negotiations as well as could be done in the press, I expected this acquisition to be an important opportunity to study the process of top management knowledge transfer between modern China and the West.
Shanghai is a remarkable city. Considering all vicissitudes this unfortunate city has seen over the last century it was with great expectations that I recently got to visit it, and to explore to what extent this city had regained its former glory. And in many ways it has.
The ebb and flow of great fortunes being made and lost ripples through the city, constantly changing its face. What is a constant is the river, and facing it is still the Bund however much widened. Across the river on the east bank, an entirely new skyline of Pudong greets us, the new skyscraper-laden financial and commercial district that also houses the new Pudong International Airport.
Pudong area, just seen across the Huangpu River. To the left, the somewhat brutal outline of the ‘Oriental Pearl’ Tower.
What better place to take in all of this but at the fashionable restaurant, M on the Bund? As one review had it:
With superb Continental cuisine, an excellent wine selection and deft service, the fashionable M on the Bund sets the standard for other haute cuisine restaurants in Shanghai. As the place to see and be seen, the much-touted eatery attracts its fair share of Shanghai’s movers and shakers. Contemporary, airy and stylish decor complements sweeping views of the Bund. The food reaches equally high heights. Diners are recommended to try the Salt Crusted Leg of Lamb and the Crispy Suckling Pig. They should also leave room for dessert—the sinfully delicious pavlova is rightfully legendary.
But however much I had wanted that to be my impression too, I am forced to say I beg to differ.
I believe that if I were living in Shanghai, M could possibly be a place where I might want to bring friends and visitors. But it isn’t a place I would find myself craving to come back to, nor a place I would get addicted to as it stands right now.
And I thought I would walk into a city that would be so foreign to me that I would not have understood half of what was going on as soon as I landed. But I was wrong. In fact, the melding I felt to Shanghai was so immediate it was as if I had stepped off the plane, right back home.
One of the things I look forward to whether travelling or at home, is breakfast. Shanghai, being such a dynamic and cosmopolitan city, has no problems providing for all sorts of palates. In fact, settling for both a red bean steamed bun and a mini chocolate muffin at breakfast was just the sort of thing that a Singaporean for example, wouldn’t think twice about either.
I’ve far too often heard that Hong Kong has the best dim sum, so I was naturally excited about being in Hong Kong if only for the food.
But when in Hong Kong, like its so many shopping establishments, you’re confronted with so many eateries and interesting food choices that finding the recommended dim sum spots doesn’t even occur to you. You’ll find yourself pulled by interesting sights and smells to various foods on display, not the least amusing is watching people enjoy their meals standing at street corners, oblivious to heavy traffic not two feet from them. People stand and eat with the current rain on their shoulders, playfully dampening their fresh clothes and all of this plus the noise of the traffic and the rush of footsteps from others, makes you as a visitor want to get in on the act too – go completely local and tuck into some interesting food, standing in mud puddles and all.
Steamed meat dumplings.
Char siew bao.
After the first rush of excitement and confusion with authentic Hong Kong cuisine, I set about to find the Guide Michelin star dim sum restaurant, Tim Ho Wan (添好運點心專門店)which means “Add Good Luck” at Tsui Yuen Mansion, Kwong Wa St, Mong Kok. The place is notoriously tiny in seating capacity and has been described as literally, a hole-in-wall place to eat. Well, suffice to say, without much planning this time around for Hong Kong and worse, without a map, I didn’t manage to find that place but ended up at New Star Seafood Restaurant along Stewart Road that, to my serendipitous discovery, had some truly awesome dim sum!
As you walk around Hong Kong, you realize that there are those who visit and who even do business in the country, but who never get involved, like a bystander that avoids the puddles when it rains, and then there are those who are living the very heartbeat of Hong Kong because they must.
Hong Kong Museum of Art, flanks one end of Avenue of Stars along Victoria Harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui, providing visitors a perfect starting point for walking down the waterfront.
These two sides of the same coin is most poignantly illustrated at Tsim Sha Tsui, along Victoria Harbour that shows the two facets of Hong Kong still meeting in this day and age, one of old China and one of what is modern China demonstrated literally by two vessels of different times passing each other. It is at this waterfront that western savvy gathering in The Peninsula, Intercontinental and Shangri-La meet eastern traditional that is just a stone’s throw from the harbour, down from Nathan Road at Mong Kok’s street stalls and wet markets.
Characteristic of Hong Kong is the information overload that greets you along its busy streets, not only from signboards that hang abovehead, but by all the minute happenings along the street and around every street corner. From the movement of goods from van to store, to the bargaining for the best prices and the rush for buses, taxis and the MTR, it’s tempting to want to observe everything when you’re there. For a first time visitor, it’s perhaps sometimes easier if you just ignored for the most part, the things that happen around you in order not to feel overwhelmed by it all, for Hong Kong like Singapore with a sliver of difference, seems also a city that hardly sleeps.
These pictures were taken mostly in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, with the wet market scenes most familiar and heartwarming to me.
The Shanghai Expo 2010 will open in just 3 days, running for 184 days (from 1 May to 31 October, 2010). When it comes to China, nothing is on a small scale these days if they can help it, just browsing the Events section of the Expo gives something to look forward to, from parades to song, dance, insights into the local food and culture.
The theme for this expo is “Better City, Better Life” and aims to bring awareness to and perhaps tackle the challenging issues that face global cities in the near future.
In this post, some pictures of Shanghai today, from food that includes century eggs to braised pork and chicken, to the clean modern lines of a hotel, a room on the 27th floor with a view over Shanghai.
The rebuilt replica of the first East Indiaman Gotheborg, the Gotheborg III has now made its old trade route trip around the world, from Sweden, around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa and up to Canton, China. On its way back from China, it touched base at Singapore earlier this year, where some of you might already have had a chance to view Her in Her majestic beauty. To me, she looks every bit belonging to the movie Pirates of the Caribbean where I can almost see Captain Jack Sparrow at the helm, albeit in the wrong flag colours.
The project was based on the excavation of the original East Indiaman Gotheborg which sat sail in early 1743 not to be heard of again before September 1745 when upon homecoming, She, with a huge crash, hit an underwater rock just outside the home harbour of Gothenburg and sank. The salvaging of the immensely valuable cargo of silk, tea and about 300,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain started immediately. This salvaging of lost treasures continued intermittently for centuries, since her foundering.