Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Does China really have a real estate bubble?

Does anyone really ever know what is going on inside China? I think that "China" as a whole is a bubble of some kind - and real estate seems the most obvious. But can a bubble burst in a communist country? I think the world is going to find out eventually as evidence like this just screams of over building and risky lending.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ristorante Sawauchi

My main reason in going to Japan (and one of the reasons I signed on to the Shanghai project) was to see my friend Aki and his wife and their new baby. Aki is one of the most interesting people I have ever met, and one of the busiest.  Of course that did not stop him from taking the time to treat me like a king, even with a new baby and two restaurants to run, and while making a movie on his iPhone, watching TVwhile driving, taking up golf, and running several kilometers every morning, etc. (you get the picture - this is one busy guy).

The highlight of the whole visit was the meal I had at Aki's new fine dining Italian restaurant, "Ristorante Sawauchi". I have some more written about the restaurant here, with a full set of pictures here. If you are ever in the north of Japan, please give it try!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Shanghai Taxi Experience

There really was no excuse for this...

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jinke Road Metro Stop, Shanghai

So for some reason that I am sure will remain a mystery, we stayed pretty far outside the center of Shanghai, on the new Metro line number 2. The apartment/condo building was basically in the middle of nowhere - just an endless landscape of mid-rise housing buildings, sprinkled with tech company offices. I think the Chinese planned this pretty carefully to keep the subways full in both directions for most of the day, with people leaving for the jobs from the apartments, and others coming to the various international companies sprinkled in the area (SAP was one office that was visible from the road).

Our metro stop was Jinke Road - and as you can see below in the image from Google, the metro station (upper right hand corner) was still under construction when this image was taken - that is how new everything is in this part of China.

Friday, July 16, 2010

National Art Center, Tokyo

Now that I am back from my trip, one of the things I want to do is list individually both the things I thought were worth seeing, and any travel tips I may have picked up. This is the first post in that vein, about a place I happened to find from a Subway poster, the National Art Center, Tokyo.

I thought I was going to see the Man Ray exhibit (see poster below), but what was actually there was a traveling show from one of my favorite museums in the world, the Musée d’Orsay. It was a tremendous exhibit that left me absolutely floored.

This is from their website:
"The National Art Center, Tokyo is a unique and innovative art exhibition facility: Instead of maintaining a permanent collection, it makes the most of a total of 14,000 square meters of exhibition space, one of the largest in Japan, and focuses on serving as a venue for various art exhibitions. The Center also promotes outreach activities through its educational programs, and the Art Library serves to collect and disseminate information related to art.
Located in Tokyo, an international city that attracts people, products, and information from all over Japan as well as the rest of the world, the Center will provide people with opportunities to experience diverse values and contribute to bringing forth a new culture based on the idea of mutual understanding and symbiotic relationship."
So basically the center serves as a rotating exhibit space. But it is also a fantastic architectural space, with several cafes and restaurants, a museum shop, and great public spaces to just sit and relax. It really made me wish that Florence had a place like this - large indoor spaces where the public felt welcome to linger, that also involved great art and a cultural experience.

If you are planning a visit to Tokyo, I would definitely think about adding this to your itinerary. The exhibit calendar, in English, is here.

Monday, July 12, 2010


After about two weeks in Shanghai, I flew to Tokyo. I spent 2 nights there and even though there was a decent amount of rain I had a great time and really was taken with the little bit of the city I got to see. I could imagine visiting Tokyo again, especially exploring more of the museums and temples, and trying more restaurants.

I have plenty more to post about China, and Japan, but I will be rolling that out once I get back home. And I have hundreds of photos too. Here is one:

This is the train crew changing shifts at Tokyo station. A glaring difference between Tokyo and Shanghai is the supreme sense of order and formality that the Japanese have compared to the seemingly permanent chaos of Shanghai. Look at the uniform on the "Captain" of the train - white gloves, suit, hat - every detail is precise. I also have some photos and videos I want to post of construction crews from both Shanghai and Japan - in Shanghai we saw lots of people at work in flip-flops and t-shirts. In Japan, everyone is uniformed, with an amazing amount of gear on, and safety is paramount.  Just some jarring juxtapositions between these places.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jean Georges in Shanghai

3 On The Bund (annoying, small window Flash website) is the address of a building that has been remade as a high end dining, shopping, and gallery space. I saw an Anish Kapoor installation at the Shanghai Gallery of Art (Kapoor seems to follow me wherever I am in the world - this is an artist that gets around), and - yes -  I had lunch at the Jean Georges restaurant (anyone who knows me knows Vongerichten is one of my favorite chefs in the world). I had been eating $2 lunches all week so I figured I could splurge:

This is the cod with snow peas, almonds, almond milk, and chili oil. It was very good. The desert was incredible, and I had a very nice glass of Riesling. The wine by the bottle is outrageously priced - but I got some background on that from the sommelier. More about that in another post.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July

Sunday July 4th:

Got to the museum just in time to boot the computers. Dropped off some more laundry at the Marriott, then to the Starbucks there to spend my 3 free hours of Wifi working. After took the #2 back to East Nanjing Rd. and found the Foreign Language book shop. Wandered around there in the heat just a bit. Most of the East Nanjing Rd. area, from about People's Park to the Bund (the riverfront area) is sort of like a Times Sq. Lots of hawkers trying to rope you in and sell you fake stuff, lots of tourists, Asian and others. Not my style.

Back near the Marriott, I watched the Germany/Argentina match on the TV in McDonalds. Yes, I have discovered the McDonalds where there is AC and you can get a #1 meal for about $2 and change U.S. Trying to conserve money at this point. Almost 4 PM now and I am back in the museum a little earlier than yesterday, when they were giving me a hard time about getting back in. Getting black outside, probably another heavy rain on the way.

After I closed the exhibit I took the #1 to Huaihai Rd. to try to find some shoes. Good luck! I can't find anything close to my size. I did find articles on some expats forums about guys having to get their shoes hand made here! I was only in one mall, so I decided to try to walk to some more stores, and of course by then it was pouring - just torrential rain. Back to the metro to head home, stopped in the tech park (one stop before the apartment) to get some dinner. Had some sort of strange but good potatoe salad and fried chicken (Chinese style).

At home I watched Code 46 - a futuristic film shot mainly in Shanghai. I liked it - not a great movie, but pretty cool and fun to see some of the locations I have been wandering around in the last couple of weeks. Tim Robbin's character stays in the Grand Hyatt in the Jin Mao Tower:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Day whatever...

I have totally lost track of time. The install really was a lot of work - we were there practically all day every day for almost a week straight. The weather doesn't make things any easier - I am not so good in hot, and if it isn't 100 degrees here, then it is raining. It rained the first seven days in a row I think, then we had a short break. Today I saw some suspicious clouds when headed down to the subway, and when I came back up from the metro it was torrential with thunder and huge lightning bolts, etc.

At the moment I am sitting in the Marriott again (free WiFi) trying to dry off a bit an pondering changing into some of these clean, dry clothes that I had laundered through the hotel :)

This is the Shanghai World Financial Center - we were next door in the Jin Mao Tower for lunch the other day - I want to go up to the observation deck of this building though:

Shanghai Bloggers

Good article from the NY Times (from Feb. 2010) highlighting Shanghai bloggers:

Published: February 25, 2010
Covering topics ranging from airport transportation to cup cakes and adolescent angst, online posts are filling an information void and opening the daily life of the city to Western eyes.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Day #5 (briefly)

Sunday, the official opening. We are still working full time until 3 PM, when the opening takes place. In between are a couple of trips to a computer mega-mall (Cyber Mart) to buy new video cards (that are then not needed), video adapter cables, fake iPhones, etc. Literally have the last screen running 15 minutes before the opening. Then I notice another bug - the server is running on a demo license and the images are watermarked! We have to open as is and hope it doesn't ruin the experience for too many people. After it is all over we head over to the Bund area and walk around the waterfront awhile before heading to dinner.

This is Paolo R's last day in Shanghai - he leaves from the restaurant for the airport - he was a lot of fun and it was great getting to know him better.

Food Market

We stopped briefly in a small food market near Remnin Road the other day. I got the below photo of a girl asleep in her stall. There were many vendors sleeping as it was just lunch time or a little after. I can only imagine how many hours a day they work. And it was hot - it had to be pushing 95 degrees in there.

This is my favorite photo so far.

More thoughts on Shanghai

Sorry for the sparse posting, the firewall issue is a real problem with Blogger (shame I didn't have the time to move the blog before I left) - the only way to use it is through a VPN, and the one I bought isn't working, so I have to use a free one, and it needs a lot of bandwith, so I have only been able to post from the Marriott which I am not at often.

After a week plus here there are some things that stand out for sure. It is really hard to believe that this is a communist country with a controlled press, and so many other limitations on individual freedoms (like not being able to use Blogger, Facebook, etc.). That being said, we have now met a couple of Chinese who have returned from Canada and the U.S. because this is where the jobs and business opportunities are. That in itself is pretty mind blowing.

This city is just humming with life, and it definitely seems like a "place to be" in the 21st century. There is a song by Radiohead that keeps coming to mind:sh
In a city of the future,
it is difficult to concentrate.
Meet the boss, meet the wife,
everybody's happy,
everyone is made for life.

In a city of the future,
it is difficult to find a space.
I'm too busy to see you,
you're too busy to wait.
That songs is called Palo Alto, but the opening line really screams Shanghai.

That and anything from the Bladerunner soundtrack - the comparison is too easy but it is so fitting.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Chinese Food

Day 4

Continued set up all day, still troubleshooting all the computer and monitor issues. The Chinese crew was with us again until after lunch - they were great. Beside the one bolt we bent, everything went well with them. We worked the whole day right up until the soft opening (minus 2 of the screens which were still having issues), and then stumbled around town for awhile, exhausted. Took a taxi to a fairly interesting market but I am not sure which one (have to check the map). We were supposed to meet up with a bunch of other Italians but we lost them on the way. Had a very interesting stroll through the French Concession area, came upon a great tea shop, and Marco fell asleep in a cafe. Good dinner though (I will find the place, it is well known, in all the guidebooks, etc.). Thought the Xintiandi area was a bust, like a western style mall. Seen enough of those in my life.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 3

We took the #2 metro all the way to People's Square from our apartment during rush hour. A little packed but not crazy - maybe they are more crowded coming from other parts of the city. Got to the museum a little after 9 AM after a fast coffee and muffin at Starbucks (which is next door to the museum) and got straight to work, and worked all day. We had 3 guys to help us which was a huge help - the "totems" that hold the touch screens are made of rusted steel - they are heavy, and dirty. I did most of the moving of the totems around with the helpers, positioning them, installing the screens, etc.

P & P were setting up the PCs, downloading the application and the images for each computer, etc. Issue #1 was no wrench to tighten the bolts that hold the screens in place. The museum finally gave us a crescent wrench. Issue #2 was no power - their electrician made up some outlet boxes that drop down from the lighting track system. #3 is the big one - the new monitors (half of the ten screens in the show) have a different physical size and don't fit correctly in the totems. I think they got very lucky that the on site carpenter fashioned some new things out of wood that look like they will work. We got kicked out at 5 PM and hadn't had a chance yet to get the hardware and get one in place, but it looks like it will work. The plan was to work until we were done - midnight it need be - but the museum woould not have any of that, so we have to come back tomorrow at 9 AM and hope to fininsh it all by 3 PM, when the PR openint takes place. It opens to the public on Sunday.

We had a fast food Chinese lunch near People's Square - I think it was called Kungfu Noodle. Wasn't the greatest -

The weather is still very strange - like a driving mist. You can't see the tops of the skyscrapers. It is something straight out of Blade Runner.

Rainy Shanghai

Well it has been nearly a week since we got here and it has not stopped raining - nor have we seen the sun, which is probably okay since it is about 90 and forecast to be over 100 by Friday - but with rain! I am way behind in logging what we have done each day, but most days so far were spent working at the exhibit. Still not sure what the schedule will be after today as far as that goes.

Pudong Skyline at night as seen from the Bund.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 2

Up fairly early, we headed straight over to the Expo on the metro. We bought 4 tickets via a self vending machine, in English. Everything in this part of Shanghai is fairly new and the metro was clean, quiet, and enormous (the length of the train was amazing). We got off the train too early and had to get back on for two extra stops. Getting an Expo ticket was very simple, as was the entrance.

Once inside we made our way to the Italian Pavilion which is pretty cool. We were meeting M. so we went into a conference auditorium for a bit to find him, and then made it up to the third floor (which is a private area) and I was finally able to get online. Also got a little bit of a buffet lunch.

Crappy day weather wise - super humid with a fine mist/drizzle all day long.

Spanish Pavilion - video coming...

General Expo thoughts - coming soon!

Drive to the Hotel Intercontinental in Pudong after the Expo:

We are on a bus with the Italian Delegation heading to their hotel in Pudong for dinner and to watch the World Cup (coming from the Expo site, which was old neighborhoods, factories, and warehouse but was all razed for the expo). I want to try to find something positive to say about this part of Shanghai but for me personally it is very difficult. It is great of course that the Chinese have come this far this fast and managed to raise the standard of living for so many. But even though most of Pudong is brand new, it seems like it was planned for the past. The metro is great, but above ground, everything is laid out for cars, with huge boulevards and enormous traffic crossings. The architecture is simply awful. Rows and rows of very cheap looking high rise condo/apartment buildings, with almost nothing on a human scale, and completely devoid of charm. AC units hung on nearly every building every which way, laundry hung out all over (which you can't blame anyone for - the have to dry their clothes somewhere!).

The race to international commerciality is dreary - KFC, Starbucks, Carrefour, etc. I know people need stuff and food in mass quantities to live, but to me this is the worst living imaginable - in a car, soulless, and corporate. I can't see a backlash on people faces though - if it comes it will probably be decades away if ever - last night the Carrefour was jammed packed and most people looked pretty happy shopping there.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 1

Travel day and first day in Shanghai. It is after 11 PM local time, and I have just showered and hit my bed - which is rock hard. At least it is brand new, including the sheets I just bought at Carrefour... but I digress.

It really is two days packed into one. All day Tusday I spent packing and running the last of the errands around the house - taking out all the trash, bringing the bikes up the stairs and into our courtyard, filling the fridge with bottled water, packing, etc.

I showed up too early at the office and milled around for 45 minutes until we left around 4:45. First screw up of the trip was mine - I had my keys in my pocket, with my mini Swiss Army knife and its priceless plastic toothpick. They were kind enough to give me my bag back though the lost and found, and after I stuffed my keys and knife in there I ran it back around to the check in counter, which was all fine, but caused about a 20 minute delay for the rest of the guys as they waited around for me.

As soon as we were in the boarding area we were called to the gate and onto a bus to take us the 200 meters (ridiculous procedure) to the plane. But not before the bus driver had a "Truman Show" moment and seemed to be grinding the gears of the bus into sausage. Somehow he got it going forward and after a couple of really hard jerks back and forth to an enthusiastic burst of applause from most passengers.

The leg to Paris was uneventful - but we rushed through the terminal change and immediately past security to the gate to find no decent food options. So we proceeded to exit, clear customs, find our way back upstairs and snag some very stale pannini (by now the only option and CDG seems to close at 9 PM) that nearly made my jaw fall off.

This gets us to boarding the Paris to Shanghai leg, and I am beat. More tomorrow, or as soon as I can get on the net - which hasn't happened yet!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Google Services in China

Here is a handy link - what works and doesn't regarding Google when in China: Mainland China service availability

So it looks like there is no Blogger, YouTube, Sites or Picasa almost all the time. Search, News and Gmail all seem to work almost all the time.

It has been recommended that I buy a VPN (since I need Blogger, TypePad, etc.) - I won't say whether I have done so yet or not :)

Chinese Visa

They had me a little worried at the consulate here in Florence, but I got my visa back yesterday without issue, good for two entries ($90). Just a week until I leave - have to really start planning now!

Monday, June 7, 2010

The countdown

Just about two weeks before I leave. Bit of a scare today at the Chinese Consulate in Florence - I already have a plane ticket to Tokyo and back to Shanghai - but when I dropped off my visa application this morning, they said that you usually only get one entry on your first visit (of course this was mentioned NOWHERE on the visa application itself)... they did accept it though and made a note on the application for me (it is pretty obvious I am just going to Japan and back to get my flight back to Italy from Shanghai).

Anyway - I hope it all works as time is getting a little short! Planning starts in earnest - now!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Finding housing in Shanghai

Been looking around for a couple of weeks now for a place to stay for a month, and it has been pretty difficult. Craigslist, various forums, real estate sites, etc. Just not finding the place we need in the area at the right price... I think maybe I am looking for something that doesn't exist - but at least I am getting a feel for the city a bit from all the time I have spent on Google maps.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

No blogger in Shanghai?

So I asked about Google's services on the very busy and excellent forums on Shanghai Expat - and of course the answer I got said that blogger will not be accessible from Shanghai. I say of course, since I started this blog on blogger. Well - I have enough time so I will probably be changing venues and getting a real domain name soon...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Shanghai Expo: Where will the visitors come from?

There seems to be a lot of news/commentary about the lack of visitors so far to the Expo (for example Shanghai Expo: Where will the visitors come from?) I do think that there will some seasonal travel to an event like this - once kids are out of school around the world, etc. and summer vacation time comes around, I would imaging the attendance numbers would move up a bit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

World Expo in Shanghai GM Pavilion

From the NY Times:
World’s Fairs don’t get the attention they used to. With little fanfare, at least in the United States, Expo Shanghai 2010 opens on Saturday.
But General Motors is heavily involved, with a large pavilion built jointly with its local partner, the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.

Expo 2010 Shanghai, China

Here is the official website (English version) of the Expo: http://en.expo2010.cn/

The Expo started on May 1. Below are some useful maps:


New York Times article about "Chinglish"

Shanghai World Expo

So it looks like I will be going to Shanghai for a couple of weeks to help some friends with some installations. I'll get to attend the expo, and also be lending a hand with an exhibit at the Shanghai fine art museum. We leave around June 21 - this blog will document my plans and research until we leave, and then hopefully I will document my stay with lots of photos, videos, etc. of my time in Shanghai.