•Hello- pronounced “knee-how”
•Thank you- pronounced “she-ay she-ay”
•Taxis are plentiful and cheap but have directions in Chinese since most taxi drivers don’t speak English.
•Carry Purell and don’t use the public toilets unless you are desperate. Most public toilets are not “western-style” but rather a hole in the floor, including at some airports. Hotels, up-scale restaurants and shopping malls are more likely to be western.
•Tipping is becoming more common, but not required. Most upscale restaurants and bars will add a service charge.
•Visas can take 3-6 months. Download an application at www.china-embassy.org. You will need to apply in person or send an agent. I use an agent in Houston at www.passportsplus.com. (My agent usually takes 1-2 weeks).
•Take crisp $50 and $100 bills for currency exchange. The Chinese do not like worn, dirty, torn or markings on our green backs.
•Upscale hotels and restaurants will take credit cards. Many local shops and restaurants will not.
•Need a driver or an aiport pick-up/ drop-off in Beijing? I use Henry who is a great guide and speaks English. He can be reached on his mobile at 13801181969 or at email@example.com.
•Forget everything you think you know about Communism. China is second only to the USA in the number of millionaires and billionaires in the world.
BEIJING - The historical center of China and capital of the Middle Kingdom for thousands of years, Beijing is quickly re-branding itself from a gray and brutal industrial city to an jet-setting party town of international design . During Mao’s reign, the city wall was torn down to expand the city at what is now the second ring road. (Beijing now has six ring roads). Beijing is the second largest city in China (17 million) and has horrific pollution due to coal burning plants and 2,000 new cars being added on the road each day. Best time of year to visit is April to May or September to November.
HOTELS - There are plenty of upscale hotels popping up in Beijing.
Grand Hyatt- attached to Oriental Plaza, a four- block long shopping mall a few blocks from the Forbidden City
Raffles- close to Forbidden City
Ritz Carlton- Financial District
Park Hyatt- top of the new 63-story Yintai Centre
Hotel Cote Cour Beijing- a traditional Chinese courtyard house converted into a 14 room hotel. www.hotelcotecourbj.com
Hotel Kapok (my favorite) - 1-1/2 blocks from the East Gate of The Forbidden City- very slick, contemporary design- ask for a courtyard room. www.hotelkapok.com
Made In China- located in the Grand Hyatt at Oriental Plaza (Regional Chinese)
The Courtyard- overlooking the moat at the east gate of The Forbidden City (Euro- Asian)
My Humble House- located in Building 3 of Oriental Plaza complex (Modern Chinese)
Tiandi Yijia- a restored courtyard house near the Forbidden City where many of Beijing’s movers and shakers dine (Classic Beijing food)
The Courtyard Gallery (basement of The Courtyard restaurant)
798 District (Dashanzi Art Zone)- named after the Factory 798 electronics plant (which is now an exhibition space), this series of Bauhaus warehouses are now occupied by artists. The area is large and commercialized (i.e. tourist buses) but you will want to spend at least half a day here.
Red Gate Gallery (inside the Dongbianmen Watchtower)- gallery located inside this watchtower that was once the city wall during the Ming Dyansty.
East End Art- near the village of Caochangdi- many artists are leaving the 798 District and relocating here
Songzhuang Artist Village- village of about 500 artists
SITES TO SEE
The Forbidden City
Temple of Heaven
Prince Gong’s Mansion
Hutongs- Beijing’s back alley residential areas with some dating back to the 14th century. Take a tour on a pedicab (think rickshaw with a bicycle).
The Great Wall- I prefer the Mutianyu section as it is less crowded than the Badaling section. Go the Mutianyu section in the morning, then have your driver take you to Red Capital Ranch for a late lunch. Red Capital Ranch is about another 30 minutes away and is a restored Mongolian hunting lodge with its own private section of the Great Wall. If you decide to visit the Badaling section, have your driver take you to lunch at “Commune at The Great Wall” complex (see below in “architecture”).
Legation Quarter- east of Tianamen Square, this area was where foreign embassies were established after the Boxer Rebellion of 1903. The beautiful beaux-arts buildings now house an art gallery, bar and some very upscale restaurants, including Maison Boulud by Daniel Boulud. See www.legationquarter.com
Beijing Exhibtion Center- across the street from Legation Quarter. On the third floor you can experience just how BIG Beijing is. There is a model of the city, including future buildings, that fills the entire floor of this building.
CCTV Tower- designed by Rem Koolhaus (at Third Ring Road)
Olympic Stadium- “The Bird’s Nest” designed by Herzog & Meuron
National Grand Theatre- “The Egg” designed by Paul Andreu (near Tianamen Square).
Commune by The Great Wall- series of contemporary homes at the base of the Great Wall near the Badaling section of the Great Wall. You can rent a room or the entire villa. See www.kempinski.com for more details.
SHANGHAI - China’s most populated city with almost 18.5 million and the new “Pearl” of China- China’s Paris. Shanghai has always been considered sophisticated and cosmopolitan due to a strong European influence of the French, Dutch & Portuguese. Once a strong port city, it is returning to its roots in order to overtake Hong Kong. The contemporary art scene is strong in Shanghai but Beijing is catching up.
HOTELS - not short on upscale hotels suited for western tastes
Grand Hyatt (in the top of the Jin Mao Tower on floors 53- 87) in Pudong, across the river from Old Shangahi.
Park Hyatt (top of the Shanghai World Financial Center on floors 79- 93) in Pudong, across the river from Old Shanghai.
Four Seasons Hotel
Westin Shanghai Bund Center
Peace Hotel- venerable Art Deco hotel on The Bund. It has been scheduled for renovation so check to see what the state the rooms are in. Visit the Jazz Bar on the ground floor, where a Chinese Jazz Band plays nightly.
88Xintiandi Hotel (my favorite) www.88xintiandi.com
Ye Shanghai- located in the Xintiandi area
M on the Bund
Jean Georges- 3 on the Bund
M50/ Suzhou Creek- once a deserted warehouse district, this gritty area is now occupied by over a hundred artists. Wonder in and out of the artist studios and you will run into art dealers and museum curators from all over the world.
ShanghArt- one of the original galleries in the Suzhou Creek district owned by an Australian.
Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai (in People’s Square)
Shanghai Museum of Art (in People’s Square)
Shanghai Gallery of Art- located in 3 on the Bund
SITES TO SEE
Pudong- the “new” Shanghai built on fill across the river from “old” Shanghai. A futuristic skyline of skyscrapers and because so it has been overbuilt, it is the fastest sinking city on earth.
Xintiandi- a district of renovated tenements turned into boutiques and restaurants. A little “Disneyland” but some of the city’s best restaurants are here. Also 88 Xintiandi is located in the heart of it.
French Concession area- stroll this large district and explore the tree lined charming streets of shops and restaurants located in historic French buildings.
The Bund in “old” Shanghai- stroll the grand boulevard along the river graced with elegant, classical European styled buildings. Every night there is a laser light show here.
Nanjing Lu- Shanghai’s version of Times Square
Top floor of Jin Mao Tower- take the elevator to the 87th floor to the observation deck and look down into the atrium of the Grand Hyatt hotel and across sprawling Shanghai.
Top floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center- the world’s tallest observatory (100 stories). Not for those that have a fear of heights- the skybridge has canted glass walls and a glass floor!
Cloud 9- have a drink in the world’s tallest bar and look out over the lights of Shanghai in the Grand Hyatt in the Jin Mao Tower.
Jin Mao Tower- (was) China’s tallest building, designed by Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill. The stainless steel and glass building reinterprets that traditional pagoda shape.
The 35-story atrium of the Grand Hyatt in the Jin Mao Tower (floor 53)- a spectacular space made famous in the work of photographer Andreas Gursky.
Shanghai Opera House/ National Theater (in People’s Square) designed by Arte Charpentier & Associates.
Shanghai World Financial Center- China’s tallest building (for now) designed by Kohn Pederson Fox.