The touch-button panels in Shanghai’s high-rise hotel rooms would baffle Charlie Chan

Room with a view: Looking down on the terra-cotta rooftops of an old shikumen neighborhood and Taipingqiao Park, with its man-made lake.

Shanghai’s best attribute is its blend of old and new. The Langham, Shanghai, Xintiandi, where I’m parked now, is a vibrant 24-floor high-rise, with white marble floors, rose-colored chandeliers, modern Chinese art (a painting of Chairman Mao wearing angel wings), an indoor swimming pool, a martini bar, and two Michelin-starred Tang Court, where I’m going to have lunch tomorrow.

Twelve buttons are on the nightstand to control the curtains and lights in room #2109

The rooms (I’m in #2109) have stunning views from floor-to-ceiling windows, touch-button panels for the lights and curtains, and a VPN connection that doesn’t drop (like some others have this week) to access WordPress, Facebook, Google, even The New York Times — otherwise inaccessible because of the “great firewall.” (A card placed in the room reinforces this). The room rate is at least one-third less than it is for comparable hotels in San Francisco and New York, and a breakfast buffet is included (enough for brunch). The recent trade-talk rhetoric has led to more favorable exchange rates, at least for now. The neighborhood cafes, coffee houses and brewpubs are downright reasonable.

In stark contrast to this modern high-rise hotel, I walked across the tree-lined street and found an old shikumen neighborhood with tightly packed alleys, low-rise buildings and terra-cotta rooftops, as one travel review notes.

A museum presents Shanghai life as it was around the 1920s and ’30s in a shikumen-style “stone-gate” house. The rooms are furnished with period furniture, and the museum includes a “tingzijian,” a small room “sometimes rented out at a low price to impoverished writers and others,” as a post in Wikipedia explains. The setting reminded me of classic films such as Charlie Chan in Shanghai (see video).

Shanghai is not a cement jungle either. I’ve discovered numerous parks — also a mix of old and new. One of them is Taipingqiao Park, which includes fountains and a man-made lake. “It is a fine example of an early twenty-first century Chinese park, built in an amazingly short time (6 months) in 2001,” as a garden website explained.

Huangpo Park, at the northern end of the Bund (the neighborhood where I’m headed next), is Shanghai’s oldest park, dating back to 1866. A scene from a Bruce Lee film, Fist of Fury, includes scenes from the park. I’m going to be exploring the Bund later this week.

“Paris of the East”

The city, such as the French Concession neighborhood which I visited, also has numerous tree-lined avenues and some European-like architecture — redolent of neighborhoods we’ve seen in visits to Paris and Buenos Aires.

I discovered it’s not a coincidence, either.  “The area earned its name ‘Paris of the East’, partly due to its flowing streets, lined with wrought iron stair railings and fences (same material as the Eiffel Tower),” I learned. France occupied areas of Shanghai in the mid-1800s, and starting in 1900 thousands of trees were planted along Shanghai’s boulevards — similar to the ones that were planted along the boulevards of Paris. The Chinese continued this trend.

The trees help “capture smog and carbon well,” according to the writeup. Well perhaps. Though the smog can be notorious — more in Beijing than Shanghai — I lucked out and it’s been clear. This is a better time to visit the city than most. The trees are showing their fall colors, too.

The hotel also is “green,” at least in some instances. “With Langham’s ‘Guests of the Earth” programme, our hotels are committed to sustainable development,” a card in the room reads. “We change your bed linen every other day and again after check-out. If you would like to have your bed linen changed more often, please place this card on your bed in the morning. If you wish to re-use your towels or bathrobe, please hang them on the towel rack. Thank you for helping us make a difference.”

And in a country of an estimated 300 million smokers, the hotel also is no-smoking.

Here’s a Charlie Chan (AKA actor Warner Oland) video clip:

 

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for years, was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News, and was Editor of The Union, a 145-year-old newspaper in Grass Valley. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing and trout fishing.

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