Signs of America in Shanghai

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“Room with a view”: Room 2509 at Hyatt on the Bund

American companies have identified Shanghai as China’s most attractive city for foreign businesses: It’s cosmopolitan, clean and has an able workforce, among other factors.  I traveled here to see China, not America, but I did want to explore this angle. A lot of the companies that operate in Shanghai are from the West Coast: Disney, Apple, Starbucks, Tesla, Stone Brewing Co. and others.

I skipped Disneyland Shanghai, Disney’s biggest investment outside the U.S. at $5.5 billion because time was limited. But you can see the resort traveling into downtown Shanghai from Pudong Airport.

At the airport, I noticed FedEx’s new cargo hub, which can process up to 26,000 packages and documents per hour. It handles 66 flights weekly. FedEx noted that the “Asia-Pacific region remains the growth driver of the world” when it opened the hub.

Here’s a “coals to Newcastle” story: The new Apple watch I wore on this trip was made at a plant on the outskirts Shanghai, and it was shipped to our house in Nevada City on a cargo flight that went from Pudong Airport to Anchorage to the “lower 48.” (I enjoyed tracking the shipment on FlightAware). I passed an Apple store during the trip; it had a distinctive glass entrance.

I visited a Tesla showroom while scouting out another neighborhood — riding in the Langham hotel’s signature pink taxi, no less. (The driver was patient when I asked him to stop). The showroom had a row of charging stations in front. During the trip, I saw some Tesla’s parked on the street. The electric carmaker plans to build a $2 billion plant near Shanghai, its first outside America.

One morning, I sipped a “flight of coffee” paired with artisan chocolates at Starbuck’s new  30,000-square-foot Reserve Roastery, a magnificant building in the Jingan District.

It is the world’s biggest Starbuck’s with three coffee bars, a tea bar, a Princi bakery, Neuhaus chocolates and more. One of the most striking features is a two-story, 40-ton copper coffee roasting cask. At another station, workers are opening burlap bags of coffee beans. It’s redolent of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — but for coffee. The baristas were well trained; some of them spoke English.

I didn’t have time to stop for a beer, but I checked out San Diego-based Stone Brewing Co.’s taproom in Shanghai, complete with a beer garden. I stuck with the local brews on this trip; at Twelve at Hengshan hotel the Tsingtao beers in the mini-bar were free.

As cities go, the parts of Shanghai I visited were clean. On one cab ride, I noticed a worker riding his bicycle along the sidewalk, and he would stop at each trash bin and wipe it clean with a cloth. I do not see that in big U.S. cities. I felt safe wherever I went. Though I heard there were pickpockets, I saw no signs of them.

I was greeted wherever I went, but I saw few Americans. I suspect summer might be a busier time for U.S. tourists. The visa process can be time consuming, but hope spring eternal: One study predicts China will be the largest overseas visitors market for the United States by 2020.

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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