Wednesday 3 September 2008

China Insider - Issue 16

The Olympic Games may be over, but tickets to China’s next big attention-grabbing event are about to go on sale. From September 28 punters will be able to purchase tickets to the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, with the asking price set at the very reasonable RMB160 (US$23). Officials estimate that the Expo will cost Shanghai over RMB20 billion (US$2.9 billion), with around 70 million visitors expected to attend over the course of the 184-day event (May 1 to October 31, 2010).

Slowly but surely, Sichuan is beginning to rebuild and reopen to tourists after the devastating May 12 earthquake. All tourist attractions in Chengdu have now reopened to visitors, and a number of panda breeding centers in the region are also operating again. In fact, three pandas were born at the Chengdu Research Centre for Giant Panda Breeding in July. Work continues on the panda research centre in Wolong, which suffered major damage during the quake.

Not looking forward to spending hours caught in traffic jams en route to Beijing’s Great Wall? Last month the government unveiled the new Great Wall Express – a sleek new train service that will whisk tourists to China’s most famous landmark in record time. The new train will take just one hour to reach the foot of the World Heritage-listed site at Badaling, around half the time required to drive. Tickets are a snip at RMB17 (US$2.50) for first class.

Following a multi-million dollar facelift, He Shen’s former residence (aka Prince Gong’s Mansion) in Bejing is now fully open to visitors. The richest official of the Qing Dynasty, He Shen didn’t skimp on the niceties, and his boudoir is decked out with just about every luxury imaginable. Until last month, much of the Mansion was off limits with tourists restricted to wandering Prince Gong’s gardens. Nestled beside Houhai Lake, the new-look mansion will host regular Kunqu Opera performances as well as art and furniture exhibits.

Those looking to cure what ails them have a new remedy in Hangzhou: the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum, at the foot of Wushan Hill on the southeast bank of Hangzhou’s beautiful West Lake. Spread over 4,000 square metres, the museum features an exhibition space (with TCM apparatus and more than 10,000 medicinal plants) as well as a healthcare clinic, a pharmacy, and even a restaurant serving medicinal cuisine.



The hottest new restaurant in Beijing, Maison Boulud de Peking (, finally threw open its doors in the century-old Legation Quarter complex (the former site of the Qing Dynasty US Embassy) in Beijing last month, allowing diners to sample the cuisine of celebrity chef Daniel Boulud. The stylish eatery dishes up sublime French cuisine, including a full page of desserts dedicated to chocolate. Don’t miss out on a pre-dinner cocktail on the upstairs balcony overlooking the quarter’s landscaped gardens.

The second China Doll ( club in Beijing opened its doors last month after model and actress Ai Wan split from the debut club to branch out on her own. The new incarnation of the popular nightspot, located in Sanlitun’s 3.3 building, has adopted the maxim, “the art of play.” Needless to say, design is as stylish (and provocative) as they come, and the entertainment is not half bad either, with regular international DJs as well as flame-throwing bartenders and bar-dancing hostesses.

With a highly-coveted location in a renovated heritage mansion near the Bund, LAN Club Shanghai ( follows in the footsteps of its older sister in Beijing, wowing guests with over-the-top décor and glamorous parties. The “new China” design comes courtesy of French Gilles & Boissier: there’s a lipstick-red Chinese lounge on the ground floor; a chandelier-lit dance floor; a members-only cigar lounge; and a white-marbled seafood restaurant and private dining area. The fourth floor is a stunner—an open-air garden and dining area filled with lush foliage.

Shanghai’s most prolific chef has done it again. This time, Eduardo Vargas presents Closed Door – a cozy wine bar and restaurant that is open to reservations only. The food is traditional Italian and includes fine antipasti dishes as well as hearty homemade pastas. The small courtyard garden is the ideal location for enjoying a post-meal Moscato.


The first store to open in Beijing’s highly anticipated The Village shopping precinct does not disappoint. Set over four floors, the new Adidas brand centre is the biggest in the world, and is so sleek and sexy that even couch potatoes will be inspired to pick up a new pair of running shoes or maybe just designer street wear from the likes of Stella McCartney and Yohji Yamamoto.

The latest addition to Shanghai’s earth-friendly lifestyle movement is design collective Nest ( Located in a loft space in Taikang Lu, the boutique features exclusive product lines with intelligent design and responsible manufacturing. There are homewares made of bamboo, organic cotton clothes, and “sustainable furniture” made from plywood. There’s also a colourful collection of Himalayan rugs from local company, Torana Carpets.

Destination: NINGBO

Often outshone by its northern neighbours of Shanghai and Hangzhou, the coastal city of Ningbo in eastern Zhejiang Province has a lot more going for it than first meets the eye. Like its more glamorous sisters, Ningbo boasts an impressive waterfront along the Yangze River Delta, peppered with colonial buildings and somewhat reminiscent the Bund. Like Shanghai, the city is one of China’s most important economic hubs, built around its development as a port city for foreign trade since the 7th century. Ningbo is also one of China’s oldest cities, dating back to 4,800 BC.

With a population of around 5.5 million people today, Ningbo (which translates as “tranquil waves”) enjoys a booming economy. It’s a pleasant city to while away a few days before or after a trip to the nearby sacred mountain of Putuoshan, but it’s also worthy of a visit in its own right, particularly if you’re a seafood connoisseur.



Although many visitors to Ningbo are on their way to the famed Putuoshan, there are a number of natural attractions closer to home. Not far from the city centre, Tianhe is awash with green valleys, cragged peaks, volcanic caves, emerald rivers, and waterfalls. The scenic area's main geographical feature is Dasongxi Gorge – a great spot for a trek and picnic.
Insider’s Tip: A number of operators organize boat rides (from the Water Sports Area) along the Baixie River that splices the gorge. Bring along a hamper and enjoy your lunch waterside enroute.

Ningbo fisherman have earned themselves a pretty sturdy reputation as among the best in China, and their “craft” is on display at the China Fishing Village theme park and adjacent Shipu Ancient Village. Around an hour’s drive out of town, the two attractions are a little corny, but are a fun way to learn about the region's cultures and customs, not to mention feast on fresh seafood.

Located amidst the Tiantai and Siming Mountains just outside of town, the Nanxi Hot Springs are the ideal remedy for weary climbers fresh off the Putuoshan trail. The geothermic waters of the springs bubble up from deep beneath the earth's crust, rich in minerals and trace elements to leave the skin feeling supple and smooth after a dip.
Insider’s Tip: There are a number of small, guesthouses in the area for those who wish to extend their soaking experience.


Thought to be the oldest surviving library in China, the Tianyige Library near Moon Lake (Ningbo’s main park) dates back over 500 years, but houses books even older including a selection of woodblock and handwritten manuscripts penned during the 11th century.
Insider’s Tip: The library’s garden is shrouded with bamboo groves and water features, and is a great place for a picnic or quiet contemplation.

Dating back over 100 years, the beautiful Baoguo Temple was one of the first in China to be listed for preservation. Nestled at the foot of Mt. Feishilin, the temple features one of the oldest, and largest, wooden structures in the Middle Kingdom: the Grand Hall, constructed without the aid of a single nail.
Insider’s Tip: There’s an English-speaking guide at the temple who can show you around for a couple of Yuan.


Sprawling over 10,500 square metres, Ningbo Ocean Word ( is a living tribute to all things aquatic. Aside from the entertainment (there are daily mermaid and seal shows), the amusement park features one of the largest aquariums in China. There’s also a penguin enclosure, a coral reef zone, a shark feeding area, an amphibian display, and much more.


It’s no great surprise that Ningbo’s cuisine revolves around tentacles, fins, and flippers. There are hundreds of seafood restaurants in town, ranging from cheap-and-cheerful waterside kitchens to opulent fine-dining establishments dishing up rare underwater crustaceans. Another local specialty is Ningbo tang bao - small steamed buns stuffed with pork and minced vegetables and filled with a hot broth (somewhat similar to Shanghai’s famous xiaolong bao).

For a slap-up meal in one of the most impressive dining rooms in town, head to the Tianxiang Yuan Kong Zhong Shi Shang Restaurant - a revolving dining room located on the 35th floor of the building at 181 Zhongshan Dong Road in the centre of town. The eatery takes two hours to fully rotate, giving guests ample time to soak up impressive city and river views. The menu is extensive and dedicated to seafood, so bring your appetite.

With five outlets around town, Shipu Restaurant is considered one of the best restaurants in Ningbo. The bustling establishments dish up consistently good Ningbo-style cuisine. Begin the evening browsing dozens of fish tanks that line the walls. Then, when you’ve found something that tickles your fancy, have the kitchen whip it up with all manner of sauces.
Insider’s Tip: Be sure to inquire about the price of seafood before it’s removed from the tank. Once it’s out of the water, it’s yours.

Despite its rather uninspired moniker, Feast Modern Restaurant features one of the most inspired interiors in Ningbo. Located in a 200-year-old Qing dynasty mansion, the renovated restaurant oozes charm and sophistication. The food isn’t bad either – don’t miss the steamed buns stuffed with seafood, rather than pork.

Ningbo is famous for its handicrafts, most notably gu mu xiangqian, which is thought to be inspired by artisans during the Sui dynasty (581-618). Sheet copper, boxwood, or shells are carved into flowers and birds and then inlaid into rosewood to be used as furniture or wall hangings. Ningbo is also heralded for its bamboo offerings, in particular fanhuang, in which bamboo is boiled, pressed, polished and turned into vases, boxes, and furniture.

The best place to pick up handicrafts in Ningbo is at Tianyi Square in the CBD: the huge shopping precinct is overflowing with stalls and markets.
Insider’s Tip: Although many shops in the square will have marked prices, everything is negotiable, so be prepared to bargain.

Tucked down Huayan Street in Ningbo you’ll find a number of quaint art galleries including Showsy Gallery – one of the best places in town to peruse or purchase original paintings. There’s a calligraphy school on the premises, which means you can take lessons or drop by to get your name penned on a traditional Chinese scroll.


Recently named China's most influential international festival, the Ningbo International Fashion Festival this October is expected to draw crowds in the thousands. Now in its twelfth year, the festival is a chance for up-and-coming Chinese designers show off their wares and take inspiration from visiting international designers.

For those who can’t get enough of Ningbo’s fine underwater offerings, be sure to stop by in September when the city hosts the annual Fisherman's Festival. Held at the Shipu Ancient Village, the festival features traditional fishing songs, water sports, and seafood eating competitions.


The festival that has dentists across China rubbing their hands in glee hits China this month. The Mid-Autumn Festival may have its roots tied to China's 14th-century uprising against Mongolian occupation, but these days is more famous for its sticky, sweet treats. Falling on September 14, the festival is seen as a time for families to gather, give thanks, gaze at the full moon, and indulge in yuek beng (moon cakes) - pastry filled with sugary fillings such as lotus seed paste or red bean paste.
** All Shangri-La China hotels are selling gift-boxed mooncakes from which RMB40 each will be donated to Care for Children - a Beijing-based organisation working in partnership with mainland China’s government to provide foster care programmes for needy and abandoned children in mainland China.

Having hosted the Olympic sailing events last month, Qingdao has gold of a different type on its radar in September: liquid gold. The Qingdao International Beer Festival ( will run from September 19 to October 5, and is China’s largest tribute to the bubbly beverage brewed in Qingdao. Aside from beer tasting and drinking games, the festival features loads of entertainment including live music, beach games, and food stalls.

It’s time to don your favourite beret and pretend like you’re Picasso for the 10th annual Shanghai International Arts Festival. The month-long event (from October 18 – November 18) features a program packed with more than 50 performances, covering the spectrum from symphony orchestras, dance and opera to acrobatics, magic and drama. And then there are the art exhibitions… enough to tire even the most avid art aficionado.

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