Friday, November 09, 2007
24 Hours in Shanghai
It's been 20 years since I left Hong Kong for Canada. I never went back to the Far East until a few weeks ago.

Art of Life decided it was time to do a show out of China and a Fendi fashion show on the Great Wall was the perfect backdrop to what was to be a thrilling, eye-opening, and overwhelming experience.

When I lived in Hong Kong, I never took the time to travel to mainland China. Growing up, we had visions of a stark, strict nation where people lived in fear of the government.

We had images of residents of China looking over at Hong Kong with envy for living the life they felt they deserved. At the time, Hong Kong was flourishing and a jewel in the Asian crown. It was (and still is) a vibrant, exciting city with a buzzing economy and an energetic day and night life - a place that many described as "New York City on speed".

But the world's focus is now on China. With over a billion people, an open market economy and a favourable currency China is on the verge of superpower status. My visit to the socialist state opened my eyes to changes that I didn't even think about during my two decades in North America.

The purpose of my visit was to see how the luxury industry is growing in China. Not just how foreign brands are prospering in China but how the Chinese are making a name for themselves.

The fact of the matter is money is being made at record pace and in record amounts. Millionaires are growing in number and consequently tastes are becoming very sophisticated. There is the assumption that the Chinese consumer is very logo-centric. Not so.

In fact, Angelica Cheung, the editorial director of Vogue China told me that the Chinese shopper expects more and a logo is not enough. Seasons Place, a luxury shopping mall on Beijing's Financial Street houses top designer brands. What is, perhaps, more telling is that some products on the shelves are not available anywhere else in the world. Such is the importance being placed on China.

Attention is also on Chinese contemporary art and artists. In October, the auction house Sotheby's broke a record for the sale of a painting by a Chinese contemporary artist. The result is the demand for Chinese art is growing exponentially. The irony is, the Chinese themselves aren't interested in what the Western world would consider a successful piece. A lot of works sold in New York and London are seen by the Chinese as pieces with political undertones.

Pearl Lam, a well-known supporter of the Chinese art world told me the Chinese themselves are more interested in expressions of their deep and rich culture. What sells amongst the Chinese is art that reflects their five thousand year history, their spirituality, and their modernity.

Perhaps, what struck me most on my trip to China was how I felt just being there. I wasn't prepared to feel so overwhelmed by emotion - especially when I was in Shanghai. You see, this is where my mother is from. This is where she was born and grew up until she left while she was in her twenties.

She left in 1962 after the Cultural Revolution and never went back, but her heart remained. Walking the streets of Shanghai I kept wondering if these were the same streets my mom walked along some forty years ago. She wouldn't recognize the city now as so much has changed. There is so much growth but the energy of the city is, I'm sure, the same.

My mother grew up in an economically and culturally prosperous Shanghai. But all that came to a crashing to a halt when Communism took over. Still, for my dear mother, everywhere we've lived in the world is measured against Shanghai.

Her love of Chinese food and culture is apparent to this day and permeates our home and the way we live. We celebrate Chinese New Year, her Chinese food is better than any I've had at any restaurant, and when my mother and I communicate often do so in Cantonese.

So going to Shanghai was like a homecoming for me. I felt so comfortable there. I felt it was part of me, part of my past, part of my roots. I thought of my late grandfather arriving in Shanghai in the early 1900s alone, not knowing anyone and not speaking the language. I thought of him learning and working hard and becoming a successful, well-respected dairy farmer.

I wish he could see what Shanghai has become today and how much wealth there is. I'd also love my mother to see it. She wouldn't recognize it. But she'll feel that energy she knows so well. An energy, that is reaching the rest of the world.
Posted By Monita: Friday, November 09, 2007
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CNN anchor Monita Rajpal blogs about her experiences filming the "Art of Life" show.




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