I never really knew what to expect when visiting China for the first time this year. From the stories I’ve been told I half expected having to push my way around every busy street through a cloud of smoke. I must admit when I first arrived at the airport and the queue for customs was c. 2 hours (and my phone was out of battery), I considered turning around and running back to see if I could catch my plane home and cry.
Happy I didn’t because it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Benno and I were there on our first ‘business trip’ to visit our awesome manufacturer – although we had so many beers across such a short period of time that the line between business and leisure started to blur.
Shanghai was thriving when we arrived due to the Grand Prix so we got to work and went straight into the 1st restaurant we saw for some food and beers. Ordering in Chinese when you have zero experience in the language is like playing darts blindfolded. Point your fingers and hope for the best. At the equivalent of 50p a dish we were willing to have a stab at a few dishes and take on the valuable learning that English speaking was rare here. On a similar note, I recommend that you don’t leave anywhere without knowing the name of the place you are going to and coming back to in Chinese! Have your hotel write them down for you, otherwise you may never return.
Stomachs full from a mixed bag of dishes and having spotted quite a lot of homeless people throughout the streets around our hotel, we packed up the leftovers and headed out to hand some meals out to some of those less fortunate. Seeing their faces light up like it was their first meal in a long time, really brought it home to Benno and I as to how important it is to us to use our business to do good in the future. Watch this space.
We then proceeded to spend 3 days with our manufacturer. Visiting the factory, meeting the team, and exchanging gifts (a key culture for building relationships in China). I must admit, they were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and Benno and I were treated like royalty being whisked around from one lovely restaurant to the next. We must have tried over 50 dishes across the 3 days from boiled chicken feet, to grilled jellyfish and eel.
The culture in China is that you try every dish on the table and that you should NEVER finish everything on the table. Benno and I got taken to this delicious Korean one day for lunch and following a horrendous hangover, we proceeded to clear the table of every dish going. Little did we know, by doing this we were essentially saying that the meal didn’t fill us up (it really did). Our manufacturing agent proceeded to order double the dishes at our further meals to prevent this issue from happening again and our bodies proceeded to fill up like a scene from Willy Wonka.
The whole thing was a real ‘once in a lifetime experience’. The factories were incredible operations of great efficiency and we left pleased with how our factory (and the employees) worked. Our translator who went around with us is normally a factory auditor and he too was impressed with the operation, which was comforting given the understandable pre-conceptions and worries that we had.
Outside of our factory visits, we got to indulge in Shanghai life from walks along the famous waterfront (The Bund), to relaxing at rooftop bars and even having a go at some questionable street food. The streets weren’t as busy or smoggy as expected and the whole experience from start to finish was unforgettable. I always thought many wore breathing masks due to the smog but in fact it is often to prevent others from picking up an illness they have at the time. Switch over to London, where a sneeze to the face on the tube is almost considered a weekly ritual and you realise there is much more to learn about this incredible and very unique culture and I can’t wait to go back.
1. Never have I felt so close to a skyline as when you walk along The Bund at night. Lined with unique buildings that light up the city, bringing the darkness of night to life. A time to reflect on the beauty and unique character of this city, whilst ensuring you get the right angle for your selfie.
2. If you like a drink and you’ll need to if you’re reading my blog, then Bar Rouge is the place to go. Especially if out and about on a Friday or Saturday night. With a crowd handpicked from every corner of the globe and an outside drinking area looking over the skyline, this is hands down the best view I’ve ever experienced at a club. Don’t expect to have a cheap night though. Little tip - don’t get so drunk that you get pick pocketed leaving the club and have your money swapped with counterfeits. No comment who this happened to. Funny all the same.
3. If you’re visiting China, you can’t leave without feasting on Dim Sum. And Michelin star restaurant Din Tai Fung is known for being the best. Being a Londoner, the prices here seemed very reasonable but are expensive in relation to Shanghai as a whole. Be sure to order the Xiao Long Bao (also known as soup dumplings) but as a word of warning, the soup inside is HOT. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your trip with an ice cube in your mouth, handle with care.