Destination: Shanghai

Shanghai Barbie: Tourist Magnet?

Shanghai Barbie: Tourist Magnet? Photo by Gary Soup via Flickr (Creative Commons).
Photo by Gary Soup via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Every time I visit Chicago, I’m amazed at how the city’s American Girl flagship store continues to draw moms and daughters from across the Midwest; I never fail to see them marching up Michigan Avenue, giant American Girl shopping bags in hand. Hotels in the area have lapped up the phenomenon, offering packages with kitschy extras like “one exclusive American Girl bed for your little doll to keep for future slumber parties” and a “free in-room movie showing of Molly: An American Girl on the Home Front.” Apart from the boost to tourism, the trend is a masterful case study in 360-degree branding.

Now I’m wondering if Shanghai is courting a similar fate with last Saturday’s opening of China’s first Barbie flagship store. The store, which includes 900 different kinds of Barbie dolls, a spa, a bar and a line of Barbie-themed clothing for adults, could well become a tourist mecca for Chinese girls and their mothers, who weren’t able to get their hands on the doll in their (pre-economic boom) childhood years.  If the store is a success—and I have a sneaking feeling it will be—we’ll see how long it takes nearby hotels, vendors and restaurants to co-opt a little Barbie magic. The gravity-defying doll hasn’t survived 50 years for nothing, after all.

For full Shanghai Barbie immersion, check out this Yahoo slideshow of the mega-store. It’s certainly in keeping with the brand’s image: six storeys, all glowing pink.

Welcome to Global Positioning

On the intersection of place, politics and culture

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Sipping Starbucks, From Bloomington, Indiana to Shanghai, China

Starbucks, Shanghai, China Photo by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom

Westerners often assume that a Starbucks is a Starbucks is a Starbucks, but are they right? Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom recalls the big green coffee machine's arrival in two very different cities.

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In Search of the Perfect Dumpling in Shanghai

In Shanghai, the dumpling known as xiao long bao is on the city’s list of “protected traditional treasures.” It was invented in Shanghai, which made an excellent setting for a witty and mouth-watering piece in the International Herald Tribune by intrepid travel writer and World Hum contributor Daisann McLane. During the course of three days, she taste-tested her way through the city, looking for the perfect dumpling.

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Secret Shanghai: Old Streets and Etched Faces Tell the Tale

Shanghai’s Fangbang Road is one of those places where time stands still. A stroll down the winding, dusty lane is a window into Chinese urban life untouched by modern artifice: Leathery-faced farmers sell produce from bicycle carts and spouses bicker in the street, much as they probably did 50 years ago. I stumbled onto Fangbang one Saturday afternoon when I lived in Shanghai in 2002 and was immediately seduced by its gritty chaos. It seemed almost like something from a movie set, and I eventually came to think of it as my own secret corner of the city, unknown to tourists and overlooked by developers. Now I know the secret’s out.

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Tags: Asia, China, Shanghai

James Fallows in China: ‘Postcards From Tomorrow Square’

Atlantic correspondent James Fallows recently moved to Shanghai, China for an indefinite stay. The December issue of the magazine features a terrific story that mixes his experiences as an expat with an analysis of where China has been and where it’s going. “I have not before been anyplace that seemed simultaneously so controlled and so out of control,” he writes. “The control is from on high—and for most people in the cities, most of the time it’s not something they bump into. What’s out of control is everything else.”

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Tags: Asia, China, Shanghai

UK-Inspired Thames Town Opens in China

Further evidence the planet will soon become one giant theme park: the opening of Thames Town, an English-inspired village in a suburb of Shanghai. It’s a $600 million development that includes a Winston Churchill statue, Victorian-style homes for sale, a fish-and-chips shop and a pub. Most of the homes have already been sold. But not everyone is pleased. According to Reuters, the owner of a pub and fish-and-chips shop in the UK feels cheated because her businesses were reproduced “almost exactly” in Thames Town. Said a representative from the development: “Maybe it’s a little bit of a misunderstanding. It’s not in any way supposed to be a replica.” Shanghaiist has more.

Shanghai: Beyond the Skyline

On a recent trip to China, Boston Globe travel writer Tom Haines took the amazing architecture of Shanghai as a given, old news. He and photographer Essdras M Suarez instead took a look a how the rising buildings and economy have affected life in Shanghai, and their story—the first of a two-part series “Into a Changing China”—and a terrific audio slide show highlighting the collision of old and new, are now online. “Across the river, guests at the Hyatt rest their heads on pillows 80 stories above the city. Foreign bankers emerge from apartments in the French Concession and swing into Starbucks for blueberry muffins and venti lattes. Tom Cruise leaps from Shanghai’s real towers in the imagined world of M:i:III,” Haines writes. “It can be easy to forget that beneath it all a local culture evolves.”

Shanghai: ‘The Playground of World Architecture’

Perhaps no other city on the planet offers such a dazzling display of futuristic architectural styles than Shanghai. The February issue of Harper’s features a terrific analysis of that architecture. Writes Mark Kingwell: “Shanghai is a fantasyland of architectural grandiosity where any drawing, no matter how insane or adolescent, may come to life almost instantly, without the citizens’ committees, building restrictions, and expensive labor that hamper architectural geniuses everywhere.” Alas, the story is not available online.