Monday, March 23, 2009

Shanghai Sojourn

Among the treats of my job is the occasional opportunity to travel, whether that be to gather consumers insights around the country or to exchange notes with colleagues around the world. Most recently, my sister Monique and I were invited to a business conference in Shanghai; and though we looked forward to the learnings we would take home from the exhaustive sessions, a good part of us was longing for the little downtime we had to enjoy the city's splendid offerings.

Admittedly, I have had the chance to visit a good number of cities around the world in my youth, as my parents believed the best gift they could give their children apart from education was travel. Oh, but unlike my sister, I have not had the pleasure of visiting this part of China, and heck, who knew if I would have another chance?

We did our share of shopping at the copy markets (a fancy name for tiangge of fakes) in Xiang Yang and Pudong and in the luxury retail outlets of Huai Hai and Nanjing Xi Lu, but perhaps the most interesting was the antique market at Dongtai Lu. While I had considered buying a pair of Chinese cymbals (those things that keep clashing and crashing during Chinese opera), I chose instead to photograph the many curios that lined the street.

Of course it would be a sin not to sample the local cuisine, and so we made time for one local Chinese meal outside our hotel. Armed with just our fingers to point at photos of dishes that piqued our visual interest, we prepared our tongues for the unknown. First off, a crispy chicken dish that was more chili than fowl. Then some minced meat with tofu, baby shrimp and peanuts. And how could one go wrong with fried noodles? This one had asparagus, more shrimp, bamboo shoot, mushrooms, and ham. And for dessert? Sticky rice sweetened with light syrup and molasses, and filled with various seeds and nuts. Each dish seemed good for three. Nothing was left (save for some pepper pods). The bill? the equivalent of Php 500. Beat that!

Notable too about Shanghai would be the unique architectural shapes that grace its cityscape. Our hotel (Grand Hyatt) and the one across it (Park Hyatt--once the world's tallest hotel) are pillars of contrast in the business district of Lujiazui, with one like a many-faceted crystalline tower, and the other sleek and smooth. Pudong's Science and Technology Museum, on the other hand, is cosmopolitan glass complex that feels like a city in itself, and the nearby Oriental Pearl Tower (the third tallest TV and radio tower in the world) is a virtual rocket ship. I wish I had more time to survey this city with so much eye candy scraping the sky.

I believe that one is never too old for globe trotting (does it not seem that wherever tourists are, elderly folks are there, perpetually on travel mode?), so I hope I get many years still to tour the world. Although I have started young, there is just so much world to see but just one life to live. I've got to start planning my next itinerary.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Concert at the Tent

Forget that I had to be at the airport by 5:30 am the next day; I wasn't missing Dianne Reeves's concert at the Rockwell Tent last March 2nd.

When I hit forty, I noticed that I had more frequently begun checking out upcoming concerts and purchasing tickets even if no one else I knew could join me. Who cares if I went alone? Live concerts present an electrifying experience that no CD can ever duplicate, and I wasn't going to deny myself the sensation. Luckily this time, fellow music enthusiasts Eric and Marge Barro, who live minutes away from Rockwell, were game for an intimate evening with jazz diva Dianne Reeves.
After a brief dinner of dimsum and rice toppings at Mongkok in Powerplant, we took our seats at the tent, mere meters away from the stage, in time for the opening act--The Mike Stern Quartet. The set was a most curious blend of syncopated jazz rhythms and haunting melodies from this 4-time Grammy nominee. 

"She's going to sing her ass off," the guitarist soon warned, and then it was time for Reeves to mesmerize the crowd. 
There is a masochistic pleasure in attending the performances of such accomplished artists (at least for a part-time musician like me); it is in being enveloped by someone else's art, surrendering to their music, and realizing you will never be as talented as they! Unless of course, even at forty plus years, you still see yourself as a work in progress and heed the advice of Reeves's grandma: if you want to see better days, you've gotta be patient.

Dianne Reeves was a most gracious entertainer and dedicated performer, praising the Filipino audience for being such natural musicians, and thanking us all with every heartfelt note. There is a reason why she is most respected in the global music industry. And while I may never approach the status of artists like her or any of those in her band, I'm glad I can witness such virtuosity in my lifetime.