Shanghai tries to charm Ravenstahl, delegation
Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is greeted before a 10-course lunch by Tang Deng Jie, vice mayor of Shanghai, on Friday at the Grand Central Hotel in Shanghai. An interpreter is seated between and behind.
Share with others:
SHANGHAI -- Mayor Luke Ravenstahl drank up the panoramic view of Shanghai with his morning Diet Pepsi 59 floors above Shanghai.
"The enormity of it is what hits you at first," reflected the mayor as he looked out the windows of the lobby of the JW Marriott hotel built as part of an appropriately named Tomorrow Square. Below him he could spy a 17-story, dark brown art deco building, the Park Hotel, built in 1932, a relic of the city's colonial era that still marks the city's center.
"It's amazing to think that 20 years ago that was the tallest building in Shanghai. Now there are over 3,000 buildings that are taller than it."
Five minutes later Mr. Ravenstahl and the Pittsburgh delegation were out the door, in a van, and on their way to meet their first official and see their first site, Shanghai's Urban Development Museum. The delegation includes Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development; conference Vice President Suzi Pegg; the mayor's Chief of Staff Yarone Zober; and Ning Shao, who heads up the China office for the state of Pennsylvania and is serving as liaison for the delegation during their stay in Shanghai,
The day had begun at 8:30 with a breakfast briefing from Mr. Shao on the do's, don'ts, who's and what for's of the day's agenda. Mr. Ravenstahl, admittedly still somewhat jet-lagged having arrived in China early Thursday afternoon (which was the wee hours of the night Pittsburgh time, 12 hours earlier) after 18 hours in the air, said his hope for the week was to "make the appropriate introductions."
"It's a great opportunity to introduce them to our city and talk about all the wonderful things that are happening in Pittsburgh and hopefully create opportunities for business growth or investment," said the mayor.
From a whirlwind review of Shanghai's urban development the delegation was whisked to a luncheon at the 1-year-old Grand Central Hotel, a marble and chandeliered showcase of Shanghai's new wealth, with one of Shanghai's 20 vice mayors, Tang Deng Jie.
Arriving before the vice mayor, they got an experiential lesson in Chinese etiquette as they were ushered into a small banquet room and served tea while they awaited the vice mayor.
"In the Chinese protocol the host has to be there before the guest," explained Mr. Shao. Shortly thereafter, the group was led, en masse, down one floor by elevator and into another impeccably appointed room.
As if he were servicing a reception line at a wedding, the vice mayor shook hands and exchanged name cards with each member of the delegation before sitting down to photos and niceties.
As the two exchanged thanks and greetings the delegation was presented with Shanghai's numbers. The city's population is officially 18.7 million, but placed by market researchers for Proctor and Gamble at between 20 and 25 million. Its physical size, at 2,448 square miles, is about 60 percent the mass of Los Angeles, according to one website.
"We're a little bit smaller -- we're 310,000," Mr. Ravenstahl said to Mr. Tang.
Noting that Shanghai has been a destination for all visiting United States presidents, Mr. Tang invited Mr. Ravenstahl to "spend a little more time walking around the city to see what people are doing."
Then the pair, followed by their delegations, entered a banquet room for a lunch that was closed to the media.
"It was pretty casual. I really enjoyed his company, a really down-to-earth guy. We talked generally about the two economies, just what we've done in Pittsburgh, some of the things they're doing here in Shanghai," said the mayor.
After lunch the delegation toured Liujiazui (pronounced Lou-Ja-Zway), Shanghai's financial center, located on the east side of Shanghai's Huang Pu River, the tributary of the Yangtze that divides east and west Shanghai.
In Luijaizui, Mr. Ravenstahl first heard a half hour presentation about the buildings, people and financing involved in Shanghai's breakneck development. He said he replied by sharing with Chinese officials the story of how Pittsburgh had rebounded by diversifying its economy.
The delegation was then given a tour of the district and the country's tallest building, the Japanese-built World Trade Center which, from afar, looks like a bottle opener and, consequently, has been unable to shake that nickname.
The design, which appears to leave a trapezoidal gap in the uppermost floors, is a modification of the original plan, which called for construction around a circle. The circle had been scrapped for political reasons: Objections had been raised that a gaping circle in a Japanese building, which towers over the city, could be perceived as projecting Japan's national image of the rising sun.
Real or imagined (and local lore has it that the problem was more imagined than real) this dilemma became a difficult pill to swallow for the Shanghainese, because Japan occupied their city and their nation for eight years during World War II.
Crossing back over the river, the group visited Yu Yuan Gardens, an authentic Chinese district in what had once been an area to which Chinese, in their own city, were restricted to live. From 1843 to 1943 Shanghai was dominated by Americans, British, French, and Japanese colonizers, whose own laws, not those of China, governed the foreign nationals living here.
The work day ended with a dinner with four venture capitalists, members of an organization whose local convention has recently come to an end. The dinner took place in Xin Tian Di, a historically preserved restaurant and bar district designed to look like old Shanghai, but constructed only after the 2,700 families who had been on the land were removed, the mayor recalled.
The mayor said the investors expressed general interest in investing in businesses that had to do with life sciences and health care. "We agreed to follow up with one another to see if there is an opportunity to potentially create some sort of joint Shanghai-Pittsburgh venture capitalist fund," he said, cautioning that such plans were extremely preliminary.
Mr. Ravenstahl and Mr. Zober said they had been overwhelmed by two banquets. Eating is a staple of trade missions, a way for the Chinese to display hospitality, and few guests leave complaining that they have had too little.
Both men said the spicy prawns for dinner were especially good and that a sparerib dish for dinner stood out.
"It takes some getting used to with the 10 courses for lunch and for dinner but the meals were excellent and we enjoyed them," said the mayor.
After a brief stop at their hotel to change into civilian clothes, the pair was off, once again, to discover what they could of the city at night, before exhaustion caught up with them.
Not much more than an hour later, at around 10:30, they were again up in the air, this time seven stories above the landmark Bund, where foreign 19th century buildings make an arc around a newly redeveloped esplanade. The pair mused aloud about the virtues of waterfront development as they took in a final view of the neon on the east side of the river.
But soon neither one was focused on the view. The heads of both officials were transfixed to the screens of their Blackberries. They might as well be have been in Pittsburgh.
"The business of governing never stops," said Mr. Zober, thumbs pounding on the small machine.
First Published October 9, 2010 12:00 am