Anonymous review of Jia Shanghai
Jia means ‘home’ in Mandarin and never have we been so happy to arrive ‘home’ after surviving a seat-of-the-pants journey on a three-wheeled motorbike-meets-deckchair contraption complete with kooky customised umbrella. A flurry of garbled words and wild gesticulations results in an extra tip for our errant driver.
‘Xie xie,’ he thanks us, careening off in his short trousers, white socks and leather loafers combo. Mrs Smith and I are about to enter a rather special place: the boutique residence of Jia Shanghai.
Jia holds court in a solid corner plot, a colonial bulwark amid the cacophony of Shanghai. Stepping off the seething Nanjing Road, I clasp soft patina’d brass branches, which form the door handles, and we pass through Jia’s smoked-glass doors. Leaving the honks and hawks behind us, we enter a world of cool, calm chic. When they play Four Tet in the lobby, you know it’s a quirky place.
Mrs Smith points out a matching pair of oversized red leather gimp dolls (note to self: must test concierge’s ability to procure such an ornament for our own home, or perhaps one of the four cuckoo clocks presiding over the dolls). The spacious lobby resembles a magpie’s treasure trove of designer gems, an eclecticism that I rather like. Fortunately, while I’m distracted by flights of interior decoration fancy, Mrs Smith efficiently attends to the business of checking in. The similarly slick staff see us quickly settled.
But not before a few cultural formalities. Bemused, we are met with a shrill ‘nihao ma?’ After some wranglings with memory, we issue a reply to the polite enquiry in imperfect-but-passable Mandarin: ‘hen hao!’ (‘Very good,’ to the initiated). Hen haos all round for our first impressions. We just about make it to the lift without me getting on my knees to check out the peculiar balancing disc tables sat mid-lobby.
The infinite Mr and Mrs Smiths reflected in the lift’s mirrors spark a desire for each other’s company and the precious Shanghai commodity of privacy; which we duly find in our sumptuous Corner Suite. It is vast enough to warrant its own bar (complete with barman upon request), and fabulous enough for a terrific sound system, on which Bonnie Tyler never sounded so good (top track on my ironic iPod ‘mood for love’ playlist). ‘I’m in the east wing, darling,’ calls Mrs Smith from the other side of the suite, whereupon we waste no time testing the voluminous wardrobe with the clothes we remove (for ‘wardrobe’ read ‘floor’).
Breakfast the next morning in Jia’s superb restaurant Issimo is enjoyed beneath the myriad buoyant Tom Dixon lights floating below the ceiling. Suitably full and ready for whatever Shanghai can throw at us, we set forth once more into the breach and to the tourist traps in search of design oddities.
Had Frank Zappa designed a theme park, it would have been the Bund sightseeing tunnel, a triumph of dated bad taste that is not to be missed. There is no finer way to traverse a river than under it, in a psychedelic tube of sheer weirdness. Swapping Bund’s big-brand outlets for niche boutiques, we stroll the French Concession’s leafy roads, peering into charming shops.
A grinning man, dressed in a terrifically ill-fitting blue suit, collars us as we’re heading for a coffee shop. He insists, in Chinese, that we must purchase a fine pair of crabs, while scrabbling through a bag at his feet for said crustaceans. We aren’t sure what’s more surprising: the crabs or the nonchalance with which the chap pulled off his ramshackle-chic. This is a typical Shanghai moment; you never know what you’re going to stumble upon. It’s an ugly, lovely city (thanks Dylan Thomas) of grimy glamour, decadent decay and old-meets-brand new, as befitting of its ‘Paris of the East’ tag as it is the ‘whore of the Orient’. That’s what we love about it.
At Phebe 3D, a Chinese nightclub where we top off the day, we’re met by a scantily-clad lady riding a revolving, Plexiglas piano. After such a barrage of strangeness, it’s a relief to return to Jia, to serenity, a vast bath and a glass of champagne.
A home-away-from-home, Jia is a haven amid chaos which we’re loathe to leave. But so to the airport: do we cab it, bus it or catch the 431km/h magnetic, levitating train? Mrs Smith patiently reminds me that we do in fact live in Shanghai and that another trip on the city’s magic bullet train is not strictly necessary. On reflection, we agree that it’s preferable to the motorised deckchair.