Shanghai Fair, Skies Stormy

Shanghai Fair, Skies Stormy

I arrived in Shanghai late Friday afternoon, just in time to witness a huge thunder storm over the city that caused chaos on the roads and for those trying to get home from work on the city’s underground. Michael , the manager of our workshop here, had kindly offered to meet me at the airport and drive me the 30 miles or so to my hotel. We hit traffic almost straight away from the airport as spectacular lighting lit up the sky all around us, and I was beginning to think that the underground would have been a much better option, only for Michael’s wife to call to let him know that, not only was the traffic across much of the city at a standstill but the tube line from Pudong airport into the city centre was closed due to flooding. A trip that normally would take no more than 45 minutes ending up taking over four hours, punctuated with flashes of lightning all around us and huge claps of thunder. The cause of the delay seemed to be several break downs or minor crashes due to the weather, as well as many of the smaller roads and exits off the city’s freeways being three or four inches deep in water. Michael commented that it was the worst traffic he had seen in the twelve years he had lived in Shanghai – not a great night to choose to arrive! I was glad to get eventually get to my hotel and agreed to meet Michael again the next day to visit the Shanghai Furniture Fair together.

The next day the storm had passed and the sky was bright and sunny. We headed off on the tube to the enormous Shanghai Expo Centre where the Furniture Fair was taking place. The centre is about three times as big as Birmingham’s NEC – so large that little shuttle buses are laid on to take visitors from one part to another. On display across the hundreds of stands were every kind of furniture imaginable, from classic and antique Chinese to designer sofas and outdoor furniture. There were also large sections taken up by certain countries including Indonesia and, slightly bizarrely, Spain.

Skipping the five or so huge halls that were devoted to suppliers of upholstered furniture and sofas, as well as a few of the contemporary designer halls, we managed to get through just about all of the more interesting areas of wooden furniture. I’ve been meaning to come to this show for a number of years but never made it, and it was interesting to see the most prominent styles here, as well as some new designs and styles that I’ve not noticed before in the UK. These included some beautifully crafted furniture by a Chinese designer that merged elements of classic Chinese design with the simplicity and style of Scandinavian furniture – all beautifully finished in solid oak or ash. Interestingly this was aimed primarily at the Chinese domestic market, but the company may be looking to export further down the line.

There were a couple of antique suppliers from Beijing that I had not come across before, one of which in particular had a great selection – both at the show and available to view on an impressive website they have been developing. I spent a long time looking through their stock and provisionally reserved 30 or so pieces, with an agreement to meet up with them when I arrive in Beijing in a few days to take a look ‘in the flesh’. They seem to have access to some nice pieces from further South in China than our regular suppliers and their finish is a little more ‘classic’ – more heavily restored (though very well done) and varnished. It would be nice to mix some or their selection with pieces from our other Beijing suppliers and I’m looking forward to visiting them when I get there.

As well as furniture there were many stands showing lighting and smaller homes accessories, including some unusual and interesting artwork. I’ve been looking out for some art that would sit well in our new showroom with our furniture and antiques, and one stand in particular had some pieces that I think would be perfect – quite modern in style in mixed media or watercolour but with a strong oriental feel. I’ll be following up with them when I get back to the UK and hope to be able to offer some of their artwork in the near future.

After the hectic schedule yesterday it was nice to have a day to myself today – a chance to relax and do some of the ‘touristy’ things in Shanghai that I’ve not been able to do for several years. I headed off first to Nanjing Road and wandered up to the Bund to look across to the iconic skyline across the Huangpu river, huge ships and cruisers sailing across the view to the Pearl Tower in Pudong. I took a circuit back to Nanjing road and down to Peoples’ Square, via a newly developed area that I hadn’t seen before – seemingly inhabited almost exclusively by brides and grooms-to-be in their wedding finery, as well as their hairdressers, photographers and various other people there to help produce the perfect wedding snaps. The tradition in China is for couples to have their wedding photographs taken often weeks before the big day, and the area around the Bund is obviously one of the hot spots in Shanghai for future newly-weds. It was slightly strange to see so many couples in their wedding outfits in one small area – I counted around 25 in total – but I couldn’t help but smile along with them as the photographers shouted instructions to assistants holding up silver reflectors as hairdressers fussed with the brides’ big hairdos.

Shanghai Museum Huang Huali Chairs, Ming Dynasty Tang Ceramic Horse, Shanghai Museum Bronze Vessel, Shanghai Museum

From Peoples’ Square I headed to the superb Shanghai museum – free to enter and well worth a visit if you are in Shanghai. The museum is over four floors and exhibits many of the China’s most famous artefacts. The various sections include a huge display of ancient bronzes – food, wine and water vessels beautifully embossed and decorated, with many dating from over 4 or 5 thousand years ago. Other sections take you through China’s long history of pottery and porcelain, jade, art and calligraphy and national costumes. Not surprisingly though, my favourite area is the one devoted to Ming and Qing furniture. On display here are some exquisite Ming dynasty chairs, tables and cabinets donated by the family of Wang Shixiang – the author of the definitive guide on classical Chinese furniture.

The furniture is extraordinarily beautifully produced and preserved – made from the rare and now extremely expensive hardwoods, Huang Huali and Zitan. I have visited the museum and seen these pieces a couple of time before, but the last time was over 5 years ago and I had forgotten just how exquisite this furniture is. The other half of this part of the museum shows late Qing furniture – very heavy with extremely ornate carving. I always find it hard to fathom how Chinese furniture, having been fairly constant for hundreds of years, developed over such a relatively short space of time into something so completely different in style. While I can appreciate the extraordinary craftsmanship in the carvings of Qing furniture, the overall look and style leaves me cold compared to the earlier, simpler Ming pieces.

From the Shanghai museum I took a tube to Xintiandi – an area of Shanghai recently developed into shops, bars and restaurants that is popular with expats. The old ‘hutongs’ have long gone but this particular part of Shanghai has been restored so that at least the facades of the buildings look similar to the original houses. There is also an interesting ‘open house’ museum, set up with furniture and décor from the 1920s to show how a typical house of the period would have looked.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at work, visiting the workshop with Michael to see the latest developments there and then hopefully we will have time to pop over to the main market here in Shanghai to pick up one or two smaller accessories for the showroom. I then fly to Beijing on Tuesday for the next part of the trip. More to follow soon!

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