Innkeeper’s Diary

The trials and tribulations of running Quintet B&B.

Recent posts

The New York Time Bestseller author Ridley Pearson had stayed with us at Quintet back in 2009.  Back then, he was finishing up teaching at Fudan University, and we had no idea that he was also a famous writer.  He came back to Shanghai in 2010 with his whole family for a month to research for his upcoming novel.  I found out through our chatting that he’d normally conduct extensive research on the locations and people so he can put in realistic details in his story.  We shared our observations about Shanghai, and he promised to put me and Quintet in his next novel.  I joked that he can write anything but just not to get my character killed.

Two years passed quickly until last month, when I got an email from a guest-friend, Steve, who is an avid reader.  He was reading Ridley’s new book, The Risk Agent, which came out in June 2012, and accidentally found my name and Quintet in the story!  Since it was hard to get hold of a copy of the book in China right away, I asked Steve how my character fared in the book.  He told me slyly that “Fay” seemed to have had a “previous relationship” with the lead character “John Knox”~ lol~  I eventually got hold of a digital copy of the book and found the passage on pg 43 ;-)

Better yet, the book will be made into a movie in 2014, starring Vince Vaughn!  How cool is that?!  Now I just hope they’ll need to shoot some scenes on our premise!  If my character makes it into the movie, I’d like to see Christy Chung playing my role (although the character is supposed to be in her late twenties)!

For guests who are staying with us during the holidays this year, we have prepared a small gift in the form of a hand-made stuffed rabbit.  Next year (2011) is the Chinese zodiac year of the Rabbit, so we thought our guests might like to take home a little token to mark their visit.

We found these cute rabbits from a cute shop called Ru-Wa, which is located in the JingAn Villa neighborhood.  The owners Season and Halei are interested in preserving and reviving the traditional Chinese toy crafts, and opened this workshop/store where they also offer classes on making traditional Chinese kites, lanterns, and other toys.  They work with old masters who are still knowledgeable about the traditional construction methods.  The old masters cannot be rushed so the items they produced are limited in quantity ;-)

The unfortunate thing that happened over summer was that our partner cafe Closed Door was forced to close down.  Since the cafe opened two years ago, our neighbors have not been happy about the noise caused by the cafe’s popularity.  In China, your neighbors wield a lot of power over you and after continual efforts to stay open, they finally decided to pack up in July.  We were sad to see them leave, as our guests really enjoy the food and ambiance afforded by the cafe.

In place of the cafe, we converted the downstairs space into a 6th guest room and a cozy dining room.  The new room is called the Oriental Pearl, which was the nickname the West coined Shanghai back in the 1920′s during its heyday.  The room features a glass sitting room, which was once a part of the cafe’s veranda.  It’s the perfect place for the room guest to enjoy an idyllic afternoon reading or sipping tea.  The room also has a large square bathtub that is lined with mother of pearl mosaic — the soft glow from the interior of the tub  is ultra romantic when a candle is lit.

We kept most of the breakfast menu in tact, having retained the sou chef from Closed Door.  We added a light option with fruits, muesli, and yak yogurt from Qinghai for people who are concerned about gaining weight after feeding on our other gourmet breakfast choices.

With the sixth room, Quintet is now Quintet+ ;-)

The subway system in Shanghai has always bee pretty good, but since taxis are relatively inexpensive at 12RMB starting price, I tend to opt for the taxi if the destination is requiring more than one transfer on the subway.  This month (December 2009), three additional subway lines or segments (Line 7, 2nd phase of Line 9, and Line 11) have opened and made taking the subway from the city center much more attractive.  These new line currently operating from 9am to 4pm, and gradually expanding service to 5:30am to 11pm in the next three months.

New airport route:  Visitors coming from Pudong Airport can now change from the maglev train to Line 7 and arrive directly at the ChangShu Rd station, which is closer to Quintet than Line 2′s JingAn Temple station.  You’d have an easier time walking with your luggage.

Fabric market: we used to recommend that guests take a taxi to South Bund Fabric Market, but now you can also take Line 7 to transfer to Line 4 at DongAn Rd and get off at Nanpu Bridge station.  The fabric market is within 5 minute walking distance from the station.

Expo site: go one station south on Line 7 from Changshu Rd Station and change to Line 9 at Zhaojiabang Rd Station.  Then at the Madang Rd station, change to the soon to be open Line 13 directly to the Expo site.

Shanghai F1 Race Track:  With the opening of Line 11 to Jiading, F1 race goers will be able to take the subway to the race track.  Change from Line 2 Jiangsu Rd station to Line 11, and then continue on the west branch of Line 11 at Jiading Xincheng to reach the race track.  The train’s top speed reaches 100KM/hour, the fastest in the Shanghai metro area.

As there will be more lines coming on-line in the next few months, keep an eye on the development by checking this very nicely done English subway map site here.

For our first anniversary, I though we’d make a Christmas keepsake for guests who come to stay with us around the holiday time.  If everyone likes it, we can potentially do a version every year!

While brainstorming on what the gift should be, I was inspired by the recent “Tiny Feet” exhibition at the Plum Gallery.  Why not make a Christmas stocking with a Chinese flavor?  For those who know a bit about Chinese history, women, especially in the royal and wealthy families, used to have their feet bound to about only 3 inches long starting in their childhood.  Women with tiny feet supposedly looked delicate and attractive to men when they walked and swayed from the imbalance.  While the feet finding custom is now seen as an evil, sexist tradition that kept Chinese women subdued for centuries, some of the design and crafts that went into making the tiny shoes that covered those feet were exquisite.

I brought up this stocking idea to my guest-friend Hiroko and she also thought this ideas was interesting.  So when she came to Shanghai a few weeks ago, she helped sketched out a design for the stocking and then we went to the fabric market to pick out the fabrics together.  We chose four different patterns and colors for the stocking to give it a luxurious look and feel; the fabrics we used are also the same fabrics that people make “qipao” dresses and “mian-ao” jackets out of.

Each of the stockings is sewn by my housekeeper’s neighbor so each one looks a bit different and unique!  For a limited time only, we will sneak these little stockings into the guest rooms as parting gifts.  If you want one, come stay with us soon!

The speed with which restaurants open and close in Shanghai is unbelievably high that even residents like ourselves have a hard time keeping up.  Each week, I have to bike around our neighborhood streets to check out if there are any new store signs put up or constructions started. No wonder every time I went back to my hometown San Jose, California, I was often shocked to see venerable restaurants from my younger days still standing.

This is not to say that new shops are always better than old, but it does speak to the unprecedented number of entrepreneurs who are seizing the opportunity to make it out here in Shanghai. These aren’t the big corporate restaurant chains you see in more matured markets; these are the small guys who started with one concept/location. As the capital to start something in China is still relatively lower than in western countries, many foreigners also jump into the fray. As a result, we witnessed many experiments — some succeeded with flying colors and some crashed and burned. The consumers are (more?) fickle in Shanghai so the businesses have to work extra hard to stay relevant.

Four new additions to our neighborhood show promise and I’d like to introduce to our guests:

1. La Strada - sister cafe of Amokka on Anfu Rd and serves excellent Italian-style thin crust pizzas.  You can also order their pizzas from Amokka, which has a nice upstairs dining lounge.

2. Pho Real - deserves a mention even though it replaced our favorite hole-in-the-wall Xinjiang restaurant.  They serve a set menu which includes light appetizers like spring rolls followed by a bowl of Vietnamese beef noodle soup.

3. Bistro Burger - promises gourmet burgers and fancy milkshakes.  Putting a plug in for our Closed Cafe partner Eduardo and tried out the food at the soft opening.  Reasonable priced and tasty burgers are always welcomed by all ;-)

4. Lapis Thai on Hunan Rd - housed in an ambient villa on Hunan Rd and serving consistent quality food with nice presentation.  I personally think the setting is more beautiful than Coconut Paradise.  Lapis also has another location in Taiking Rd’s Tianzifang.

Judging from the mix, we can use more tasty and stylish Chinese restaurants too~

See more neighborhood restaurants on our Neighborhood Map here.

Yesterday, a friend who’s visiting Shanghai showed up at the B&B and told me that her cell phone has just been stolen at the Shanghai Train Station. This is one of the several theft incidences that have happened to people I know in the last month in Shanghai — including myself.

I got my wallet stolen on our very own ChangLe Rd two weekends ago while talking on the phone. Only the week before that, a guy tried to open my backpack but I found out before he was able to take anything. Sadly, this ill attempt didn’t make me more cautious so I ended up paying the price. The shocking thing is that I’ve been living in the neighborhood for almost 4 years and I can say it’s been one of the safest neighborhoods in Shanghai.

Another guest of the B&B told me that she had “lost” her camera at the subway station on the last day of their stay. I gently told her that she probably didn’t lose the camera - it was probably stolen. Photos of her entire trip were on the camera so needless to say, it was a big loss for her.

We’re not sure if the theft figures have gone up for Shanghai in recent weeks, but would like to warn everyone coming here to really be careful with their bags etc when they’re out and about. It’s wise to not put valuables in front pockets of your backpack or leave bags unbuttons or unzipped. keep bags in front of your body at all times. If you feel that someone is walking too close to you, beware. A lot of times they also travel in a group, and can be mom/babe, teenager, etc.

Petty theft is a problem that plagues most big cities around the world, and I guess Shanghai is not an exception. My bet is that things will get under control for the Expo next year ;-p

Our B&B is turning 1 on September 6!  In the last week or so, I have been reflecting on how the first year went and thought I should write about it to remember-

Good friends from all over the world

Last year at this time, we had just put up our website and listed Quintet on several websites, but weren’t sure who was going to find out about our place.  Luckily, we soon got our first guest Patrick, a Shanghai expat who booked our entire house to celebrate his 40th birthday.  As guests began to roll in, we got busy tuning the rooms, service, etc. and there hasn’t been a boring day since!

We have received 300 groups of guests over the year.  Pouring over our booking records, I can still remember a lot of the faces and conversations.  We have about a third of the guests coming from Europe, a third from the US and Canada, and the remaining third from Australia and New Zealand.  We also have occasional guests from Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Japan.  Our guests for the most part are very cool and laid back.  They understand the B&B environment and really appreciate the casualness and coziness that they don’t get at big, fancy hotels.  Many are working in the design or fashion industries (yes, we get quite a few attractive gay men coming through, sigh).  There also many couples on their romantic getaway (or rendezvous) for whom we arranged for in-room massages, bubble baths… But what we enjoyed the most were the chats with guests.  Always curious about what they experienced in Shanghai/China, what do they do back home — we treasure the “yuan” of meeting everyone in our little house.

Learn to deal with challenges

The year was also spent in fixing things.  Given the house is 70 years old and has its limitations, we knew from the beginning that it needed a lot of maintanence.  We also put in a lot of equipment for the first time and weren’t sure how well they’d work.  So in the last year, we have had pretty much everything breaking at least once.. AC, Satellite TV, phone PBX, water leaks, plugged toilets, cracked walls… I’m the inquisitive type who likes to get to the root causes, and I really learned a lot (I feel like I’m ready to build a house from scratch)  Ultimately, I also learned to accept imperfections- this is not an excuse or cop out and I hope our guests will understand!

Future plans

In the coming year, we’re looking to beef up on staffing so we can provide longer office hours and more services (tours and activities referrals and organization).  We are also looking into a second location so you might see a Quintet II sometime down the road~

Our first year anniversary is almost here and this week we’re busy doing maintenance throughout the house. We’ve had a few leaks from our old roof so had to replace with a new steel cover on the Aurora room. The steel pieces had to be hauled up from outside the house to the rooftop.

All the walls are painted again. My dear designer assured me that we can buy some base paint and colorant and an experienced painter can hand mix the colors for our walls. It turned out that the colors for each room are quite subtle and impossible to mix by hand, so we ended up cutting out a piece of the wall from each room to take to the paint shop for the machine to do the job. Also, our colors have strayed from the original colors we picked from the color samples (color paints rarely come out exactly as you wanted) so manual adjustments were still necessary. Thank god that the color mixer at the shop had a good eye for colors. Because our walls are old, so tiny cracks are inevitable even with a fresh coat of paint. I guess this is why our house has an authentic Old Shanghai feel ;-)

We also picked a new tone on-tone-pattern for our duvet covers. This time we went for a bolder pattern and didn’t use the color strip for framing. New towels and bathrobes are also made. What should we do with the old batch of linens? I’d like to donate to the victims of the recent Morakot Typhoon in Taiwan (my hometown) but the shipping may be difficult to arrange (too much to hand carry and too little for container shipment). Anyone can help?

It’s been a week packed with sweat and labor (ok, not mine but my contractors’). It reminded me a bit of our original construction — keeping up a house is hard work!

After weeks of research and excitement, we got confirmation that day before the eclipse that Shanghai has close to 0% chance of seeing the eclipse.  A couple of my friends’ friends who are serious eclipse chasers immediately booked plane tickets to Chengdu.  Getting away like that was out of the question for me and I was beginning to feel depressed about missing the event of a century.

Suddenly, Dorothee, a former guest now a close friend, called about our other friend Hao being willing to take on the hard job of organizing a last-minute overnight trip to Hangzhou.  Magically, he bought us all train tickets and booked hotel rooms.  So by 8pm, we were happily on our way to Hangzhou.  We got into the hotel after 10pm, went for a late night snack (most places were closed by then) and set the time to meet the next day.

After breakfast on the next day, we set out to find a place to view the eclipse.  At first, we asked the taxi driver where would be a good spot, and he took us to this park area by a river.  However, there was an ugly construction crane sitting right next door and Dorothee insisted that we should not be watching it there and that we should go back to the West Lake.  Good call, Dorothee!

Back at the lake, there were already a lot of people standing around waiting for the sun to be eaten up.  At first, the sky was cloudy so we weren’t able to see much.  We also used these NASA eclipse viewing visors, which were way too dark for the cloudy weather to see anything.  My other former guest Hiroko had bought this spiffy viewing card from Japan that worked perfectly, so everybody was borrowing hers to get a glimpse.

Around 9:34am, the sky began to turn dark, and everyone started shouting in excitement.  At that moment, the clouds also broke so we were able to see the sun totally covered!  The darkness was an eerie purplish green color that’s definitely different from a normal sunset.  The Lei Feng Ta pagoda across the late lit up with the night lights and it was sight that I’ll never forget! The totality lasted about 5 minutes and it took about 30 more minutes for the sun to go back to normal.

We were all realy realy glad that we came out to Hangzhou.  I texted my friends in Shanghai and they sadly reported rain the whole time.  Two hours after the eclipse, Hangzhou had its own downpour — we were truly lucky!

For more background on the solar eclipse, read here

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