Breakfast at La Vie En Rose, the Astor House Hotel in Shanghai, along the Bund.
Photo © Yina Huang, P O Larsson and C M Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010
Every New Year most people will find themselves writing new resolutions for the year ahead – a healthier year ahead, a more successful year ahead, new goals to be attained or renewed interests in old goals previously unattained – but for me, as 2010 passes and this night welcomes 2011, I can’t help but go back to what has been there for a very long time. A time when I was growing up, of photographs now a natural sepia in family albums.
One such place where time has seemingly stood still, and which now come to mind from my travels in the past year is The Astor House Hotel along the Bund in Shanghai.
The Astor House hotel has more than 150 years of history, having had the honour of hosting some of history’s most important people including American President Grant in 1897, philosopher Bertrand Rusell in 1920 and Charlie Chaplin in 1922.
It was a rather languid Saturday morning when I entered The Astor House Hotel for a breakfast meeting. This hotel has among its guests seen some of the most fascinating persons of our time, including widely different personalities such as Charlie Chaplin, Albert Einstein, English philosopher Bertrand Russell, Italian scientist Marconi and the former American president Grant. Somehow their congenial spirits seemed to linger in the air.
Still keeping the barber’s trademark swirl, which when I was a child, was in common use even in Singapore.
In the fast evolutionary face of Shanghai, this place is for me, a reminder of the city’s rich and eclectic history, its encounter with the West along the Hangpu River where trade was furious with boatmen and labourers hurrying to and fro with goods of exchange, not too different from Singapore’s very own Boat Quay and its warehouses that line the quayside, providing the much needed wharves to store all sorts of traded goods for further distribution inland on the tiny island. Shanghai is of course, much larger with a current vibe that is difficult for even other Southeast-Asian Dragon Cities to beat.
From La Vie En Rose, the café, looking into the lobby.
The menu that is filled with the nostalgia of the early 1900s.
From colonial times, along the Shanghai Bund, La Vie En Rose still offers its customers the simple breakfast menu from yore.
Breakfast was simple and uncomplicated, served in a wooden tray.
In stark contrast to the posh, highly modern interior design and food served at M on the Bund the dark wood paneled columns of the hotel had the capability of wrapping itself around your senses, pulling you back through time to a bygone era. The breakfast I encountered baffled me into silence, with two sunny side-up fried eggs and plain buttered toast served on what looked like a worn smooth wooden tray that needed a new layer of lacquer. But after having sat there in conversation with some highly qualified and talented individuals, discussing everything from the politics of Sweden and China, new sustainable development for China and the potential market possibilities for Swedish companies in China, I generally felt the pull of the essence of the Astor House Hotel, its core being the business of trade between East and West. And that it was in fact one of the first few Western hotels to be built along the Hangpu River about a hundred and fifty years ago, in the first few waves of globalization.
Anita Jonsson, Director of the Swedish Trade Council, Shanghai.
Breakfast, La Vie En Rose
La Vie En Rose was the name of the café at the Astor House Hotel and what more appropriate way to Welcome 2011, bearing in mind the changing face of our landscape, the history upon which our lives are built and to continue to work towards a better life in the years to come.
J E Nilsson and C M Cordeiro-Nilsson wish all Readers, a La Vie En Rose New Year’s 2011!