Sign In

X
GO TO TOP

US Consul General Sean Stein

Nov 30, 2018

I came to Shanghai last year from Washington, DC after a stint working at the State Department. We were back in the States after my wife and kids had spent 18 years in Asia. Our kids only knew Asia, and as much as we love it, my wife and I wanted to go back so the kids could ride yellow school buses and play football (not the kind where you use your feet).

Immediately before moving to Washington we spent three years in Shenyang in Liaoning Province. We loved everything about Northeastern China but subconsciously, over time, fell into the notion that wherever you lived in China, everything was chabuduo, or more-or-less like Shenyang. In fact, that was how we prepared our children for the move. We told them Shanghai would be just like Shenyang but with better weather.

But everyone knows that Shanghai is very different. The family came in with one set of expectations but were blown away. To contrast this, in the Northeast, in Dalian, we have a place called the Brooklyn Bar, that everybody in the region knows. If you were in Liaoning and if you wanted good pizza, there was only one place to go, and that was Brooklyn Bar in Dalian. Whereas here, you can have legitimate debate on who has the best NY style pizza. Is it Joe’s or NY Style Pizza, or Homeslice?

Shanghai"

For me professionally, I had drunk the Kool-Aid of Dongbei. I remember, when I was in Northeastern China, I sent a letter to all 50 US governors and to key mayors, telling them that “the Northeast is the future”, and that they should come and look for opportunities there. At the time, I really felt that the difference between the Northeast and maybe Shanghai was maybe smaller than people were led to believe. It was a successful initiative. We had lots of delegations. But... coming to Shanghai, I realized the economy in Shanghai is so vibrant, whether in creative industries, research & development, marketing, innovation... there are a lot of good entry points and this place serves as a sort of “nexus of interests” for American companies from New York to San Francisco to the American Midwest. The opportunities are overwhelming.

As for what I do in Shanghai, because it is such a vibrant place, our operations here are actually much larger than most of our embassies around the world, by just about any metric. Whether it’s the number of VVIP visits, whether it’s generating investments in the United States, or investment coming into China, whether it’s the number of visas we issue, or whether it’s the number of governors or state delegations that we host, we are bigger than most.

So, this is what a day in the life looks like for me. Sometimes I start the morning meeting with Chinese businessmen who want to invest in United States, then have an afternoon meeting with American students, and then meet with government officials in Shanghai, or Nantong, or Anhui or somewhere else in our consular district.

Spare time? Shanghai has so many options. We talked about pizza. My kids are very adventurous on the culinary front. In fact, when we went to the States, my kids would say “we want to have real food — we want to have Chinese food” so we had to scour DC for real Chinese food that met the standard of my children, as opposed to the also delicious Americanized Chinese food.

Now we scour for the best food Shanghai has to offer. We take suggestions from local colleagues and neighbors. Or when we see a line of people waiting for xiaolongbao or jian bing, we make a mental note and check it out on the weekends. My kids and I wait in line and experience undiscovered local food joints. But it isn’t just Chinese food. In terms of other options, anything that Kelley Lee has touched we love, from Boxing Cat, Lil' Laundry, to Sproutworks, we’re regulars there. Austin Hu has done some neat things with Union Trading Company and Madison Kitchen. One of the family’s secret pleasures is taking the kids for breakfast at Diner.

Shanghai"

When it is just me and my wife, there are two places we absolutely love, that we felt like we discovered because we stumbled on them wandering around town. Heyday is one of them. It is on a nondescript corner a couple blocks from my house and it totally feels like a New York Jazz club from the 1920’s. It has an intimate feel, but the musicians are absolutely, absolutely, absolutely world class. The other place is the Jazz at Lincoln Center. In the US, Jazz at Lincoln Center is the pre-eminent place to hear amazing jazz. When we found it here in Shanghai, we wondered “could they really have the same standard of artistry and excellence that Jazz at Lincoln Center is known for back in the US?” It absolutely does. The venue is small and accessible, so you are right there with the bands. Often on Sunday afternoons the musicians go there for talks and discussions. You can have conversations with the artists. As an American, I confess to being extra proud of jazz. In 1920, a man who called himself Whitey Smith came from San Francisco and created the jazz scene here in Shanghai — a legacy that continued all the way to today. More broadly speaking, whether it is food, music, or architecture, I’m proud of the American contributions to the internationalization of Shanghai.

Despite its vastness, Shanghai is filled with places you can discover and feel like they are your own. Another place not far from my house, near Jiaotong University, is a shop called Uptown Records. It’s small, incredibly well-curated and totally unexpected. Anyone who works there knows their stuff. They work there because they love it. If you are into music, this is the place to go.

Another thing that sets Shanghai apart from the rest of China is the abundance of international culture and art. Just this week, we went to an opening of a photography exhibition sponsored by the Fosun Foundation with work by a famous American photographer Cindy Sherman. She hates the word selfies, but every photo she stages and sets up of herself exploring different parts of American culture and society are absolutely arresting. If you go to the Shanghai Museum, there is currently an exhibition called “Pathways to Modernism”, which displays modern American art from the 1850s to 1949. Then there is the The Long Museum, Yuz Museum, and Power Station of Art, an epic contemporary art venue that can hold its place anywhere in the world.

Shanghai is a cool place to be a parent. It has a better collection of international schools than any other place I can think of. Shanghai American School, which is one of the great American schools in the world, Shanghai Community International, there’s Yew Chung International School where we have a lot of consulate kids, and many in Pudong like Wellington and Concordia. Shanghai is leading the way on education. For higher education, in addition to famous institutions like Fudan and Jiaotong Universities, and NYU Shanghai is truly extraordinary. If you look at their curriculum and the quality of faculty they have amassed, it has brought a global world class education to Shanghai. Also, one thing that is really great in Shanghai for a subset of parents, those who have children with special needs, whether its medical, or some other condition, the types of programs available in Shanghai dwarf those in Beijing, Hong Kong, in the whole region. Places like the Essential Learning Group and Olivia’s Place offer programs, and this is extraordinary about Shanghai. And these programs get a lot of support from the Chinese government, especially because China is looking to develop its capacity to support those with special needs.

Shanghai"

As for Shanghai, and how I view its future, the thing that helps solidify Shanghai’s place in the very shortlist of truly global cities, like New York or Paris, is the Shanghai government.

I meet with government officials all over the country, and I see how their outlooks affect the development of their cities. I remember the first time I met with senior leadership in Shanghai... what the leadership wanted to talk about wasn’t “how to promote more US investment”, or “how do we bring in more American companies”. Instead what they wanted to talk about was “how do we bring in more culture to Shanghai, how do we make Shanghai better in terms of transportation, how do we improve our green space, how do we improve our air?” They said something that stuck with me that I think really permeates the thinking of the Shanghai government: “We know that if we can make Shanghai the best place to live for foreigners, for Chinese, that everything else will flow from that, because people will want to live here.” So, of course, foreign companies will invest, because they want to be in Shanghai, the best minds of China will come here, because this is where they want to be. I think the secret of Shanghai’s success for emerging on the global stage has come from this vision from the Shanghai government going back a generation, about how it was going to pursue development.

Many of us have seen that the first city that a foreigner spends time in, in China, tends to become their new laojia (second home). And to attract the best and brightest to Shanghai is going to mean that many of the best and brightest around the world are going to think of Shanghai as their second home. Looking ahead, when people have gone back to home country, when they look to invest, travel, when they look to find trade partners, or partners for innovation, their natural place to look to will be Shanghai. All of this is becoming an investment in the global future of this city, and I love it.

TELL EVERYONE

VENUES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • Joe's Pizza

    • Address
      281 Wujiang Lu, near Maoming Bei Lu
      吴江路281号, 近茂名北路
    • Phone
      6139 4940

    Joe's Pizza is a no-frills, by-the-slice pizza joint selling New York style pizza on paper plates. The pizzas are pretty big; 20-inch under the glass, and 18-inch pies for take-away, probably because a 20-inch box won’t fit through your door. This is only the fourth... Read more

  • New York Style Pizza (Arch Walk)

    • Address
      Arch Walk, LG2-061, 179 Maotai Lu, near Gubei Lu
      茅台路179号LG2-061, 近古北路
    • Phone
      6219 5220

    Read more

  • Homeslice (Found 158)

    • Address
      B1/F, 158 Julu Lu, near Ruijin Yi Lu
      巨鹿路158号B1楼, 近瑞金一路
    • Phone
      5309 9332

    From British pop-up restaurateur Nat Alexander and his partner Ken Shi, Homeslice is a no frills pizzeria with light nods to the New York origins of the main menu item; New York-style pizza -- big, oily slices served on paper plates that you fold in half like a... Read more

  • Boxing Cat Brewery (Yongfu Lu)

    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      82 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu
      复兴路82号, 近永福路
    • Phone
      6431 2091

    A project from serial restaurateur Kelley Lee, Boxing Cat is an American-style brew pub featuring Pilsners, lagers, stouts and a rotating cast of others. This one, their first in downtown Shanghai, opened in 2008. The menu features southern 'Merican comfort food with... Read more

  • This venue has now closed

    Lil' Laundry

    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      Unit 120, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu
      南京西路1376号120室, 近西康路
    • Phone
      6289 8202

    Lil' Laundry is the sequel to serial restaurateur Kelley Lee's Liquid Laundry. This one's smaller -- maybe one-fourth the size -- and there're new items on the food menu (more seafood in particular), but it's basically the same deal. A bunch of Boxing Cat beers on... Read more

  • Sproutworks (Xintiandi)

    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      185 Madang Lu, near Zizhong Lu
      马当路185号, 近自忠路
    • Phone
      6339 0586

    Yet another one from Kelley Lee, the restaurateur behind Cantina Agave and Boxing Cat Brewery, Sproutworks is a quick-serve sandwich, soup and salad shop. Menu offerings rotate daily, and items range in influence from Asian to the Mediterranean. Think grain salads... Read more

  • Union Trading Company

    • Address
      64 Fenyang Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu (entrance on Fuxing Zhong Lu)
      汾阳路64号, 近复兴中路 (大门入口在复兴中路)
    • Phone

    Chef and restaurateur Austin Hu of Madison and Yao Lu (formerly of Alchemist and The Public) combine forces for this cocktail lounge. Yao Lu contributes a list of inventive original cocktails and old-timey classics. Expect lots of stiff drinks with liberal lashings... Read more

  • This venue has now closed

    Madison Kitchen (Tianshan Lu)

    • Address
      341 Tianshan Lu, near Weining Lu
      天山路341号, 近威宁路
    • Phone
      3209 8177

    Read more

  • Diner (Plaza 66)

    • Address
      Plaza 66 5/F, 1266 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Shaanxi Nan Lu
      南京西路1266号5楼, 近陕西南路
    • Phone
      137 6480 2978

    Read more

  • Heyday

    • Address
      50 Tai'an Lu, near Xingguo Lu
      泰安路50号, 近兴国路
    • Phone
      6236 6075

    Heyday harks back to the glamorous days of 1920's and 30's Shanghai. It's a small, intimate venue showcasing local jazz talents like Coco Zhao. To go with the music is a list of cocktails that riff on Shanghai's decadent jazz era, with names like Heaven Built on... Read more

  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Shanghai

    • Address
      4/F, 139 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Jiangxi Zhong Lu
      南京东路139号4楼, 近江西中路
    • Phone
      6330 9218

    Dark, intimate and chic jazz lounge set up in partnership with the famed New York institution, Jazz at Lincoln Center regularly rotates in two- to three-week residencies, from fresh conservatory graduates to grizzled industry veterans and regulars at the New York... Read more

  • Uptown Record Store

    • Address
      115 Pingwu Lu, near Xingfu Lu
      平武路115号, 近幸福路
    • Phone
      6223 8368

    Uptown Record Store is a record store in Shanghai, dealing in vinyl, vinyl, vinyl from all genres and from all over the place: rock, punk 7", indie rock, dubstep, house, techno, reggae, and more. The record store also doubles as a vintage fashion store as well.... Read more

  • Shanghai Museum

    • Address
      201 Renmin Da Dao, near Huangpi Bei Lu
      上海博物馆, 人民大道201号, 近黄陂北路
    • Phone
      6372 3500

    The top of the Shanghai Museum is shaped like an ancient Chinese cooking pot, so it should be tough to miss. Eleven galleries spread over four floors offer an artistic historical tour of the Middle Kingdom dating from as far back as 20 centuries B.C.E. Jade, Ming and... Read more

  • Long Museum (West Bund)

    • Address
      3398 Longteng Avenue, near Fenglin Lu
      龙腾大道3398号, 近枫林路
    • Phone
      6422 7636

    Opened in 2014, the Long Museum West Bund is the second of Chinese billionaire collectors Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei's expanding empire. The architecture is stunning - right on the waterfront, it was designed by Liu Yichun of Atelier Deshaus. Inside is a veritable who's... Read more

  • YUZ Museum

    • Address
      35 Fenggu Lu, near Longteng Avenue
      丰谷路35号 近龙腾大道
    • Phone
      6210 5207

    Opened in May 2014, YUZ Museum Shanghai is the second major private institution to grace the city's West Bund area. This one is the brainchild of Chinese-Indonesian collector, Budi Tek and will host rotating exhibitions sourced from his own massive collection of... Read more

  • Power Station of Art

    • Address
      200 Huayuangang Lu, near Miaojiang Lu
      花园港路200号, 近苗江路
    • Phone
      3110 8550

    The PSA is an impressive but cumbersome space, a huge building likened by curator Qui Zhijie to London’s Tate Modern. The PSA may have similar hardware to that legendary institution but it doesn’t have the software — the staffing, budgets, etc — to match.... Read more

  • Shanghai American School (Puxi)

    • Address
      258 Jinfeng Lu, near Beiqing Gong Lu
      金丰路258号, 近北青公路
    • Phone
      6221 1445

    Shanghai American School is a reputable international school in Shanghai. Their curriculum and teaching ideologies are based on the American education system. An elected Board of Trustees, which must include six parents and a representative from the US Consulate,... Read more

  • Shanghai Community International School (SCIS) Hongqiao ECE Campus

    • Address
      2212 Hongqiao Lu, near Hongmei Lu
      虹桥路2212号, 近虹梅路
    • Phone
      6295 1222

    Founded in 1996, SCIS has been serving the Shanghai expatriate community in as an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, providing a continuum of education consisting of PYP, MYP and IBDP for students aged 2-18. Shanghai Community International School (SCIS)... Read more

  • Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (Hongqiao)

    • Address
      11 Shuicheng Lu, near Hongqiao Lu
      水城路11号, 近虹桥路
    • Phone
      2226 7666

    Yew Chung International School of Shanghai (YCIS) is a well-established international school, offering a progressive and international program with a multicultural and bilingual approach to education. The school has over 2400 students, aged 2-18, from over 50... Read more

  • Wellington College International Shanghai

    • Address
      1500 Yaolong Lu, near Haiyang Xi Lu, Main gate 100 Haiyang Xi Lu
      耀龙路1500号, 近海阳西路
    • Phone
      5185 3885

    One of the newer international schools to open Shanghai, Wellington College International Shanghai offers state-of-the-art facilities and top level academics. It is the sister school of the renowned boarding school Wellington College in the UK. Read more

  • Concordia International School Shanghai

    • Address
      345 Huangyang Lu, near Mingyue Lu
      黄杨路345号, 近明月路
    • Phone
      5899 0380

    Concordia International School Shanghai is a co-educational day school for students aged 3 to 18. Established back in 1998, it's one of the largest and most well-known international schools in the city. The 100-acre campus has extensive, high-quality facilities both... Read more

  • Olivia's Place

    • Address
      35 Yongjia Lu, near Maoming Lu
      永嘉路35号, 近茂名路
    • Phone
      5404 0058

    Provide affordable pediatric therapy, physical, and speech therapy services, as well as educational and clinical psychology services to local and expatriate children. Read more

[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a weekly SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

Most recent: