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Historic and Literary Shanghai's Tina Kanagaratnam

Jun 29, 2018

My name is Tina Kanagaratnam. I’m “from” … a whole bunch of places: I’m a third-generation Singaporean of Ceylonese (Sri Lanka) descent, grew up in Washington, D.C., went to grad school in New York City, returned to Singapore to work and fall in love with the man whose work brought us to Beijing in 1995, and Shanghai in 1997. And I am 100% from all those places. Oh, and yes – I have been in Shanghai, uninterrupted, since 1997.

Tina

Patrick Cranley, my husband, is the family China geek, but when his company wanted us to repatriate in 2001, neither of us were ready to leave Shanghai. For our kids, who had arrived in China when they were 2.5 and 10 months old, Shanghai was just ‘home.' We’d completely fallen for the city. We both had backgrounds in marketing with Fortune 500 corporates, and I had a journalism background as well – we saw a niche for a boutique PR firm here, and opened AsiaMedia that year.

We worked with some of Shanghai’s earliest brands and entrepreneurs, and had a front row seat to some of the most amazing Shanghai business stories – Kathleen’s on Maoming (later a Blue Frog), ASC Wines, Simply Thai, M on the Bund, the Portman Ritz Carlton, Citi China. I love telling Shanghai’s story, and wrote several guidebooks for Insight Guides, and what may be Shanghai’s first restaurant review book, in 2000 – time capsules now! And along the way, Historic Shanghai, the Shanghai Literary Festival, and Literary Shanghai, were born, too.

Tina

I first visited Shanghai in the spring of 1996 and looked around and wondered, what happened here? I have two degrees in International Relations, I knew all about the Opium Wars and the foreign Concessions – but nothing prepared me for the density of grand western architecture, nor for the elderly men and women with their perfect, missionary-school English, nor for the markets, with tantalizing ephemera from another time. Everyone pointed us to Tess Johnston, a US diplomat who had arrived in 1981 and written Last Look: Western Architecture in Old Shanghai with the photographer Deke Erh in 1993.

We found a soulmate, and in 1998, we started Historic Shanghai, a heritage society to explore this question of what happened here – and 20 years later, we’re still piecing together the lost and forgotten history of a once-and-again great city. We’re an informal association with no power - we can’t protest or make policy - but from the beginning, our goal has been to raise awareness of Shanghai’s built heritage, because that is the first step in understanding its value, and ultimately preserving it.

Old

Old China Hand Style, where books by Tess Johnston, Deke Erh and Tina herself can be found.


The Shanghai International Literary Festival really came about from missing the world of books, of which there were precious few in English in early 2000s Shanghai. In 2003, Michelle Garnaut made it happen with her connections with the Hong Kong Literary Festival and the generosity of offering her space at M on the Bund, and later, the Glamour Bar. We started small, but for a few years there, it was three weekends, with 60 authors, including several legends: Gore Vidal, for one!

My favorite remains Pico Iyer, though, a writer as thoughtful, articulate and lovely in person as he is on the page, and an absolute dream to interview. In 2015, I parted ways with the Literary Festival, and started something new with a few writers and translators. Literary Shanghai focuses more on local and regional writing, with an online literary journal and events in Chinese and English (and sometimes many other languages, as well!).

Glamour

Glamour Bar (closed in 2014)


Shanghai captivates me for so many reasons. I feel at home here, because Shanghai is unapologetically east and west, and so am I. Aesthetically, the historic architecture and the plane trees make my heart sing. And there is very little that is more fun than the discovery of a new story, a new piece of the Shanghai jigsaw puzzle, that seems to be around every corner! There is sense of infectious optimism here, that tomorrow will always be better, that anything is possible.

Less captivating are pollution, food safety issues, health care, and the whole internet/VPN thing. But you know, if you fixed all that, then Shanghai would be perfect, and even more people would come …

Tina

We cook at home a lot (Avocado Lady and the wet market are steps away). I’m a baker, and love experimenting with local fruits – it’s now yang mei pie and pipa tart season!

There are lots of great places in the neighborhood to eat, though: a small hundun restaurant on Wulumuqi with xiao hundun, vegetable baozi at the stand by the Shanghai Library on Gao’an Lu, Thai green curry at Simply Thai (Dongping Lu), Mr. Williss for that amazing roasted chicken and Eton Mess, mint juleps at Union Trading Company and Peddler’s pop-up gin & tonics at SuitSupply.

Historic

Historic Shanghai out on a walk in Laoximen


Further afield, xialongbao perfection at DTF, hundun at a mom-and-pop stall we discovered in the Laoximen lanes on a Historic Shanghai walk, desserts at the Muslim Market, Jean Georges' foie gras brulee and molton chocolate cake, Homeslice pizza, anything Austin Hu cooks, and anything Brian Tan (House of Flour) bakes. And I LOVE pop-ups – especially Nat Alexander’s Yangjingbang and Austin’s. Chefs being creative at its finest.

Tina

The changes in Shanghai over the past two decades have been nothing short of transcendental. I hope to be ballroom dancing in Fuxing Park, the old French Park, under the statue of Karl Marx and Fredreich Engels when I’m ancient, and penning “My 60 Years in China” - actual title of a book on our bookshelf!

VENUES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • This venue has now closed

    Glamour Bar

    • Nightlife
    • Bars
    • Lounge
    • Address
      5 on the Bund, 6/F, 20 Guangdong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu
      广东路20号, 外滩五号6楼, 近中山东一路
    • Phone
      6329 3751

    The sumptuous Glamour Bar on the Bund is a multi-functional space that opened from early evening hours through the darkest moments of the morning. Home to Shanghai's International Literary Festival, the space appeals to all types of people who bring with them a... Read more

  • Fuxing Park

    • Sports & Recreation
    • Parks
    • Xuhui
    • Address
      516 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Chongqing Nan Lu
      复兴中路516号, 近重庆南路
    • Phone
      5386 1069

    Just across the street from Sinan Mansions and a quick walk from Xintiandi, Fuxing Park has several gardens, lots of benches, statues of historical figures, lots of grass (can't sit on all of it), and a children's area with rides and activities. A Shanghainese rap... Read more

  • House of Flour

    • Shopping
    • Cafes
    • Catering
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      1/F, Shanghai Legend, 635 Bibo Lu, near Zuchongzhi Lu,
      碧波路635号1楼, 近祖冲之路
    • Phone
      5080 6230

    House of Flour is the brainchild of Brian Tan, erstwhile five-star hotel pastry chef. When Tan left the luxury hotels, he focused on quality and value for his own venture, of which House of Flour is the first. It translates as inexpensive but excellent light fare --... Read more

  • Homeslice (Found 158)

    • Dining
    • Pizza
    • American
    • 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

  • Jean Georges

    • Dining
    • Fusion
    • French
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      4/F, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu
      中山东一路3号4楼, 近广东路
    • Phone
      6321 7733

    Yes, this is the Jean Georges of NYC fame and he brings to Shanghai his internationally acclaimed French cuisine with a slight Asian twist. The restaurant is situated on the fourth floor of Three on the Bund, the interior is lavish and exotic with accents like... Read more

  • Suitsupply (Anfu Lu)

    • Shopping
    • Fashion Boutiques
    • Fashion
    • Address
      169 Anfu Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu
      安福路169号 近乌鲁木齐路
    • Phone
      5418 2021

    This is the second Shanghai branch of the award-winning Amsterdam-based Men's fashion company. Suits are made using Italian fabrics and traditional methods of craftsmanship. This branch also features an in-store tailor for any alteration needs. Read more

  • Union Trading Company

    • Nightlife
    • Bars
    • Lounge
    • 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

  • Mr Willis

    • Dining
    • Pizza
    • Australian
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      3/F, 195 Anfu Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu
      安福路195号3楼, 近乌鲁木齐路
    • Phone
      5404 0200

    An intimate, casual little bistro from Craig Willis. Looks like an apartment, cooks simple, tasty dishes like the friend who's always showing up everyone else at the dinner party. Willis has been the longtime chef for the Wagas group; this restaurant marks his... Read more

  • Shanghai Library

    • Xuhui
    • Address
      1555 Huaihai Zhong Lu, near Gao'an Lu
      淮海中路1555号, 近高安路
    • Phone
      6445 5555

    This is Shanghai's largest library and China's second largest. The International Reading Room is on the fourth floor and there’s a great bookstore in the basement of the Library (attached to the Shanghai Library Metro Station) if you need to pick up supplies. You... Read more

  • Avocado Lady

    • Shopping
    • Specialty Products
    • Markets
    • Address
      274 Wulumuqi Lu, near Wuyuan Lu
      乌鲁木齐路274号, 近五原辂
    • Phone
      -

    The Avocado Lady is not an urban myth, but to many expats is one of Shanghai's urban legends. Her store is ever gaining in size and produce, what she doesn't have she can order. Her store is regularly stocked with fresh mints, herbs, tropical fruits, cheese, olive... Read more

  • Old China Hand Style

    • Shopping
    • Book Shops
    • Xuhui
    • Address
      374 Shaanxi Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu
      陕西南路374号, 近复兴中路
    • Phone
      6440 3272

    Read more

  • The Portman Ritz-Carlton

    • Hotels
    • Travel
    • Swimming
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      Shanghai Centre, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu
      上海波特曼丽嘉大酒店, 上海商城, 南京西路1376号, 近西康路
    • Phone
      6279 8888

    The Portman-Ritz Carlton complex is an expat haven on Nanjing Lu. This five-star hotel is optimal for business conferences, with dozens of meeting rooms, multiple bars, lounges and restaurants. Although it's tough to build an uglier complex (Shanghai has done it) the... Read more

  • M on the Bund

    • Dining
    • Australian
    • Fine Dining
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      Five on the Bund, 7/F, 20 Guangdong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu
      广东路20号, 外滩五号7楼, 近中山东一路
    • Phone
      6350 9988

    M marks the beginning of the Bund's renaissance. In 1999, Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnaut had enough vision to turn a taciturn and stately strip of colonial buildings into a happening hub for wining and dining. Today, the restaurant is still immensely... Read more

  • Simply Thai (Dongping Lu)

    • Dining
    • Thai
    • South-East Asian
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      5C Dongping Lu, near Hengshan Lu
      东平路5C, 近衡山路
    • Phone
      400 880 7729

    The general agreement is that Simply Thai is just okay. Slightly pricey, the food tastes average, looks average, and is sized average. Service is slow and not particularly helpful. Admittedly, the good experiences at Simply Thai outnumber the bad, so it is worth a... Read more

  • This venue has now closed

    Blue Frog (Maoming Lu)

    • Nightlife
    • Dining
    • Bars
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • $
    • Address
      207-6 Maoming Nan Lu, near Fuxing Lu & Yongjia Lu
      茂名南路270-6, 近复兴路, 近永嘉路
    • Phone
      6445 6634

    The Blue Frog on Maoming is the first location in the Blue Frog empire, and has been around in Shanghai for over ten years. Recent additions to the pub / restaurant chain have seen the franchise heading in a more slick and refined direction, but the Blue Frog on... Read more

  • ASC

    • Shopping
    • Wine Stores
    • Xujiahui
    • Address
      Room 1308, 798 Zhaojiabang Lu, near Dongan Lu
      肇家浜路798号1308室, 近东安路
    • Phone
      6056 1999

    ASC is one of the largest wine distributorships in Shanghai, with a specialty in first-growth Boradeaux and other renowned European appellations. Orders for home delivery can be placed online. 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.

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