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British Consul General John Edwards

Nov 17, 2017

[Ed's Note: SmSh talked to John Edwards at last week's Food Hospitality China Exhibition, putting him through the Shanghai Famous rigamarole about his thoughts on life in the city right on the spot. His thoughts have been edited for readerly clarity.]

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My name is John Edwards. I’m the British Consul General in Shanghai. I first came to the city during Spring Festival in 1999, worked for three years until 2003, and then came back in 2012. When I first came, I went to a bar called the Zoo Bar, run by Pete Mackey, who is still here. I toured around at that time because I was trying to persuade my wife to come to Shanghai and at one point took her to the end of Line 2 to see what life was like way outside the city center — and she still decided to come. My first run was as the British Consul for Politics, Economics, and Press.

Shanghai back then... I don’t know if I’ve changed or if Shanghai has changed. I thought perhaps that Shanghai has changed, and that now it has become a bit more steady — a bit more like Hong Kong was back in the day before that city lost a bit of its edge. I do think that with Shanghai, like with many people who have been here for a long period time, you have a changing relationship with the city. I fell in love with Shanghai as a city in 1999, had three amazing years and loved everything about it.

Shanghai"

Over the last two years or so, I’ve fallen back in love with this city, especially with what they are doing with some of the public spaces around the river, the modern art scene, and the music in the city. The theater shows. And now this sounds like a plug, but it’s not — Sleep No More, which is a British show, is truly cutting edge. I mean it’s cutting edge for London and New York, never mind for Asia. For Shanghai to be pushing ahead in that direction makes me love the city even more.

The truth is my life is very different from the last time I was here. The last time I had a lot of time going out seeing Shanghai and seeing the nightlife. Now, a lot of my work is evening work, and I have a family now including a little boy. There is less, “seeing the city” going on, but there are still some things that I still very much enjoy. I know this sounds a little cliché, but when you come off the gaojia and see Lujiazui, particularly at night with a full moon looming, it is still breathtaking. As is the golden-lit Bund. If you find the place where you can see the curve of the river — I think that's the best vantage point — it's amazing, particularly because Shanghai still has a working river. It’s unbeatable anywhere in the world.

Xuhui also remains an amazing place. When I am coming back from someplace, and cycling through the tree-lined streets late at night, seeing the trees, and the nature and parks, it is quiet and calm and just beautiful, and to have that in the heart of a major city the size of Shanghai is really unusual. An area where I feel where I go to little bit quiet, the Shanghai Zoo — not so much to see the animals but because there are some very nice green spaces there.

The new areas as well, running along the river, the southern developments — it is an amazing public space, the best in China, and I suspect that the city’s public spaces will come to define the city in the future, much more than her tall buildings. This is definitely going to bring Shanghai into a truly international standard city. It shows real vision in how the government is transforming the city.

Now where I like to go to eat personally, depends on who is paying (laughs). If somebody else is paying I like to go to Villa Le Bec, or Tai’An Table. Now, if I am paying, and if it’s a treat for the wife, I’ll take her to Mercato she loves that place. On a more economical scale, very near to me, there is a very nice Yunnanese restaurant called Gathering Clouds which I go to quite a lot. Another place I like to go to for a treat is The Commune Social. And if I am doing something, that requires I just treat myself with a taste of home as it were, Pie Society, again which is just around the corner from me and have mash and a British pie.

Shanghai"

I am often asked, “what does a day at the consulate look like for me?” The reality is that it is rarely a day, at the consulate, it is normally a day outside. About 70% or 80% of my time is out on the road, for example here at the Food and Hospitality China Exhibition because we have 70 British companies here. Last week, we were doing China International Industrial Fair, and it meant every night, I have to put my “out of office” notification for up to 10 days. My job is mostly external facing, it is either facing media, or meeting British businesses, or British Chinese that are based here, or it’s meeting visiting British dignitaries. One thing the British consulate can do that no one else can do is GOVERNMENT. And government still really matters in China. We spend a lot of time working with the Chinese government. We see ourselves as the Consulate to East China, as we spend a lot of time engaging with surrounding governments of Hangzhou, Suzhou, and others.

For the average British citizen that’s here, we provide consulate services, and the focus is and priority are people in need — people who have found themselves in difficult situations. It might be medical cases, or people who have gotten into trouble with the Shanghai authorities. That is the focus of our consular services, helping the most vulnerable and in the most need. We also provide notarial services to help people get married. All that’s on our website.

The Consulate also does a lot of work for British businesses.

The businesses that are coming into china for the first time, we support them through things like FCH China. We also work with the China-Britian Business Council and with the British Chamber, both of which have support services for British businesses coming in. There is a launch pad scheme. The CBBC for example have a launch pad scheme where you can come in, take a desk in their offices to start your business. The British Chamber also has its Mentorship Scheme, where the British Chamber will basically act as your agent in your initial set-up phase.

Another group that we are working with are the increasing number of British people who are wanting to set up businesses here in China themselves. They are young people, they speak Chinese, they're living here, they probably studied in China, they are on the two-year post-study work visa, and they want to create businesses here. There are some very successful examples British citizens who have done this.

In fact, I am furious. Furiously jealous a few of them whom I have been friends with such as Rupert Hoogewerf who built up Hurun Report Hurun Report. He gave up a job with one of the big four consulting firms, and now he’s massively famous and has a big brand. You have William Vanbergen who set up British Education, and then there was also Fraser White who setup Dulwich College and the Dulwich Franchise here in Asia.

Shanghai"

They are now successful, big businesses, and we want to support the next generation of businesses and social entrepreneurs emerging here.

The younger generation out here in their 20s are very entrepreneurial both commercially and socially and understand China and business here much better than I do, and so we are also looking for their guidance, to understand what they need. It is a new group that we want to engage. I do meet often meet a lot of wealthy Chinese or venture capitalists who want to fund exciting new businesses. I guess there a lot of young British people here who are doing exciting stuff, but don’t hang out in the circles of ultra-high net worth individuals who are looking to match up. So, there may be ways we can help connect the money with the ideas.

We’ve started a British entrepreneurs club, called The City Club if they are interested people can get in touch. Stephen Baron, at the Consulate, is working with this new group. If you are an entrepreneur, and you want to do something with the consulate get in touch.

The City Club is the British Consulate’s network for UK-China financial professionals. For more details and to join the network, contact Stephen.Baron@fco.gov.uk

***

TELL EVERYONE

VENUES MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE:

  • Seki-tei

    • Address
      1008 Beijing Xi Lu, near Jiangning Lu
      北京西路1008号, 近江宁路
    • Phone
      6257 9999

    St. Regis Shanghai Jing'an's Japanese restaurant with 4 private rooms, serving sushi and teppanyaki. Read more

  • Shanghai Zoo

    • Address
      2381 Hongqiao Lu, near Yingbin Yi Lu
      虹桥路2381号 上海动物园, 近迎宾一路
    • Phone
      6268 7775

    Read more

  • Pie Society

    • Address
      Rm 102, Bldg 5, 67 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu (also accessible from 381 Panyu Lu, near Panyu Lu)
      幸福路67号幸福里5号楼102室, 近法华镇路
    • Phone
      136 7189 3024

    Drum & Bass DJ Jane Siesta's long-running pie project Pie Society finally got a brick and mortar shop in Fall 2015. They serve proper British pies in flavors like steak & Guinness and chicken and mushrooms, as well as seasonal specials like steak & kidney,... Read more

  • Villa Le Bec

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    • Address
      321 Xinhua Lu, near Dingxi Lu
      新华路321号, 近定西路
    • Phone
      6241 9100

    This multi-concept restaurant by French celeb chef Nicolas le Bec occupies a century-old villa on tree-lined Xinhua Lu. As of now its first phase, Bistro 321 le Bec is the only portion that is open for business. Offerings are expertly done French classics with Asian... Read more

  • The Commune Social

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    • Address
      511 Jiangning Lu, near Kangding Lu
      江宁路511号, 近康定路
    • Phone
      6047 7638

    The second restaurant in town to bear the Jason Atherton brand on its masthead. The Commune Social is a contemporary tapas, dessert and cocktail bar. The cuisine seems largely informed by former Gordon Ramsay Lieutenant Jason Atherton's frequent flier miles log.... Read more

  • Gathering Clouds

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    • Address
      Suite 105, Blgd 8, 381 Fanyu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu
      番禺路381号幸福里步行街8号楼105室, 近法华镇路
    • Phone
      6271 7162

    Gathering Clouds specializes in Yunnan cuisine, a rare find in Shanghai. The restaurant focuses flavors that aren't to sweet or too spicy. Their signature dishes include Rushan cheese, pulled beef, shrimp cakes, and other Yunnan specialties. Read more

  • Tai'an Table (Zhenning Lu)

    • Address
      Bldg 1, Lane 161, 465 Zhenning Lu, near Xinzha Lu
      镇宁路465号161弄1号楼, 近新闸路
    • Phone
      RSVP via web only

    This is where Taian Table went after the original on Tai’an Lu closed. It's still Shanghai-based German chef Stefan Stiller at the helm, it still has a Michelin star, and it's still the same high-concept, high-performance culinary experience with serious attention to... Read more

  • This venue has now closed

    Tai'an Table (Tai'an Lu)

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    • Address
      RSVP Only
    • Phone

    Private dining club by long-time Shanghai chef and restaurateur Stefan Stiller. They only do set dinners from 6pm (last dinner at 8pm) and it's RSVP only. The place is located in an old lanehouse, and it's low-key and very modern. The dinner is very much an... Read more

  • British Consulate General

    • Address
      17/F, 968 Beijing Xi Lu near Taixing Road
      北京西路968号17楼, 近泰兴路
    • Phone
      3279 2000

    Read more

  • British Chamber of Commerce Shanghai

    • Address
      No. 9, Sublane 56, 590 Weihai Lu, near Maoming Bei Lu
      威海路590弄56支弄9号, 近茂名北路
    • Phone
      6218 5022

    An independent, non-profit organization that support the business endeavors of members in the East China region with a raft of training programs, information, business resources, members-only events, opportunities to expand your network and services such as a... Read more

  • Mercato

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    • Address
      6/F, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu
      中山东一路3号6楼, 近广东路
    • Phone
      6321 9922

    Celebrity chef Jean Georges Vongerichten charts new territory for his dining empire with his first ever Italian concept. Simple pleasures like woodfire oven pizzas, burrata cheese with sea salt or homemade rigatoni with meatballs dominate the menu. But he throws in... Read more

  • Dulwich College Shanghai Pudong

    • Address
      266 Lan'an Lu, near Biyun Lu
      蓝桉路266号, 近碧云路
    • Phone
      5899 9910

    Read more

  • Husk

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    • Address
      218 Fengxian Lu, near Nanhui Lu
      奉贤路218号, 近南汇路
    • Phone
      6243 0832, 6245 9137

    Husk is a "Restaurant & Martini Kitchen" concept by Charles Cabell (formerly Mesa & Manifesto, presently Bocado) and partner Michael Zhao (formerly Mesa & Manifesto). It centers around straightforward eats, like steaks and chops and charcuterie plates. Chef Zhao also... 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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