FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Nanjing: Chinese Confluence

Feb 1, 2012
2012 / February 2012

While earlier visits to Nanjing failed to impress me, a more recent trip brought revelations. Not only is Nanjing booming like its big cousin, Shanghai, but it has become a vibrant place to explore and enjoy in the course of conducting business. No longer tied strictly to its imperial past, Nanjing has launched an armada of up-to-date developments, from contemporary art museums and galleries to upscale shopping streets and trendy cafés, all appealing to a new and (very) wealthy generation — making navigating the city and entertaining clients far more attractive.

Nanjing has long ranked as East China’s top commercial center, second only to Shanghai in the lower Yangtze River Delta. It is also a major hub in the national high-speed railway network connecting Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan through the largest railway station in Asia. Location, location, location — as well as transportation — have proven to be magnets for foreign investment. On average, two new foreign firms set up operations in Nanjing each and every day. The upshot is that downtown Nanjing is sizzling, and a spate of new high-rise complexes is altering the cityscape.

Nanjing’s leading hotels, restaurants and shops, as well as its historic attractions, are woven together by the Nanjing Metro line, the most efficient way to dodge frequent traffic jams. The subway’s No. 2 line, completed in 2010, sweeps unobstructed through downtown, with rides costing just pennies (2–4 yuan). If you’re frequently changing locations for meetings and lunches, purchase a Jinlingtong (also called an IC-tong, 80 yuan), a stored-value transportation card redeemable not only on subways and buses but even on river ferries and taxis. Taxis are a slower alternative, but tips aren’t required and you save some steps.

Nanjing is a sprawling city of many districts and neighborhoods south and east of the mighty Yangtze and its tributary, the Qinhuai River. Three downtown areas stand out as prime grounds for meeting and entertaining business associates, and all three offer an invigorating overlap of upscale dining, shopping and sightseeing.

Just northwest of city center is the Drum Tower District (Gulou) near scenic Xuan Wu Lake. The hallmark of this growing business district is Zifeng Tower, a 1,480-foot skyscraper said to be China’s second-tallest building and the seventh tallest in the world. The tower houses Nanjing’s best business hotel, the InterContinental Nanjing (1 Zhong Yang Lu, tel 86 25 8353 8888, www.intercontinental.com). Occupying the upper 32 stories, the InterContinental’s 433 guestrooms and suites come with separate showers and tubs, desks and Internet connections. Views of the city and nearby Xuan Wu Lake are breathtaking. In terms of location, amenities and attentive service, the InterContinental edges out its main rivals (including Westin, Sheraton and Sofitel); but Shangri-La, set to open nearby in late 2013, could give these top dogs a run for their money.

The Horizon Café on the 45th floor of the InterContinental stages as robust a power breakfast as any hotel in Nanjing with an unsurpassed view. The international buffet menu provides plenty of options, and the abundant cooking stations assure freshness. For a lunch meeting in the same area of town, I am fond of Five Zen5es (The Westin Nanjing, 201 Zhong Yang Lu, tel 86 25 8556 8888, www.westin.com/nanjing), a trendsetter offering Cantonese and regional Huaiyang specialties such as braised king prawns, eel with egg and Chef Ricky Yin’s signature black rice. Five Zen5es can place groups in any of eight palatial dining rooms for set lunches or à la carte orders.

The Drum Tower District also contains a fascinating six-block stretch known as Hunan Lu Dining and Shopping Street. This pedestrian boulevard is divided into three parts, with regional specialties on one end, international foods on the other and Chinese cuisine in between along a celebrated segment known as Shizi Qiao.

In city center itself, there’s a brand-new food street, Hanfu Lu, which pitched its stalls and opened its café doors within view of the historic Nanjing Presidential Hall. Each little café along Hanfu Lu serves up the specialties of a single region in China, ranging from Sichuan to Shanghai. Also in the very center of the city, the flashy neon avenue of Xinjiekou is a Times Square of department stores, fashion outlets and brand-name boutiques, as well as an underground shopping mall teeming with dining options for every expense account.

Probably the best choice for upscale business lunches and entertainment is also in city center. Nanjing 1912 is a complex of 17 century-old restored gray-brick buildings evoking the heyday of the Chinese Republic and its first president, Sun Yat-sen, who — following in the footsteps of many an emperor — made Nanjing his capital. The modern take on Nanjing 1912 encompasses trendy restaurants, pubs, discos, teahouses and even a Starbucks.

South of city center is Fuzimiao, my favorite district to snack ’n’ stroll. Anchored by the colorful Confucius Temple and surrounded by open-air bazaars, this is Nanjing’s best choice for downscale shopping and sidewalk noshing. Gongyuan Street teems with Chinese pastry stalls and provides a dining adventure worth sharing with associates and clients. Inside the temple there’s a cafeteria, Lao Zhengxing, where dumplings of all sorts are available should business take you in this direction.

Finally, for an unparalleled view of the landmark Yangtze River, head out of city center altogether to Ming Xuan, where Cantonese and Huaiyang lunches are served in fine style on the top floor of the Hilton Nanjing Riverside Hotel (1 Huaibin Lu, Xiaguan District, tel 86 25 8315 8888, www1.hilton.com).

Even Nanjing’s past as China’s capital under numerous dynasties and regimes is acquiring a modern cast. Visitors are being drawn to museums and mansions throughout the city that evoke Nanjing’s dramatic role in the Japanese occupation during World War II — an era poised to burst into international awareness thanks to the release of the most expensive Chinese movie to date, Zhang Yimou’s Flowers of War, filmed in the old streets of an ever-newer Nanjing.

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