I sat down with Miranda Yao recently to chat about her Shanghai Magnolia bed & breakfast venture, the experience she's gained since opening, and what guests can expect while lodging in the unencumbered beauty of the Magnolia's clever and highly functional rooms (bathrooms feature full-length revolving mirrors doubling as shelving on the rear side). This is the second part of that interview.
What Makes This Shanghai Bed & Breakfast Different
SL: What about your own perspective, what's special about this place?
MY: My favorite little spot is the table by the window, it's such a nice place to read a book and have a coffee and peak out into life on the street. You could easily spend 1-2 hours there. This area is very easy for planning 1-2 hour walking tours to Taikang Lu, Xintiandi, Wukang Road (Wǔkāng Lù, 武康路) and nice places like that, and we're very close to the Expo bike rental station.
I'm kind of like a one-woman tourist information center, I keep abreast of all the developments. I'm also putting together various one day itineraries, also pursuant to guest requests.
SL: What is the difference between the Magnolia and a big hotel?
MY: We shouldn't compare ourselves to those kinds of hotels, they have all kinds of facilities we don't have. We're just an option. Here, our advantage is that people know they're being taken care of by someone who knows their name. Guests really see how much we care and really see how we try our very best to be as helpful as we can, and these are the comments we get. All of us, our housekeeper, our maintenance man, we're all very self motivated and passionate about helping guests. Hotel staff just do what they're trained to do, so if they come across something exceeding the scope of their knowledge they just think "I only get paid 3,000 RMB a month, buhao yisi" (laughs)!
SL: (laughs) Been there. What about things to see and do in this area?
MY: Of course there are a lot of good places to eat. But the best thing to do is probably just get a drink at any one of the corner cafés and walk around. But we are close to Taikang Lu, Tianzifang and lots of other things. The Magnolia is just where you rest, where you start your journey, there's a lot to see in the area. Another great part of this area is all the good galleries like M50. Most of Shanghai's better known art areas are getting disappointingly commercial, but this area has four to five contemporary art galleries featuring both Chinese and international artists.
SL: Tell me about the design inspiration for this hotel.
MY: Well, (laughs) we had a pretty tight budget so we had to find a smart way to be unique and stay on budget. We got an artist named Monika Lin; I love her idea of beauty so much. She's a contemporary artist who does "beautiful" in the classic sense....
So I approached her about doing the interior design for us. She agreed immediately. We used interesting fabrics and color combinations. You don't need to over-design a place, if you put too much design in a room, it's too busy and it's actually a little distracting to the eyes and prevents relaxation. So we use a lot of wood, cotton and linens with nice colors.
We were very lucky to cooperate with Art Labor Gallery. They provide new artworks from a variety of artists for our walls. Each room has recent works from different artists, and we put guests in touch with Art Labor if they see anything they like.
This was a really, really old house, built in 1932 according to the property license. We didn’t want to do any major work on the inside, we didn't know if the building could handle it! We just added a private shower and bathroom in each room, which cost us quite a bit because we didn't want anyone to notice, we did everything secretly. Each room is quite small, so we had to use the small space very intelligently. We had to create each bed from scratch to create storage space under the bed. We couldn't afford to spare a half square meter for a closet so we had to improvise with that, so smart design was very important.
SL: Is there a particular kind of traveler you are looking to cater to?
MY: Singles, couples, independent travelers between 28-45 years old, with very good educational background, those are the kinds of people that look for a place like this. Most of them have traveled quite a bit and are very open-minded about a small hotel like ours and would greatly respect local customs. And since it's not your own country you'd better be open-minded (laughs)! I'd also like to cater to the gay crowd, they're always so nice, organized and clean!
SL: Is there a particular experience you're trying to deliver?
MY: Quite simply we want to be a private "pit-stop" for our guests who come to explore the wonders of Shanghai—a comfortable bed, a good shower, high-quality coffee and tea, fresh breakfast, current local information, a mobile phone to easily reach the owner, and a location on a tranquil French Concession street, minutes from a dizzying array of shops, restaurants and attractions as well as two Metro stations.
SL: What makes this place memorable?
MY: People tell me that they love our beds. And I'm glad because we put a lot of thought into our beds. Our friend purchases from Hilton, so we use their medium mattresses (firmness) and add another layer of softness with a mattress cover. People speak very highly of our beds. When Chinese people stay here we take that top layer off to make the bed harder, so Chinese like them too. People also tell us our breakfast is delicious. People choose what they want and when they want it the night before. We serve breakfast from 7:00-10:00 a.m., but sometimes people need to leave earlier so we'll get up and make them breakfast, or at the very least, leave them toast, jam and coffee just outside of their room so they have something before they leave.
What to See, Eat and Do in Shanghai
SL: What do you recommend people see outside the French Concession?
MY: Right now, Expo. They should also go see the Bund, Yu Garden and especially all the little lanes around Yu Garden in the old town there, around Fangbang Lu (Fāngbāng Lù, 方浜路). I used to go there often and I always felt fascinated by all I saw there, especially the wet market, but the wet market is gone now. I also recommend people go to Wen Miao (Confucius Temple) for the Sunday market, it's famous for its trade in Chinese comics and books. Some of the books I have here I found at the Sunday market.
SL: Do you have any restaurant recommendations?
MY: Plenty! Just take a look at the map I give guests when they check in. There are 21 really good restaurants including New Age Veggie, Gu Yi Hunan and La Dolce Vita Italian right in our neighborhood!
SL: Put yourself in the traveler’s shoes… give me your perfect 24-hrs in Shanghai.
MY: If I were a guest at Magnolia, this is how I would spend my perfect 24-hrs in Shanghai:
• Take an early jog in the French Concession and stretch in Xiangyang Park.
• Get back to the hotel, take a shower and sip a coffee.
•Then, hail a taxi to Yu Garden before 8:00 a.m. to enjoy a crowdless xiaolongbao and Shanghai dim sum set breakfast at Nan Xiang Xiao Long Restaurant for RMB 150.
• Spend the morning in the old city—strolling through narrow lanes, the local food market, stop a while at the fabric market to see if there's any interesting material for my collection.
• Then walk over to the Cool Docks and have lunch at Table No. 1.
• After that, cab it to Taikang Lu; visit Er Dong Qiao Art Center and Li Shou Bai's Paper Cutting Art Studio, possibly taking a paper cutting class with this gifted master. Afterwards, a stop at Ginger Café for a fresh squeezed juice.
• Walk to Fuxing Park to enjoy a moment among trees.
• Turn down Nanchang Road for a little shopping. Snack on a cōngyóubǐng (葱油饼, scallion pancake) near the hotel at around 5:00 p.m. Get a foot massage at Dragonfly on Donghu Road (Dōnghú Lù, 东湖路).
• Finally, get back to the Puxi side of town and feast on spicy Hunan food at Di Shui Dong!
Where: 36 Yangqing Road near Donghu Road, 200031, Shanghai
Phone: (86) 138 1794 0848 (9am–8pm, Shanghai time)