Memories in Global Cities

Sep 30, 2015 5:30:00 PM / by Stephanie Sadler

“Connecting Global Cities” is a monthly column written by Colin Speakman, Resident Director for CAPA Shanghai.

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This is a follow on from Vantage Points in Global Cities. Those positions give one a view which could be a potential great memory, especially if captured with a photograph; it does not have to be a selfie - please! Yet, are the iconic bridges, towers, monuments and suchlike the best memories one has of visiting a global city? Perhaps so, but the best memories could equally be the fine cuisine in a special restaurant (which is perhaps special because of who one is dinning with - family, significant others, new found friends). Or perhaps it was a special, limited time display in a museum or art gallery?

Each of us will have our own reasons for the memories we choose to keep. I invite readers to reflect on that question, including past CAPA students on what their best memories of study in one of our global cities are. Meanwhile, I can only give you mine.

Let's start with New York which I have visited many times and certainly long before 9/11. Perhaps because those Twin Towers no longer exist, or just because they were a key landmark to visit, I do still remember visiting Windows on the World with some very nice colleagues from my then employer, and enjoying the spectacular view from World Trade Center, North Tower.

Photo: Twin towers by Carol M. Highsmith

On the the other coast of the States, Seattle boasts some great near-waterfront dinning. I remember that, but perhaps it is nicer to remember a meal when someone else is paying! So after a conference with former colleagues, we went up the Space Needle for a big dinner and more great views. I am a fan of World Expos so that helped make it special.

Photo: Seattle Space Needle by Rattlhed

In my favorite US global city, San Francisco, I have a lot of friends, and many are wine lovers. I was often the designated driver. My memories there are not so much of downtown but out in the famous wine country around Santa Rosa and Napa Valley, enjoying beautiful weather, getting an education on the grapes from knowledgeable friends and fine cuisine. Many wineries sensibly have great restaurants too.

California - Oakville: Robert Mondavi Winery - Figurative of a Woman
Photo: Robert Mondavi Vineyard in California by Wildcat Dunny

In Europe, there are too many memories to mention, so as the Chinese like to say: it is wonderful to welcome friends from afar. I often had the opportunity, from a London base, to make a flying visit to Paris, Madrid, Florence or Prague in order to welcome a visitor from the US and show them around one of my "second homes". That usually involved deciding what were the best things to show them and where to find the best food.

In Paris, one cannot go wrong with the architecture and bright lights along the wide avenue of the Champs Élysées. There is great food, although there are prices to match, but everyone loves French cuisine with good friends.

terrace culturePhoto: A meal in Paris by zoetnet

China's capital holds many memories since I first visited Beijing in 2003 and from that first trip, what longer lasting memory than the Great Wall? After all, Chairman Mao said: "A man is not a man until he has climbed the Great Wall." I did that, got my t-shirt and "hero card". After over 40 visits back to that wall with American students, it still holds special memories and, of course, it was very exciting for a CAPA group from Shanghai to visit it as recently as last week.

Photo: CAPA students at the Great Wall in Beijing by Colin Speakman

So what about memories of CAPA's current six global cities from my times there? Read on...


I visited with a then colleague and made local friends in Buenos Aires. It is normal in this city to place study abroad students with host families and I certainly remember how friendly they were. BA has a beautiful cente, but some slums on the outskirts. I remember those from the taxi rides in from the airport. My best memories are sitting out with local friends in the Puerto Madero area by the harbor, enjoying a meal, refreshing drinks and the beautiful views and the water lapping against the boardwalk nearby.

Puerto Madero - Puente de la Mujer
Photo: Puerto Madero by Lima Pix


One, perhaps strange, memory - unique I guess - was at the beginning of January 2002. The Euro as a bank note finally replaced German Marks, French Francs, Spanish Pesetas and the Irish Punt, among others, as the currency of the Eurozone. The UK never joined in. My first taste of the new currency was early January that year after a flight into Dublin Airport where I exchanged British Pounds into Euros for the first time. The lady at the exchange bureau was very apologetic, saying "they" had only sent them 50 Euro notes as the smallest denomination. That did not go down well with the taxi driver. Dublin is full of special experiences.

Euro DenominationsPhoto: Euro notes by Images Money


We can pick up on the welcoming of foreign visitors to Florence, this Renaissance city. That then naturally led to some great memories of long dinners, unhurried as is the local custom, in many places. There are so many wonderful views to take in and the Uffizi Gallery is a hard memory to erase. However, I still recall a friendly restaurant not far from the Santa Maria Station, where I enjoyed many a great dinner with visiting friends and local staff - with a warm welcome from the Manager, "Buena Serra, Professori!" That always gets the evening off to a great start!

DSC_4263Photo: A meal in Florence by hiro kobashi


What can I say about my home city which I get to visit now only a few times a year? Memories, of course, have to be about friends and family and current and former colleagues. Perhaps because it is so centrally located in an important area of the city, I also like to visit one of my alma mater, the London School of Economics (LSE). This is a place next to banks, offices and shops, a short walk from the West End theatre district, Oxford Street shopping and Waterloo Bridge, so it just blends in. I think many people must have fond memories of their university city where, in some ways, adult life began and the world was then their oyster.

LSE LibraryPhoto: London School of Economics Library by SomeDriftwood


Every day creates in new memory in my current global city of Shanghai, but I have some old ones too. Back in 2007, I had a group of 16 American students with a professor booked into the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center for a visit guided by me. When we arrived, there was high security and we were told we could not enter for an hour; the King and Queen of Spain were visiting the center with a large escort. I whipped out my European Union passport which got a laugh and said we were on a tight schedule. We were let in to join that group and no other visitors were. We got some great photos including students with magnificently uniformed Spanish military - none stood next to the Monarchs themselves, of course... How is that for a memory?

Photo: Students at the Urban Planning Center in Shanghai by Colin Speakman


Sydney was an amazing place to visit with a former colleague. We spent some of our free time on Bondi beach. However a bit like in Buenos Aires, I remember very well the Harbor Boardwalk. We had so much delicious food from the restaurants there. The Aussies love a barbecue. Of course, I remember gazing up at Sydney Harbour Bridge. I also remember holding a small koala bear, but I don't remember holding a small kangaroo; I am told they pack a kick! I did not want a memory of that!

But most of all, we love our Angus sirloin steak.
Steak near Sydney Harbour by Jason James

Thanks Colin!

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Topics: Global Cities