Travel companions come in many shapes and sizes, and they can sometimes be the making of a truly memorable holiday. For a traveler who enjoys nothing better than wandering the nooks and crannies of large cities looking for a bargain, Suzy Gershman might well seem an ideal companion. The creator of Frommer's Born to Shop series, she is a veteran of malls, markets, boutiques and bistros across the world. Last week she passed through Taipei to compile a segment that will be incorporated into a new edition of Born to Shop: Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, scheduled to hit bookshelves next year.
Lounging on the sofa in her suite at Taipei's Ritz Landis hotel, Gershman outlined the busy couple of days she planned to spend in the city before heading off to Bangkok. A huge stack of travel books, in both English and Chinese, lay piled on the coffee table, ready to be posted back for research. There wouldn't be time for much - foot massage, hot springs, night markets, the textile market, paper museum and Taipei 101 where already on the itinerary, and she might take in a couple of other recommended destinations during her stay.
Suzy Gershman traces her roots as a shopping guru back to her childhood. "My father always said he began this career. He was a chairman of WHO and he would travel to Geneva once a month for his meetings and we would then be out and about traveling to different countries around the world. He would give me a quarter and say 'See what you can buy for this.' And in those days you could buy something for a quarter - something decent. I suppose that's where the game of it started."
A trained journalist who worked with Time and People magazines, she brings a lifetime of shopping and traveling experience to her current work, but still enjoys the challenge of finding a bargain, "learning what makes value, what are the different elements that go into something."
She has since parlayed that into a career that takes her around the world virtually every year, updating and adding to her Born to Shop series.
Asia is not new to Gershman, who first published Born to Shop: Hong Kong back in 1984, when the series, which included London, France and Italy, was first launched. But while Hong Kong back then was no more than an Asian outpost of Europe, the emphasis has now shifted, and as a reflection of this, Beijing and Shanghai were added to the Hong Kong volume in 1996. Since then, the Pearl River Delta and Hanoi have been included, and now a chapter to be titled "Weekend in Taipei" will be included in the new edition for release next year.
If it were not for the chance discovery of Shiatzy Chen's fashions while researching her Shanghai book, Taipei may well have continued to languish in Born to Shop oblivion.
"I had a group in Shanghai last Christmas, and we were on the Bund and there was a Shiatzy Chen store there, right on the Bund, and we are just all crazy for the store, and then we discover that the designer is from Taiwan. And so that made me interested.... And when United [Airlines] began their nonstop [flights to Taipei], that was it, we were going to Taipei," Gershman said. (United Airlines launched a nonstop passenger and cargo service between San Francisco and Taipei in June this year. It is currently the only major US carrier to operate this route nonstop.)