September 30th: Mooncakes

View from the Radisson

24 million people…

Shanghai has a land mass similar to the US state of Delaware but a population size similar to that of Australia (around 24 million).  It’s absolutely no surprise that quiet spots are nigh-on impossible; that attempting to walk becomes an exercise in avoidance and dodging; that national holidays cause a mass migration that any transportation network would struggle to cope with.  The week ahead is China’s mid-Autumn festival (or “Moon Festival”) where the majority of the population has a full-week off work and mooncakes are given as gifts.  Those on holiday relax locally or head out on travels to other parts of China, but most definitely .  The office is going to be strange next week, populated pretty-much by the UK team only.

In the Radisson

John, Steve, Alex, me and Richard revolving in the Radisson

For Sunday lunch, Alex had booked us a table in the Radisson Hotel’s revolving restaurant.  One of the better ways to get a few different views of Shanghai’s various neighbourhoods – and to understand how 24 million people manage to live in one city.  Eating a meal with changing scenery was a new experience for me, but a little disconcerting for a few of us when the restaurant started to revolve back the other way and eventually stopped (a hint, I think, to leave).  A relaxing way to end the short weekend after the working day on Saturday, and Saturday night’s failed attempt to visit a few different places (alas: one new bar then back to Sailor’s for fish & chips).

By normal standards, a fairly uneventful week – but that’s not entirely true.  A very eventful week at work with another trip to the warehouse with Anny central to it.   But then again, this isn’t a work blog…

Cooler temperatures mean we can be out and about exploring again without melting.  Us in shorts and t-shirts; the locals in coats.


September 23rd: Free Sausage

The protest

When is a protest not a protest…

Advice from the British government is to avoid becoming involved with any protests, peaceful or otherwise, when abroad.  So when John and I saw a large group of slowly marching, traditionally dressed people carrying placards on Saturday evening, we were naturally curious.  Tension between China and Japan has been escalating all week*, with Japanese cars being overturned in some cities and Japanese restaurants being attacked.  Many Japanese establishments have temporarily closed, with boarded up windows and Chinese flags prominently displayed.  We suspected the placard holders were part of a Chinese protest, and so decided to follow them (following not constituting involvement).  Peacefully, the group moved through one of Shanghai’s busiest bar areas, attracting more curious followers as they travelled.  Then they stopped in unison, facing…. a night club.

The protest stops

… when it’s a marketing campaign for a nightclub.

A brilliant marketing exercise, and if we’d have looked more closely, we’d have noticed the Chinese writing on the placards was followed by a few words in English: “Club Truelove”.  It worked too – John and I (abandoned for the evening by virtue of a girly night out) thought we’d have a look inside.  Two middle-aged Western blokes amongst a throng of young Chinese with big hair (the boys, not the girls – and I mean BIG hair) was apparently sufficiently incongruous to cause the girl sat next to us to take a couple of photos of us.

The protest stops

Me with the marketing campaign people

So Saturday was a day of playing pool and relaxing whilst the girls were out and about.  And great customer service from the staff at Masse; they were holding an all-you-can-eat barbecue event for the set price of 150RMB (£15).  I only wanted a snack – they give me a free sausage.


Late-night at our house: Bron, Richard, Flo, Nicole, May-Britt, John, Carsten and Alex

On Friday night we held our somewhat delayed housewarming party (5 months late).  A fantastic biryani from Mrs Sims did the job, catering perfectly for a large group of people.  Great to spend some time with a few of our Chinese colleagues too, even if Anny’s daughter (18 months old) was a little freaked-out by so many non-Chinese people.

A day trip to Qingdao on Wednesday to meet a few of our Haier colleagues bought back memories of living in the States.  When the country is so big, the nearest city is a plane journey away.  A meeting takes 7 hour to get to by train or 90 minutes by air.  Sadly, I still hate flying.

* The Japanese government purchased three islands (known as the Diaoyu islands in China) in the East China Sea, with ownership claimed by China.

September 16th: Warehouse Food, From a Field


Tasty sugarcane near the warehouse

“Do you know what this plant is?” asks Anny, our local Finance Director.  I didn’t.  Anny speaks to one of the warehouse blokes accompanying us; he disappears and returns with a cleaver.  Plant is chopped.  Plant is stripped with teeth.  Plant is eaten.
I’ve never eaten raw sugar cane before, so didn’t know to expect a large residual amount of plant matter to remain in my mouth despite frantically chewing it for ages.  Eventually Anny tells me you’re not supposed to swallow it.

The sugar cane picking (/slicing?) was in a field at the back of the Argos warehouse, a 90 minute drive from the office.  The field is bordered by a row of old-looking houses, one of which we visited for lunch.  There’s apparently a specific Chinese word for this type of establishment (which I’ve already forgotten) that allows travellers (or warehouse staff) to eat, sleep and play card games/Mahjong but it’s neither a hotel nor a restaurant.   Cooked from scratch by the friendly chef/owner, our food on Friday lunchtime was far tastier than that served in many “proper” restaurants here in Shanghai.  And far cheaper.  I’d go so far as to say “Probably the best food in a field near a warehouse I’ve ever had in my life”.

Friday evening’s promised meal of “street food” was tasty enough, but didn’t quite live up to its billing.  As Haydn observed, the restaurant was on a street, but that’s about it.  I think we’re obviously missing something here, but to order, the customers seemed to have to leave the building, walk down the street a little, point to some food through a window (being barbecued) then go back into the restaurant.  An entertaining evening with Haydn, Bronwen, Alex and a few of the marketing team; we learned several new Chinese swear words that won’t be appearing on the blog anytime soon.

Pedal Power

Pedal Power

Out to a big park on Saturday daytime with Rachel and her friend.  Shanghai has several of these parks tucked away in its nether regions, all offering something slightly different.  This one featured very sinister looking Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse copies, and a pedal powered mini-roller coaster type thing.  I’m told these sorts of rides are available in the UK, but it was new to me.   We also had a ride on the world’s shortest scary roller coaster.  Scary because Chinese roller coasters aimed at kids aren’t sized for Western men (yes, my fault, I know).  The barrier that holds you in holds you in.  Very snugly.  Very, very snugly.
We needed the excitement after zooming around the park’s lake in our turbo-powered speedboat.  Zooming at 7kmph max speed.

All week, barriers, hoardings and mini-grandstands have been appearing on one of the main roads near our house.  All the signage has been in Chinese with no mention of the event in any of the usual ex-pat magazines, other than to say the road was going to be closed on Saturday night.  So, early Saturday evening, I dragged Bronwen, John and Alex down to see what was going on.  The friendly policeman understood my flaky Mandarin question of “What is this festival?” but inevitably the response was a stream of Mandarin I couldn’t understand.  Ever helpful, he phoned a friend, chatted for 5 minutes and then, beaming with pride and in beautifully spoken English, said “It is China festival!”

China Festival

Alex, John and Bron watching the floats go by

So on Saturday night, we saw several floats go by, a few dancers dancing, crowds of people watching and all we really know is that it was a festival in China.

September 11th: Clare Balding

I don’t believe in fate.  If your life has already been  mapped out, then each decision you think you’re making has already been preordained,  leaving you with absolutely no control over your life.  There is no “decide”, “choose” or “select” (at least not by you).  You’re a character in a computer game with a spotty 14-year old choosing whether you follow the white rabbit or go to work in Shanghai for 3 years.

But then I read the wise words of Clare Balding: “Fate is what happens to you; destiny is what you do with it.”.  Darth would have been proud.

So, Clare, fate deals you the hand?  Destiny is deciding whether or not to play it?

The finality of “destiny” still implies a single course; I don’t have one of those either.  No fate; no destiny.  Just me and Bronwen, floating through China.

Apologies if this philosophical rambling is expected to go anywhere.

Sunday was supposed to be an alcohol-free day.  But if fate led to a mid-afternoon game of pool going on in Masse (1 minute away) and fate introduced a “buy one get one free” deal on the beer,  it was surely my destiny to partake?  And if our meal out on Sunday evening was in a restaurant where the only draught beer on offer was fated to be Guinness, what am I supposed to do?  (And Alfie’s is a strange old restaurant – a bit like finding a kitchen and some leather sofas in the middle of Moss Bros or Suits You.  I’m convinced the suits for sale at the back of the restaurant must by now have acquired the delightful aromas of food and smoke.).

The intent for Monday evening was a few quiet drinks with people from work, but fate offered the opportunity of meeting Rachel, Andrea and Craig too.  So our destiny was to have all 13 of us meet up in an Indian restaurant  on a (usually quiet) Monday night, scaring the staff into insisting we collate our orders into one handy list (“3 chicken tikka massalas, 2 lamb biryanis, etc, etc”) before the bemused waiter could enter the order into Lotus Land’s antiquated computer-based ordering system (think of a 1990’s mobile phone connected to a 1990’s PC).

I think I’ve laboured this for long enough.  Like I said: I don’t believe in fate.

I’m too much of a control freak.

Karma though – that’s another story.

September 9th: Gothic Karaoke Swimming Pools

Meal at Haven

Bron, Rachel and Grace at Haven

“Shanghai’s first gothic restaurant” (and only, I think), claims Haven’s website, “and we will close our doors forever after 666 events”.  Gothic in architecture, not in music (with creepy jazz rather than creepy Cure being played in the background), Haven offers its patrons a unique, vampire-esque experience in a city of copycat, overcrowded eateries.  Our table was in the middle of the huge dining hall, with high-backed chairs and only candles for lighting to continue the theme.   Sadly, the food during our meal with Grace and Rachel on Wednesday night wasn’t spectacular; I guess we were paying for the setting rather than the cooking.

Vampire Karaoke

The bar at the end of the Haven swimming pool

So what do vampires like to do once they’ve finished eating?  In Haven, they obviously climb the grand, sweeping staircase and enter the mysteriously lit door at the top of the stairs.  Behind the door lies a small swimming pool, complete with TV display in the ceiling for bathers to sing karaoke.   Vampire Karaoke.  Again, only in China.


Duck Blood

Duck blood

An impromptu Hot Pot meal on Friday night with Andrew and Richard saw yet another new addition to my list of “Foods to try once only”: duck blood.  Congealed and served like meat loaf.  Possibly a delicacy, but probably never again for me.


Shanghai is split on two sides by the Huangpu River, with Puxi – where we live – to the east, and Pudong to the west.  We rarely venture over the other side of the river, since to us it largely seems to be made up of huge ex-pat compounds, multi-lane highways and more importantly: a lack of taxis.  Early Saturday evening, we met up with the work gang at an Internations barbecue at a bar called “Face” over in the dark side of Pudong.   A well-attended event, with free drinks all evening long once we’d paid the initial £15 entry fee.  Followed by a taxi back to the normal world for a few more drinks and games of pool.
Only four of us left at the end of the night; a new temporary addition to the late-night gang; Alex, our HR representative in the UK, over here for a month to help out.  So 9 hours after meeting up, we called it a night.

* Hot pot: A communal pot of hot soup into which you put raw ingredients.  Usually thinly sliced pork, beef, etc.  But sometimes duck blood.

September 5th: Knives and Bikes

The Handle Bar

Carmen, Bron, JB & Heather at the Handle Bar

In true Ronseal style, it turns out the “bicycle themed bar” we’d read about had been accurately described.  Bicycles on the walls, bicycle seats alongside the bar; The Handle Bar didn’t let us down on Monday night.  A great selection of beers too, and ideally positioned just down the street from Sailors, our favourite fish and chip restaurant (Australian owned, but definitely British in feel).  Since Carmen and Heather from Brainchild had treated us to a wonderful seafood restaurant whilst in Hong Kong a couple of months’ ago, we thought it only fair to return the favour.  Can’t beat a bit of cod in batter.

A knifeIt’s “Restaurant Week” here in Shanghai; not entirely sure what that means, but a lot of restaurants are taking part.  I think it’s to do with “tasting” menus, or getting a meal in a posh restaurant at a cheap(er) prices.  Regardless, Tuesday night with Heather and the Bradfords, gave me a first in a restaurant: “Would you like to select a knife for your steak, sir?”.  Sure enough, a selection of knives was presented.  Naturally I (and Tim) went for the biggest (although I don’t the photo really does it justice)*.  I’m not sure if the steak was any better as a result of chopping through the meat with a huge blade, but Jimmy’s Kitchen gave us the best service we’ve had in a restaurant in Shanghai so far (“No sir, please don’t pour your beer, that’s my job”).

Complaint corner then: Shanghai is a city of over 20 million people, and so tends to be very crowded.  When it’s raining, you do not need an umbrella that is wide enough to cover the two people on either side of you.  Unless, of course, you are offering to shelter those next to you from the rain, which would be extraordinarily altruistic of you.  Somehow, I don’t believe that’s the case.  PUT IT AWAY, GOLF BOY.

*Must.not.say “that’s not a knoife, THAT’s a knoife”.