January 27th: Christmas. Every Day.

“I wish it could be Christmas every day” sang Wizzard back in 1973, and at every Christmas since then.  Here in China, it is.  Every day in the office lifts we’re treated to the same mix of 20-second snippets of Rudolph, Frosty and a few other Christmas songs.  Interspersed with Gangnam Style.  Every day.

Here in the office, and in most of the shops, Christmas decorations persist.  A few trees have disappeared, but Father Christmas is very much still present in shop windows and advertising hoardings.  Since Chinese New Year is only a couple of weeks’ away, the general consensus is the decorations will disappear following the end of festivities.  Last year the Christmas music in the lifts disappeared halfway through April.  Maybe this year they’ll just leave it longer.  365 days of Rudolph and co.   Christmas every day indeed.


I haven’t been to the cinema in years.  Normally quite happy to wait for the download/DVD/Blu-Ray to become available and watch a film at home without the hassle of, well, other people crunching, snorting, sniffing, coughing, slurping, talking their way through a film*.   But, on Tuesday night, we joined JB and co. at an Imax cinema near the office to watch Skyfall.

No messing about in cinemas in China.  Get in, sit down, watch film.  No Pearl & Dean, no trailers, no movie trivia, no “Please turn off your phone messages”.  Comfy seats, jalapeno flavoured popcorn and a far better experience than I was expecting.  A pretty damn good film too.

I’ve heard other people complain about the “ambience” of cinemas being ruined by the constant appearance of small pockets of light as people check their mobile phones.  I deliberately put the phone on silent (not vibrate) and in my pocket, but I have some sympathy – it’s like an itch for 2 hours: “Check me, check me!”.  I resisted.


Some meat, on a street.  I have no idea what most of it is.

Some meat, on a street. I have no idea what most of it is.

Wednesday night saw the sad occasion of my last regular post-language-lesson pool evening with JB, following the news he’ll be returning to the UK  in late Feb.  We’ll miss JB – always up for a pint and a natter, even if he’s pretty useless at pool.

Felix’s attempts to find a drummer for our nascent band meant a trip to a basement studio on Thursday night to try out a few songs with a new drummer.  Felix’s other advertisements for band members have so far resulted in one promise of true love and another of marriage, so a genuine drummer was a rarity.

Although it’s been great to spend a weekend without getting on a plane and heading out of Shanghai, it’s been a hectic one.  Following a relaxing night in De Refter with Bron on Friday night, we spent most of Saturday afternoon playing Mahjong (or Majiang) with Anny and Frank.  Obviously not for money, since I believe Anny would have easily fleeced us.  I think we’re slowly learning the rules, although the number of tiles we’ve yet to involve worries me a bit (adding complexity to an already fairly complex game).

Saturday night meant a trip to Emily’s apartment to help her celebrate Australia Day.  A little bit of Men At Work, a few Australian food delicacies but sadly no Kylie.  Since we’d been up since 6.47am (the exact time when I was woken up by the nearby building work), a 3am Sunday morning finish wasn’t what we’d planned.  A great party though – thanks Emily!

After a little more guitar playing today, we’ve been out wine tasting (in my case, to be social).  To be more descriptive: we met up with some people in a wine shop to help ourselves to the contents of five bottles of wine.   Not really what we were expecting, but then again, this is Shanghai.  Following a Thai meal with Rachel, Bron and Rachel disappeared off for a massage, leaving me to go home to write this blog.

When the local government reading says "Severely polluted", there is no doubt.

When the local government reading says “Severely polluted”, there is no doubt.

On the way back I could see stars in the night sky.  After ridiculously high levels of pollution all week, this meant a literal sigh of relief.  We can breathe again (for the moment).

*I am not in an airport lounge.  Parity has been restored.

December 23rd: Not Quite Christmas

With the international schools closed, the expat family compounds abandoned and businesses reverting to Chinese rule, Shanghai has shed most of its foreigners for Christmas.  Migrating east or west, the laowai retreat en masse from whence they came, in most cases with an empty suitcase or two to fill up on Marmite, Angel Delight and Shreddies (or for the Americans: Peanut-butter flavoured anything)

Eating Christmas

Eating Christmas

For those of us left behind, it’s a little strange.  Imagine living in your house, but where somebody has temporarily borrowed your favourite sofa, or replaced all the TV channels with Russian-only dialogue documentaries about disused warehouses.  It all feels very empty.

So what else to do on a Saturday than to visit that most British of institutions – Marks & Spencer, in an attempt to try and feel a little more “Christmassy”.  We needed to buy a few crackers for Monday’s Christmas Eve meal with Ryan and Elouise so also decided to stock up on mince pies and a few other winter essentials.  At ridiculous prices.

Nikki kept us company last night (Saturday) with our last trip of the year to the heart of the former French Concession district for another steak pie at Glo London (now officially “off menu” but somehow rustled up quickly by the chef).  And a final pint of the year in the Shanghai Brewery – purveyors of the smokiest of stouts (this is a good thing).

As most people have discovered by now (although apparently a few are still clinging to hope/despair), the world didn’t end on Friday.  Fortunately, our local Chinese mobile service provider kindly sent us a helpful “don’t panic” text message on Thursday evening which is clearly explained by the following direct translation from Google: “The end of the world untrustworthy the cult crap possession evil intentions; cheated cheated join the church, once into sets of Woe accompanying; Almighty God is a cult, people misuse the doomsday scrambling; Science polish up my eyes, cults, ghosts escape invisible! Shanghai Anti-Cult Association

Meanwhile, on my UK mobile, t-Mobile* sent me a “Welcome to Uganda” text-message on Wednesday night.  Felt to me like I was in a bar, playing pool with JB, but apparently I was elsewhere.

So Happy Christmas to one and all.  Back in the New Year…

*or whatever they’re currently called.