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.

October 28th: Only Lightly Polluted

This week Shanghai experienced its most polluted day in about six months.  Fortunately, we have the US Consulate and the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection keeping an eye on the smog for us.  The US Consulate’s figures were accompanied by a health warning of “hazardous” (get indoors now; don’t breathe for a few days).  The Chinese State’s assessment was somewhat different, describing it as merely “lightly polluted” (reduce outdoor exercise).  The discrepancy is easily explained away by the local government, accusing the US Consulate of measuring different particles sizes.  Not being an expert here, I much prefer the benign sounding “lightly polluted”.  I’m interpreting it in the same way a packet of crisps could be “lightly salted” – Ok in small doses but too much may cause your lungs too collapse.

A multi-cultural week food wise for me and Bron.  An Indian take-away on Wednesday night with Rachel and Andrea, taking advantage of another essential of life in Shanghai: the home delivery service form Sherpas (£1.50 delivery charge from any restaurant within about 5 miles of where we live.  Any restaurant but usually one selling curry.  And yes I know we should be cooking having brought an Indian shop’s worth of spices with us.)

Back to Sailor’s on Thursday night for fish & chips (counting this as English food) to celebrate JB’s last night in Shanghai (for a whole week).  Sailor’s is on Yongkang Lu, an arty sort of street full of tiny restaurants and bars, loads of Westerners and many disgruntled local residents.  A few complaints (understandable) from those that live above the restaurants saw the arrival of the police shortly after 10pm to usher everyone indoors.

Friday night’s Chinese meal was a buffet-style affair inside another KTV (karaoke) warehouse as Tim took the IS and IT teams out for three hours of singing/wailing.  An elaborate computer system, entirely in Chinese,  allows visitors to select songs from a list and add them to a queue.  Having been a few times, I’ve memorised the right sequence of buttons to take me straight to Radiohead’s “High & Dry” (no Smiths, Cure or Aphex Twin sadly; but they did have a bizarre easy-listening version of Muse’s “Plug in Baby”).  Songs are added to a queue to give everyone a go, but mysteriously my and Tim’s songs kept getting bumped to the top….

Austrian night

Nicole, Jo, Bron and Chong at Austrian night

Bron avoided the ear assault by going out for an Italian instead, so Tim and I joined her later on in Kaiba, a Belgium Beer bar that features a huge selection of beers from around the world (including London Pride).  Ostensibly the launch night (even though we’d been there about a month ago), the police were again in attendance to usher people off the street and back into the bar.

Saturday night was Austrian night, courtesy of Juliane (the only Austrian we know).  The Hyatt hotel on the North Bund apparently has an Austrian chef and manager, so why not… Juliane and Nicole fully dressed in dirndl’s, putting the rest of us to shame.  I’m not sure I’ve experienced Austrian food or drink before, but the plum schnaps, beef stew and apple strudel did the job nicely.  I also don’t know any Austrian songs apparently; even the standing up and sitting down again song got the better of me.

Paradise and Hell Bar

A bar run by a cat.

We ended the night with Juliane and Bruce in the Paradise side of a bar called “Paradise and Hell”.  One side was kind of white, the other a tiny bit red.  Having never been to Paradise before, I now know it features a very comfortable cat that appears to manage bars, overseeing as it did the behaviour of its patrons and the delivery of new beer.

I’m writing this early on Sunday morning; knackered thanks to the workman who rang our doorbell repeatedly at 7.20 this morning.  Wrong house.  Thanks.

Austrian night

(Apologies for dodgy quality): Isaac, me, Bruce, Juliane, Nicole, Jo, Bron and Chong at Austrian night

A big brass instrument

Isaac and Juliane with the Austrian musicians

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.