May 6th: Shanghai Spring

After two weeks away, we arrive back in Shanghai to discover spring has most definitely arrived.  The trees once more appear fully dressed, the temperature is consistently above 20 degrees and the outdoor “free flow, all you can eat” Sunday brunches/lunches have re-appeared.  This has an inevitable, detrimental effect on weight.

After Friday night’s necessary curry with Rachel and Andrea (two weeks is the longest I can remember going without one), we met up with Anny and Linda plus families for a little Hunan cuisine on Saturday lunchtime.  Great to see them all, but possibly the last time we’ll meet Linda’s family and Frank.

The ostensibly healthy benefit of spring is that we can get back out and about, walking our way through Shanghai’s infinite collection of tower blocks, shopping malls and Family Marts.  Sadly, about 20 minutes into the stroll on Saturday afternoon with Bron and Rachel, all three of us were coughing away.  Clean Philippine skies replaced with Shanghai air; a shock to the lungs.  We gave up, and took a taxi* to our destination.

Rachel, me, Chong, Isaac, Bron and Ben at Commune Social

Rachel, me, Chong, Isaac, Bron and Ben at Commune Social

What Commune Social lacks in table space (2 hours to wait for a table!), it made up for with bizarre cocktails.  Mine came with dice (showing 7, since you ask) and Bronwen’s came with a note (blank – they hadn’t yet hired the marketing company to fill them in).  Very pricey tapas made for a very expensive Saturday night out, but great to see Isaac and Chong again, and to finally meet Rachel’s “special friend of the boy variety”: Ben.

Bron and Rachel post-buffet

Bron and Rachel post-buffet

Bron, me and Rachel at the Andaz Hotel.  All you can eat buffet... Plus a little more...

Bron, me and Rachel at the Andaz Hotel. All you can eat buffet… Plus a little more…

On Sunday afternoon, Bron, Rachel and I didn’t so much put the world to rights as slowly dissect it and reclaim it as our own.  The staff at the Andaz hotel were gracious and patient hosts to our attempt to take absolute, full value from their “free flow, all you can eat” offer.  We sloped away around 6pm, heading straight for Rachel’s favourite massage place.  We suspect it’s the elasticated shorts the guests are asked to wear that she’s addicted to.  Damn sexy.

The other photos below were taken before our trip to the Philippines – a great night out with a few of Bron’s former marketing team, taking in Sailor’s and The Handle Bar for probably the last time.  And a good opportunity to try out the relocated Blarney Stone for a little taste of Guinness in Shanghai.

*Indeed: we gave up walking due to pollution, so we instead add to the pollution.

Bron, Lucia, Nancy and Valentina in the Handle Bar

Bron, Lucia, Nancy and Valentina in the Handle Bar

Lucia, Nancy, Valentina, me and Bron in Sailors

Lucia, Nancy, Valentina, me and Bron in Sailors

Lucia, Nancy and Bron in the relocated Blarney Stone

Lucia, Nancy and Bron in the relocated Blarney Stone

February 24th: Going, going…

One man can only leave so many times…

Mr John Burgess, advocate of Guinness and of pool bars everywhere in Shanghai, will shortly be gone, leaving behind him a weeping trail of trading department ladies (and men).  And leaving following the highest number of leaving dos of anyone I’ve ever met.

Bron sings "Superstar"... again...

Bron sings “Superstar”… again…

Wednesday night featured JB leaving do number 87, back in Masse (favourite bar in Shanghai) for a last Wednesday night drubbing at pool (with me the recipient).  On Friday we ventured into a KTV bar for another leaving do with most of the trading team and a few others, featuring such quality karaoke songs as Lionel Richie’s “Hello”.  And, of course, “Pretty Boy”.  The night ended in a small bar called the Wooden Box where Bron and I met Rachel around 1am (after French folk band people had finally given up with their extended Corsa advert).

Rob, Tim, me, Bron and Sarah saying another goodbye to JB

Rob, Tim, me, Bron and Sarah saying another goodbye to JB

Saturday night’s leaving do was in Mr Willis, a fairly posh restaurant (for me, that is, since I ended up wearing a shirt), also joined by the Bradfords and Jo.   This following JB’s last ever trip to Masse for an afternoon of pool and goodbyes to the staff there (in a Cheers sort of way, we can now enter the bar and have a pint poured without asking for it).

Tonight (Sunday) we’re going back out with most of the Argos UK team to say goodbye to both Richard and JB, since Richard also leaves China for good in a couple of weeks.  This is probably (hopefully) JB’s last leaving do, but he doesn’t fly until about 1pm tomorrow so there’s always time.

Today is “Chinese Lantern Day”, marking the end of the Chinese New Year festival (the 15th day of the first lunar month of the Chinese year).  Fireworks are currently going off everywhere – hopefully we’ll see some and not be hit by any on the way to the restaurant.

Chong – sorry to do this to you, but this was one of my favourite text conversations from the last few months (from Friday):

  • “Do you and Bronwen fancy playing badminton on Sunday morning?”
  • “Possibly, but we’re not very fit”
  • “Neither are we so it should be OK”

Shortly followed by:

  • “Do you and Bronwen have bats?”
  • “Good point – no we don’t”
  • “Neither do we.  Should we just go for brunch instead”.

So we met Chong and Isaac for brunch instead early this morning – far better.

Meanwhile, “The band” (we don’t have a name yet) has now reached four members, following the introduction of a bass player and the second visit from a drummer.  8 songs nearly complete, and a couple more on the way…  3 hours of playing guitar this afternoon means my hands are pretty well destroyed but I could get used to this.

So John’s gone… Richard’s gone… Maybe another update on the blog tomorrow…

JB says goodbye to Masse,,,

JB says goodbye to Masse,,,

A tram, in Shanghai.  Not really.

A tram, in Shanghai. Not really.

February 2nd: Hunan, Yunnan, Vietnamese, French. And a pie.

Change is afoot.  After a year in Shanghai, Richard and JB will shortly be returning to the UK, leaving a significant dent in the UK Argos team, and a pool-playing, Guinness-drinking shaped dent in our social life*.  After a stupidly large lunch with Jo, we spent most of Saturday saying the first of many goodbyes to Richard and JB by playing pool in our favourite local bar (Masse) , accompanied by Shawn.  A couple of our local friends, Isaac and Chong also made an appearance to increase the numbers for a far less hectic Saturday than we’ve had in a while.

Me, Bron and JB in Kartel

Me, Bron and JB in Kartel

5 hours playing pool – Bron even had enough time to abandon us for some kind of nail trimming/painting adventure before returning to drag JB and  I off for dinner with Jo, Rachel, Emily and Julia in a local French restaurant.  La Saleya was one of the first restaurants we visited after moving here back in April, so good to finally go back.  Shanghai’s 24-hour attitude to socialising was neatly demonstrated by agreeing to meet up with Craig later that evening.  I say evening; we met him for a few cocktails at 12.30am.

A guitar day again on Sunday with Felix, this time to audition a potential new drummer (James).  I was intrigued as to what equipment the drummer would turn up at our house with –  fortunately a box of electronic tricks, and no giant drum set.

Friday night had a distinctly British feel to it, both from the company (the Argos expat team) and the entertainment: three British comedians.  Followed by Elousie’s genius suggestion of ordering a pie at 10.30pm at night.

Bees, Beef Jerky and "Malt Chips".  An obvious combination.

Bees, Beef Jerky and “Malt Chips”. An obvious combination.

Tuesday’s catch-up with Isaac, Chong, Marcel and Hannah took us back to Southern Barbarian for more bees and other Yunnan delicacies.  This time, the bees definitely looked a little more bee-like.  A shame that Marcel and Hannah are merely passing through Shanghai, leaving later this year to continue their MBA course in other countries.

On Wednesday evening, Shawn took Richard, JB and I to one of his favourite Hunan restaurants for one of JB’s many such leaving events.  Hunan food is the other, lesser-known spicy Chinese cuisine – for some reason Sichuan food is popular in the UK but before moving here I’d never heard of Hunan.  Excellent food, as always.

I spent Thursday night fighting with electronic equipment which was obstinately refusing to work.  Not as much of a fight as Bronwen had with the hairdressers though.  7.30pm she entered the hairdressers.  11.30pm she exited.  And to think I’d ordered a delicious Vietnamese meal for us at 9pm thinking “She’ll be back soon”.

After so much travel over the last couple of months, spending two consecutive weekends in Shanghai felt a little wasteful.  But I think we probably needed the break.

*I’m not sure if that makes sense either.

Definitely more bee-like.

Definitely more bee-like.

April 15th: A weekend of sport. And Guinness.

So I was right – it turns out the small creatures are American cockroaches, not Chinese.  The pest control officers visited on Friday and Saturday in an attempt to eliminate the little blighters.  Apparently it could take up to a week…

In other domestic news we now have an air purifier for the bedroom and some huge water bottles (18.9 litres) in an attempt to avoid carrying 5 litre bottles home from the shops.  We were supposed to also get a dispenser for the huge water bottles.  It kind of helps.  Maybe next Saturday.

As for the weekend itself – Friday night was a bit of a late one, and an expensive one (£6.50 for a pint of Guinness):  a visit to an Irish Bar called “Blarney Stone” with Bronwen and John Burgess.  And several drunk but very friendly Irish people.  “Do you mind if I have a smoke with you?”, was Noreen’s introduction, perhaps a little odd since only John smokes.  Anyway, a very affable Noreen then introduced us to various members of her family, group of friends and not sure who else.  Nice to see Paul, the landlord, enjoying the benefits of owning a bar, by staggering slowly through the pub and ending up slumped onstage behind the resident band.  A top night though – will have to go back at some point.

Big Bamboo on “Foreign Street” was the venue for Saturday night, picked primarily as we knew it would be showing the Liverpool v Everton FA Cup Semi-Final (complete with commentary after a little badgering of the staff).  Always good to be in the company of fellow Liverpool supporters – Tim and Haydn – although I don’t think Ryan, John or Elouise would have been too upset if we’d have lost.  But we didn’t!  A last minute header means another trip to a “sports bar” on May 5th.

And today… As delighted as we were to attend, and as appreciative of the opportunity as we were, can I just say Formula 1 probably makes more sense on the TV and leave it at that?

Paul & Bron at Grand Prix Shanghai 2012