Dont worry I will be sure to post a large amount of luxuriously decadent pics along the way 😉
From STM, may you have a massive New Year, one that you feel well into 2013 and may 2013 be the year that you create, conquor, love, be loved, exist, have fun, meet friends, gain trust, build, laugh, cry, sing, drink, eat, and all round make it a year of epic proportions!
So if you are a Laowai in Shanghai over Christmas there are two options for you. Either you return to the western country you came from, or you spend Xmas freezing and relatively alone. Fortunately every restaurant knows that it needs to fatten up the westerners lest they get homesick, so there is a serious amount of culinary excellence going on everywhere over this period!
I decided to return to an ‘old’ favorite for Xmas eve, Ecole Restaurant Ecole Paul Bocuse and their tasting menus!
So being the first Xmas since moving to China I was quite interested to see what the hell actually goes on here. In SA everyone slowly slips into a warm holiday coma and no one dares to email each other until well into the New Year. There are however, few decorations, a large number of family gatherings and general all round merriment and drinking. I was eager to find out if I could expect the same!
China is, needless to say, a little different . . .
Firstly it is freezing (given that it’s the northern hemisphere that’s not a massive surprise really). Secondly there is a rather large expat population in Shanghai so there are an abundance of Xmas parties, brunches, lunches, dinners, events and markets. You would swear you were in a small German town somewhere by the amount of Bratwurst & Gluwein available around the city this time of year.
There are a good few gift, food and booze markets happening around the city (for some reason, I have no idea why, they are all German themed)
Thirdly every single major brand goes mental over Xmas. They have decorations for every piece of their stores, massive trees outside and everything you would expect to find in Paris during Xmas time.
Every building has a tree, presumably that’s cause every apartment building I’ve been into is full of Laowai, but never the less, our building even has a lift to put the star on the top (and gives everyone a very cute Santa filled with Xmas sweets!)
Then there are the abundance of Xmas parties which include proper carol singing, a first entirely for me, large amounts of alcohol, certainly not a first for me and just the same warm friend and family time as home – with a few homemade DIY Strawberry Santa’s!
Lastly what makes this so entirely bizarre is that the Chinese really do not know its Xmas at all. I mean they know that it’s happening but they have no idea what it’s about, what the point is and what you are supposed to do. My company does not stop, not on Xmas day, not on Boxing Day, not for a second. Why would it, it’s just another day here, yet the streets are lined with lights and trees, the consumers are buying like westerners shopping for presents. Yet when asked why they like Xmas so much, they say they are not sure they just like festivals – can’t argue with that logic.
All in all it’s a very strange time of year. On one hand I’ve never seen so many decorations, so much festivity and on the other its like it doesn’t even exist to 99.9% of the people but yet they still seem to want the pretty lights and festivity. All in all it really is a beautiful time to be in Shanghai!
So I don’t profess to be a dancer, know anything about dance, understand the moves or in fact get how any person can move their body in time to the music as well as these people do, but maybe it’s just cause I’m white?
Now I know this article is a little late, but I suppose you could think of it being very early for the new season, and if you are only hearing about it for the first time you are about 9 seasons too late!
Now I know very season they have to bring a new ‘thing’ into it, a better, soppier story, a tighter race, more drama, it is a reality show after all, but this season there was a guy called Cyrus who was an animator?! If you’re first thought is WTF, then you would be in the same place I was a few months ago.
Here’s a taste . . .
In all seriousness, like I said in the beginning, I’m no dance expert but sometimes there are things in the world that are movingly beautiful and I find more of them on this show than I have on pretty any other much. The combination of magical choreography with perfect dance execution, judges that aren’t narcissistic self-righteous assholes (Gareth Cliff take note) and a host who is fun, smart and seriously hot, plus the best variety and quality of music around, all of this has got to add up to something outstanding . . . and it does.
If however you are not sold on the artistic and creative genius of this show then perhaps the allure of half-naked women with outrageously good bodies dancing is a better sales pitch? That, they have in magical abundance too!
So as if I thought Beijing and Tianjin were not cold enough, I decided, well I was told rather, to head to Moscow for a bit of business. Ordinarily one would assume there would be some time to acclimate to the impossible to inhabit temperatures however the travelling time to and from Moscow all in (35 hours) was more than half of the time actually spent in Moscow (60 hours) so not exactly a lot of time to mess about getting used to the weather!
So what did I learn from this excursion (outside of the productive work that is)?
When you live in a city, like Shanghai, that is completely foreign to you in every way you start to develop an understanding of things without being able to read pretty much anything. This does help you in a city where the signs look like they have come straight out of an Asterix & Obelix cartoon!
Moscow is beautiful, not when its grey, freezing and gloomy, but when the sun is shining (It only comes up at 10am) it really is a great city by day. The buildings have heritage and grace, the scenery is really magnificent for a big city and even the underground stations are based in the most glorious historical stories. The subway trains on the other hand look just like what I’d imagine Soviet Russia to be like!
There is seems to be such strength in the pride of the country and for the history that everything seems to have meaning and a purpose . . .
By night the city comes alive. It is, in the right locations, a world filled with Cristal champagne in every corner. Models, well they pretty much all look like models, on every arm and everything you would expect a cosmopolitan nouveau riche city to be!
When in Rome . . . you drink VODKA and when you see a giant Faberge egg being sold for the sole purpose of drinking like some kind of Siberian Prince you realize how serious these people are about two things – being exceedingly wealthy and drinking! Fortunately I was prepared mentally and physically for the latter!
There is a fair amount of arbitrary things, this too you seem to get used to living in China, but there were a few prize things that stood out like this tiny glass sculpture in my hotel room of a fat squirrel, rat or whatever type of rodent randomly perched against a mirror . . .
Then a trip to the supermarket gave these two beauties, yes, that is Strawberry toilet paper!
Finally, and without doubt most importantly, DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT lose your passports five hours before your plane is going to take you home. This creates an epic F%$# UP for you and everyone around you. No, I am not this stupid, my brother however, decided it was too easy to do things normally and so he let a fair whack of cash and both his passports get stolen, okay he didn’t let it happen but when you dress like a Russian oligarch and carry TUMI everything you are bound to be a target!
If this does happen – here is the checklist of SH1T you will have to go through to travel out of the country!
Go to the SA embassy
Fill out a massive amount of paperwork
Get finger printed by a South Africa (who takes your left hand twice by mistake)
Travel in numerous cars of random strangers (in Moscow you can hail a normal private citizens car down, offer them some money and they will take you wherever you want – this is common practice in getting around the city because the taxis are so corrupt?!)
Go to a police station and explain the situation to get a police report filed
Fill out much more paperwork
Get ID photos taken by a guy who thinks he shoots the Playboy swimwear edition!
Fill out some more paperwork
Wait for South Africa to confirm you are actually who you are (waiting for SA could take until summer)
There are a few more steps from here but fortunately I didn’t lose all of my crap so I left Russia, barely making my plane but for a mad dash from the train. All in all I learnt that if the wine and vodka are flowing not much can upset you! Also you will get to the airport with just enough time to have a smoke, in the bizarre cordoned off smoking section next to the gate and slump into your chair with a glass of Roederer champagne to ease you off to sleep!
That ladies and gentlemen was 60 hours in Moscow, not for the faint hearted!
So what did I learn on my trip then, all of 48 hours of it? Well, actually I was in Beijing for the launch of Brandz China Top 50 brands for WPP. If you want to know which companies most of the people in the world currently work for or will work for in the future is a brilliant thing to have a look at!
Plus if you do you get to meet people like this (the name people, the name!)
Now BJ, as it’s so brilliantly shortened to, is getting cold about now. I mean around the freezing mark and it’s still about two months away from the worst winter has to offer.
Then you take the train to Tianjin . . .
Tianjin is a ‘smallish Chinese city’ of roughly 10 million people, one of about 20 or 30 in the country and so it’s nothing special really and in fact for the time I was there you couldn’t really tell the roads from the buildings from the sky which makes it even more of a treat! I’m probably being unfair to the place, I mean it does have a Ferris wheel, that’s gotta count for something, no?
Now because my job is based around retail I generally get to have a look around stores and malls wherever I am. This is a lot less glamorous than you would think but in China it certainly has its perks. The range of things you see from fully clothed pets (incl shoes and hats) to people smoking in the fresh produce section (TO THE FRESH PRODUCE SECTION ITSELF as my fellow STM partner says ‘most of that shit you would find in a pet store’) to beautiful things like this!
Now sometimes I travel on my own budget which means I like to enjoy where I stay as much as is humanly possible so this results in villas mostly. Then there are times I stay on the companies budget which means run of the mill Hilton, Hyatt etc, good hotels but pretty much standard rooms and then, there are sadly times when my clients prescribe the budget and I stay in some very average, sometimes frightening inn-sorta-places. Now in China this really can be surprisingly pleasant or horribly un-so, this trip was the latter. You know that it’s not going to be a good night when you find an Armageddon mask in the bedside table (and when the bedside table is bolted down for that matter).
Finally the airport on the way out was the best part of this specific Chinese outing. Normally the smoking lounges in china are tiny, old and filled with a thousand small men all trying to, simultaneously, get cancer and give it to each other, so you can imagine what I expected in a ‘small city’ airport. To my magnificent surprise I found the last place on earth that still respects the smoker! A massive room with about 30 massage chairs for the general public to wonder in, have a smoke and sort out their lower back issues!
The best part of the trip however, and this is why I love travelling in China so much, was the massive gargantuan unbelievable amount of arbitrary that the Chinese often indulge in! As I was walking to my gate I saw a line of about 50 people, assuming this was my boarding gate I walked up to the queue only to realize these people were waiting in line to get their photo taken, by a professional no less, in front of a giant picture of an Airbus A380.
Sometimes words actually fail me.
The moral of the story is every trip I gain a tiny insight into the Chinese way of thinking, culture and countryside. It is in all seriousness a true privilege and one of the big reasons I moved here!
The exploration continues, but first off to Moscow!
My brothers and I are very close, and now that we live in three very separate parts of the world it makes seeing each other rather difficult, so when our diaries do somehow overlap it’s cause to celebrate (even if it is for only 30hrs) and what better place to do that than Bangkok!
Now having seen The Hangover II, the dangers of three grown men running wild in the streets of Bangkok are clearly apparent, but who says common sense was part of the weekends proceedings?
Here’s what I learnt!
1. If you arrive at your hotel at midnight on a Friday night and have to leave Sunday morning you are asking for trouble. If you cannot avoid it then make sure you have a private TUK TUK for the duration and some Chang Quarts ready, cold and waiting (fortunately my one brother is very focused and prepared for things like this! He has seen man a tour of this nature!) – this is our fearless driver, Ten (yes his name was Ten)
2. In a whirlwind tour like this you need to get absorbed early on. A bucket, a Phad Thai on the street and a box of Marlboros on the Khao San road will do this for you . . .
3. Somehow over the last little while I have forgotten what it’s like to be in a really good club. I also have seemed to have forgotten what it’s like waking up with stamps on your arms and not remembering where the hell they came from!
4. If you are going to wake up extraordinarily hangover, do it in a place like the Mandarin Oriental. First of all the luxury does add a little padding to the pain you will feel and secondly it’s easier to go down for something to eat when there is a string quartet playing in the lobby.
5. As soon as your body is strong enough, head down the river (DO NOT TAKE THE PUBLIC FERRY – YOU WILL HURL!). There is something about a little bit of chaos, dirt and general decay that reminds me of Africa as a whole and allows you to channel the inner warrior for recovery! Eat something overlooking the water (hot is good) and have a beer, no matter how hard it is!
6. When you are in a private boat, do not get ripped off like a tourist and if it starts to rain, you are F%$#@! Subsequent to this point, if it starts to rain and you find one umbrella for three people, its every man for himself (I almost got pushed out of the boat over this)
7. Anticipate the above and have more than one pair of jeans for the trip (I did, but I was alone – hotel dri-cleaning takes time you do not have). If you are at the Mandarin Oriental, take their shuttle boat across the river to the spa. Get a massage (note to self – DO NOT GO FOR A RUN) then steam, sauna and climb into the tiny bubble jet pool and fully re-focus for next night!
8. Have a drink at the edge of the river at the hotel bar (DO NOT WEAR SHORTS EVEN THOUGH ITS A BIJJILLION DEGREEs). Watch the sun go down, have a Corona with lime. Change your dinner reservation 12 times with Quintessentially, the hotel concierge and the various restaurants themselves (you don’t have to do this really but for some reason my family seems to think its imperative!).
10. If sufficiently drunk move onto the Soi Cowboy (this is the road they party on / lose their shit on in Hangover II – I can see how easily it can happen). The shortest, brightest, dodgiest, craziest road in Bangkok. There’s only one thing to do here, survive!
11. If you are still alive the next morning, have a walk, have something to eat and make sure you fly back business class, anything else at this point may put your body over the edge.
Leave before Bangkok gets you and make a clean break. Make sure all the brothers are still alive (well alive enough) before you leave.