Sunday, 24 January 2010

One night in Shanghai

The second last evening I spent in Shanghai was probably the most active of the lot. Considering the fact that I was such a terrible tourist the whole time I was there (remember, not a single photo, though I did attempt to take a pic of a sign in the subway which said something along the lines of "Jumping into the tunnel is dangerous" with my phone, but the light was too poor), it was high time I made the most of it.

Ironically, I had traveled several thousand kilometers only to end up hanging out with a bunch of Russians. Because I was there on the week prior to Christmas, the Russian expat community was having a sort of party (known in Russian as кооператив, I think. cooperative, lit.), before they went their own ways to celebrate New Year with their respective families. It was held in a faux-German bierhaus, English speaking staff as required. The whole event was practically the least Chinese thing you could do in the city.

The set up involved buying a 300 RMB - or yuan, I would have preferred to have said yuan, but they all say RMB there (short for Renmenbi) - ticket at the door, which paid for the buffet, a few drink tokens, and lottery ticket. 300 RMB, by the way, is roughly 30 euro. The event was sponsored by various Russian companies, which was... well, also bizarre. Again, I came all the way from Moscow just to see people giving out Спортсмастер (Sportsmaster - think along the lines of JD Sports) clothing.

The food was great, especially considering I was famished at the time, and the beer was okay. After having drinking it over the previous couple of days, I had learnt that, yes, Tsingtao beer is the local piss.

[Incidentally, it's always friggin' hilarious in the UK with certain bars selling foreign, supposedly elite beers. Glasgow's Bierhalle Republic and a couple of other places on Ashton Lane in the West End sell Russian Baltika beer for ludicrous sums, whereas it's about a sixth of the price buying it from the street booths in Moscow. I mean, it's not terrible, but it's not as if the hops are handpicked by ivory-skinned virgins. The same goes for Tsingtao. Speaking of Glasgow, although Irn Bru is the number one soft drink in Scotland, there are more Irn Bru drinkers in Russia. Barr shrewdly carved themselves out a niche about a decade ago.]

So, a room full of Russian, drinks a-plenty, there's a lottery with a top prize of two Aeroflot tickets to Moscow - surely good times ahead. Yeah, well, were it not for the Master of Ceremonies, who was a small, thin dorky-looking fellow in glasses dressed up as Santa (or rather Дед Мороз Ded Moroz lit. Father Frost), the night would have been awesome. Instead, he had likely drawn the short straw and everyone else who set it up decided to entrust him with the microphone. What followed was a case of verbal diarrhea coupled with rabbit-in-the-headlights stammering. I had no problem with him chatting away, Russians like to make speeches at celebrations where drinking is involved (it's mandatory), but the speakers were turned up so goddamn loud that I couldn't really chat up any of the lovely Russian ladies my host had introduced me to.

The MC did shut up for about five minutes at one point - and I mean at just one point - but he broke things up between reading out lottery numbers by holding games with everyone. Typically, the audience was shy, apart from one Russian guy who got progessively more drunk off his ass as the evening went on (by leaving time I noticed he was slumped over his chair) and another guy in a nicely tailored Chinese suit. Props to them, because they kept things going, and at one point they made me choke on my drink during one ridiculous game.

It's kind of hard to describe, but basically the game was between two Russian teams, each with a mic. The challenge was to sing a particular well-known Russian song, except leaving out most of the consonants. The effect this generated was one of the straight-up funniest things I've seen in a while, as good as Klaus the Forklift Driver. For the two gentlemen, they didn't just sing it, they almost rocked out to it. I have no clue what the song was, some sort of dorky jingle, to which these two men bellowed (gripping the mic stand as if it were a mighty stead with their war faces on):


You can't really make this stuff up, and it's another reason why I lament not having a decent camera on my person. The two gentlemen were awarded with a bottle of cognac for their efforts, which they of course shared with the losing team, keeping in the spirit of things.

Sadly, lame-ass Santa hit the stage again, though not before having a large glass of cognac thrust down his throat by the two afore mentioned gentlemen. The lottery continued, and none of our numbers had been called either. Things were looking in our favour, seeing as there weren't many guests in attendance either.

Initial prizes were pretty good things like a bunch of iPod nanos (wouldn't have minded one of those), the sports clothing stuff, umm... I don't recall exactly what else, but they weren't naff like something you'd get at a community function at a church hall on a Saturday afternoon. And you'd think that something as big as two plane tickets as the top prize would mean that second and third would be pretty awesome.


I got second prize. Second prize was a fucking year-long magazine subscription to the expat rag by the organizers. Third prize was a proper iPod, or something fancy. If anything it was a slightly shameless bit of self-promotion on second-prize-giver's part, because when I went up onto the stage, Geek Moroz was replaced by the supposed editor in chief, who then spent the next five minutes waxxing lyrical about the publication while I stood there like a plonker. Glancing over at the people I was with confirmed this - their faces said "You look like a plonker".

The prize was also totally pointless, as I was leaving in about two days. Given that this guy had been talking on and on about the magazine, the rest of the audience had stopped listening, so by the time he handed the mic over to me to say a few words it was apparent that nobody would be interested in learning that an Irishman who can speak Russian was at their Shanghai party. But taking a note from the two men of the night, I shouted Всем Наступающим Новым Годом! (vsyem nas-too-pai-yoo-shim no-vym go-dom - lit. To all a happy oncoming New Year) which got a couple of yays from the crowd. That said, my host currently enjoys this subscription, I believe, though she's not made any mention of it to me since then. There were a couple of copies lying around at the venue, though leafing through them was nothing to write home about.

Santa departed, a local band began singing the latest hits of the west and a few old-timers (I've not heard Love Shack by the B-52s in a LOOOOOOOOONG time) and we grooved away til closing time with some locals. I distinctly remember a fat Chinese guy in glasses, shirt and tie, doing a rather toned down interpretation of the Running Man.

We then went on to a pretentious skyscraper nightclub called Mint to see a remarkably effective form of crowd control on the part of the bouncers through the use of green laser pens, drink ludicrously-overpriced bottles of water that may have just been filled from the tap, and watch many ladies (some of whom were at the Russian party) dance suggestively on a couple of podiums.

1 comment:

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