Rear Of The Year

So I just thought I would slip in this in before I miss my self imposed ‘at least one post a month’ rule. So hows life in Shanghai? It’s very good thanks for asking. I had one further weekend alone (I had to work the Saturday natch) before flying back to the mother land and collecting my wife to bring home. Again. I left early Saturday morning from Pudong’s very nice but dull airport (think HK airport without any shops) and flew to into Hong Kong for the transfer. I flew Cathay which was great as they have very good in flight entertainment which I managed to glimpse between bouts of Days of Ruin. I watched the first ever episode of The Good Life which was quite interesting as it was basically setting the whole premise of the series up – man (Richard Briers) rejects his current life as he cannot take it seriously and his wife (Felicity Kendal aka Rear Of The Year 1981) joins the revolution in middle England against the wishes of the neighbours. All very jolly but the basic premise I could empathise with. Instead of wearing a woolly jumper and growing carrots I just moved out of the country and threw myself into an alien environment – perhaps one of the most different environments you could wish to live in if you are a Westerner. Another thing that struck me was how much things had changed in the UK in the forty or so years since the program was first aired. All very innocent and somehow less dangerous and cynical than now. People were not consumed with, er, consumption or celebrity culture and bitterness and things seemed to have more substance. We landed at midnight and I slept as the driver took me back to the house.

Thailand seemed sad this time around. I can detect misery under the smiles and its a Thailand I have not really known. Military coups and rising prices hang ominously in the air and it rained like I have never known before. I spent some time in my favourite Bangkok haunts but mostly at home hiding from the rain. We had a death in the family which was also very bad. The fulcrum of the extended family passed away and it was noted by not only us all but every single member of the Thai monachy who also sent flowers. As per Thai tradition the body is kept at home and there will be the cremation 100 days after the death which again, will be dictated by the Royal Family. It was a huge although not unexpected surprise when they died and I will miss him deeply. He was a very powerful guy but with it was much modesty and a willingness not to abuse power but rather to use it for good and he never judged me on my own humble background but rather what was presented to his face. An amazing person and may he RIP.

The end of the week we flew back to Shanghai with my nervous wife and son as she wondered what horrors awaited her. She had only been to Wuhan before and at that time neither of us knew what to expect and I could speak not a word of Chinese. It was a bad first impression of China and one that had obviously not left my wife. I had arranged a driver to pick us up and collect us from the airport and drive us all to our new home which although had the potential to go the way of the pear (I had to do it all in Chinese) actually turned out fine. My wife was dubious as we drove through Pudong to our apartment but was much relieved when she saw how great it was compared to our HK hovel we had left weeks before. Everything was in order and my son also seemed OK with his new pad. We all took a week or so to get into the routine of it all but so far so good and my wife is far happier here than in Hong Kong. Me? Well yes, I am far happier here. I am sorry to say that I don’t miss Hong Kong for a second. I want to, I really do, but not once has a pang of sadness entered my mind unlike how I felt about London after moving to HK. I miss my mates in HK for sure but the rest means nothing to me. If HK was more like Sheung Wan and Soho then maybe but really its now becoming like Central which is really banal. I miss little things occasionally (the convenience, the football coverage, the bars and, er, my mates) but thats it. What I have lost in HK I have gained ten fold in Shanghai and I get an energy from China that I never had in HK. Firstly I love the city of Shanghai. I love its dirt, its old buildings, its uniqueness, it’s Chinese-ness. Its Chaos. It is madness here but it is exciting. Vibarnt. Many expats consider living in Hong Kong as east meets west. Its not. OK, on business terms maybe (as I found out) but the rest of it? The urban fabric? The lifestyle? No, not really. Sorry. Anyway I am ahead of myself.

The following weekend we all caught a cab to the French Concession. It was a lovely day wandering the streets of the old town – I felt history and the tree lined avenues in the hot summer haze created a kind of magical ambiance. We visited a park where old people played chess, we looked in all kinds of shops where everything was hand made and cheap. We met all kinds of people along our route who were nothing less than friendly and helpful even though most of the time I didn’t understand what they were saying. Its like a time warp here but in a good way. Shanghai now is how I imagine the UK must have been like 40 years ago (if the UK was full of Chinese people). The Good Life.

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