Saturday 30 December 2017

Christmas in Shanghai

Christmas morning is not greeted by a choir of heavenly angels but by the excruciating whine of an angle grinder being enthusiastically operated by a labourer outside my hotel window at 7am. Welcome to Christmas in Shanghai.

If, like me, you dream of avoiding Christmas every year, then China is the place for you. The religious festival that justifies a three-month febrile commercial circus in Europe does not even merit a public holiday on the Mainland. Almost any international hotel anywhere else in Asia will try to include a compulsory and overpriced Christmas gala dinner and so maintain the tradition of ripping off their guests during the season of goodwill to all men. Not in China though.

Don’t think for a moment you might escape the Christian festivities in Buddhist Thailand and Myanmar or Muslim Malaysia or Indonesia. Not a chance. I once travelled for several hours in a bumpy speedboat to a remote island, off the coast of Cambodia, to escape Christmas, only to be greeted by a member of the hotel staff in swimming shorts and a Santa hat.

“Are you here for merry Christmas or merry Christmas and happy new years,” the man inquired earnestly looking for my name on a list on his clipboard.

China is the place to be at Christmas if you don’t appreciate the tackiest extremes of Christmas fare being rammed down your throat 24 hours per day and Shanghai is perfect.

Apart from the over-enthusiasm for power tools in the early morning, this vibrant, young, switched on commercial metropolis gets Christmas just about right with a suitable smattering of festive glitter, cold clear days, amazing food and some great bars to drink to forget the festive season.

The quirky Muller hotel located in the former French concession, once owned by a European business man who wished to indulge his daughters’ passion for fairy tales by building a home that resembles a 1930s version of Disney’s magic castle, gets it spot on. Of course, there are the obligatory cheesy Christmas decorations and jingle bells is on a closed loop over breakfast but at least it’s better than Abba or Jonny Mathis and rest assured, few in China have heard of Cliff Richard.  And it’s a small price to pay for the fact that all the public attractions, museums and shops remain open over what is considered a holiday period almost everywhere else.

Wrap up warm and browse the boutiques situated along the tree-lined avenues of the French quarter, check out the residence of Soong Chi-ling, try the amazing soup dumplings, or walk the Bund before demolishing a few cocktails in the jazz bar at the Peace Hotel.

For the thinking person’s Christmas, choose China every time.