When 2014 became 2015, we were in London. When 2013 became 2014, we were in London at Liverpool Street. When 2012 became 2013, we were in Seoul. And in 2011, I was in Colorado. Shanghai’s New Years was somehow just as subdued as in my hometown of a puny 20,000 people. Somehow, 25 million in perhaps the biggest city on Earth didn’t party hard to bring in 2016.
All the big events around the city were cancelled due to the deadly crush at the Bund last year. No light show. No fireworks shows. No gathering on E. Nanking Road. Universities also cancelled their parties. Shanghai joined the surprisingly thick ranks of major world cities which cancelled New Years, including Bruxelles and Munich. Paris toned it down somewhat in the face of continued threats.
I got off work at 19:45 and walked up to get the 732 down to Minhang, our home in Shanghai. Xujiahui was busy, and there were police cars stationed in front of the Uniqlo store and the plaza. The street kitties were already out in force, perhaps sensing that people would be giving them extra treats tonight.
A low rumble and the characteristic ear-rippingly high pitched horn of a truck rolled over the crowd at the bus stop, and a major military truck went zooming by. Empty. Apparently it had dropped off it’s contingent already. This was the only major security I saw all night.
Nearly 20 minutes later the damn bus finally showed up. It took a further 35 minutes to get down to my husband’s school. 9pm by the time we started waiting for the second bus.
On the 764 we flew past industrial supply shops in their thousands. Huge amounts of the construction material that China uses to make this city into its 21st century form must come through those stalls. A few more twists and turns, and poof! Writing in Hangul appeared on the buildings and we were in Koreatown.
Our festivities consisted of Korean barbecue on the third floor of a building, with one free meat won on the lucky wheel. Thin, marinated beef slices. With a little beer and soju, too.
Then, to a bar that is simply called Carlsberg. To have a Carlsberg, of course.
Carlsberg bar is a real bar. It kind of feels like you are in the 1990s, back when people could smoke indoors and you wake up after a night out with a full pack of second hand in your lungs. Remarkably similar to any day waking up with China Lung in Shanghai during the winter, which usually involves coughing and hacking for about ten minutes upon getting up to use the toilet.
In Carlsberg, there are stickers with old logos of US products all over the walls. It makes you feel a little a home, but also like it couldn’t possibly be home. Someone was sick in the sink of the ladies’ toilet early on. I was actually nostalgic about the colour of the puke…Korean Kimchi Pink. Hadn’t seen that in a long while
We wanted a tequila for ringing in the new year, but our friend C had gotten a little too loose lipped about his intentions to walk out with a glass pitcher (empty, but a prize nonetheless). The pitcher was exactly the kind that I used to fill with sugary ‘jugo’ for the table noon and night in Patagonia.
The bartender totally spoke English. He moved the pitcher subtly out of reach and served us sweet Vermouth on the rocks instead of tequila. A sly move, and one that allows everyone to save face. He still served us. C was definitely in a state where he swore up and down it was actually Jose Cuervo. Maybe there was a splash for taste, but I doubt it. I will have to remember that trick for when I go back to bartending in the future.
Then it was 00:00 on my Nokia Brick.
“Happy New Year!!”
We clinked the glasses of watered down Vermouth and about halfway through drinking mine I realised that our voices had echoed weirdly in the bar. It was oddly quiet. No countdown. No cheer. Nothing to indicate the new year on tv. No fireworks, despite fireworks being a big part of our time in Shanghai so far.
It seemed for those in that Korean bar in Shanghai, it was just another hard drinking Thursday. Hardly anyone seemed to notice as 2015 faded away and became the past, another country.