Shanghai – event destination extraordinaire or just a Chinese whisper?

I’ve just returned from a week in Shanghai. Let’s call it pleasure mixed with a touch of business. Decadence in Shanghai is what hits you between the eyes. It is reminiscent of the 1980s City heyday when stockbrokers and yuppies sported not only a pair of red braces, but a bottle of ‘Bolly’ in hand.

In today’s Shanghai, nightclubs serve magnums of Belvedere vodka and top-marque champagne in fluorescent buckets, for all to witness the generosity of the nouveaux riches. Porcelain skinned Shanghai girls are draped on the arms of the ‘most privileged.’ One nightclub’s centerpiece is a 20ft shark tank. (Why not? was presumably the answer to the question on everyone’s lips.) A skyscraper (mostly 5* luxury hotels) is being built at lightning speed on every street corner. The streets are not just scattered with, they are crammed with European luxury 4x4s. I even saw a platinum (yes platinum) Ferrari being delivered.

But literally just a couple of streets away from this full immersion into decadence there are communities living without hot water and light. Whole streets of residents share a communal outdoor kitchen. Telephone wires dangle precariously in outright objection to any kind of health & safety standards, and in the ex-pat Shanghai press, workers are reported dead almost every day on poorly managed unregulated building sites.

So the Shanghai the tourists see and the ex-pat lives is like a concubine ? immaculate, polished, cultured and immense fun to be with. But wipe off the make-up and you soon reach the inner turmoil. And such is the city’s hospitality. The top restaurants serve menus that make any European ex-pat feel comfortable (not a chicken foot in sight) but service still lacks that ‘je ne sais quoi’. Dishes arrive at different times, the correct cutlery is forgotten, the table you reserved on the 110th floor for the view is not available for another 45 minutes.

Shanghai is keen to promote itself as the latest event destination, from the exhibition venues such as the China Pavilion and Expo Centre to the nightclubs which make London look like its provincial poor relation.

But Shanghai needs to learn a valuable lesson from our industry. That beauty lies within. It’s not superficial.


image credit: edward he via unsplash