Oh, hang on! I omitted an important element from my blow-by-blow description of last Saturday (see below). After dinner in the Jingle Bells Water Torture restaurant, J and I wandered round the corner and found a bustling little night market – complete with a lengthy strip of street stalls selling all manner of interesting looking hot food, which ran the full gamut from mouth-watering to deeply disturbing. Vows were made to return for the full experience; when this eventually happens, I’ll write it up.
Christmas Day, then.
Opened K’s presents: a lovely Paul Smith tie, and – as tradition dictates – four shortlisted CDs from the forthcoming Radio 3 World Music Awards, only one of which I had heard of before. Felt a sudden lurch of intense homesickness. Resolved not to give into it.
Left J still asleep at 14:00, and caught the 81 bus back to the north shore of the lake, alighting a mile or so earlier this time. Beautiful warm sunny day, in stark contrast to the freezing cold week; within 30 minutes, I was down to shirtsleeves.
Crossed a bridge over to a large island, and walked along its shore, past brides and grooms posing for photos in the most delightfully cheesy manner: the grooms in white tuxes, gallantly kissing the outstretched hands of their Proper Little Princess brides. In front of them, photographers’ assistants crouched on the ground with reflective panels, shining light back onto the bridal veils in order to create translucent “dappled” effects.
Continued walking… past scores of small boats, offering rides around the lake for fairly paltry sums… and onto a long causeway, packed with Sunday afternoon strollers. Smartly dressed urban types; hicks from up country, standing out a mile in their ill-fitting “Sunday best”; and hundreds of pairs of slightly shy young lovers, the boyfriends forever snapping their girlfriends in the full approved range of stock pouts and poses.
Ended up near the massive Hyatt Hotel on the east shore, in the heart of the downtown district, where I merged into the crowd in front of The Most Massive And Gobsmacking Fountain Ever. Actually, “fountain” doesn’t do it justice – this was more of a kinetic water sculpture, with hundreds of jets spurting out, in constantly varying heights, in synchronisation to an amplified soundtrack of light classics and Chinese pop ballads. Yes, it was cheesy. Yes, it was wonderful.
Back to the flat, where J is still in bed after fourteen hours. Wake him up, so that we can get ourselves down to The Shamrock in time for Christmas dinner at 18:00. Family phonecalls in the taxi en route.
Dinner places are laid out on long trestle tables, down the full extent of the ground floor bar area. Nine of us from the company eat together: four Brit blokes, and five Chinese girlies from P and C’s team. It’s yer Full English: soup and rolls, mulled wine, and then we all form a queue for roast turkey with all the trimmings.
Shuffling my way forward in the long queue, I experience another sudden, violent lurch downwards. Everything here is perfectly lovely – as lovely as could be expected, if not lovelier – but I badly do NOT want to be here anymore. Ach, bloody Christmas; it messes with your head. Buggered if I’m going to let it show, though. Mask on, smile fixed, I proceed to Make The Best Of The Situation.
At the end of the meal, R gets some party games going; I volunteer, and find myself trying to tear a sheet of paper into the shape of a Christmas tree, while holding the paper behind my back. Hint: fold the paper in half first. But lengthways, not widthways, as I did – thus producing a rather nice, if irrelevant, Olde English oak tree.
The Chinese girlies are getting restless, and want to move on. There’s a strong lobby for the SOS nightclub, but it’s still too early. Others – headed by a stylish young miss with a yen for crooning her party piece, Seal’s “Kiss From A Rose” – want to go to a karaoke bar. Everyone looks to P the English team leader – but he’s, well, in an advanced state of lubrication. In the nicest possible way: he’s still great value, and the very soul of generosity, but possibly not best placed for strategic decision-making. As for me, I feel bad about slinking away from The Shamrock so early – but not for me to argue, best go with the flow, etc.
An increasingly bizarre, mystifying, random evening starts to unfold. Pure “Lost In Translation”, as we spill in and out of taxis, careering round the city in a mad sequence of long journeys, nobody quite certain of what’s going on, bright lights flashing past all the while, car parks, glittering lobbies, FULL signs, huddles, conferences, more taxi rides, bright lights, car parks, snow machines covering us in detergent foam, cash desks, money crises, mad taxi dashes to cashpoint machines, shoving coats in black plastic sacks…
…and somehow, an hour and a half later, we’re inside the SOS club, being handed plastic bags by an army of Santas, each bag containing a teeny-tiny orange “ringer tee”, as they call them over the pond, and Yet Another F***ing Santa Hat Yeah Thanks For Nothing You Must Be F***ing Kidding Pal.
The SOS is large, and glossy, and bewildering, and ruinously expensive, and uncomfortable in an angular way, and full of the haughty young rich, a-preening and a-posing in The Place To Be. The intention is possibly to re-create an Ibiza superclub, such as Pacha or Privilege. It’s sort-of successful; I hated those clubs ten years ago, and I hate this club now.
We try to sit at a table, but are informed that it will cost us 800 (around 55 quid, astronomic by Chinese prices) for the privilege. Bloody cheek. We’ll stand on the stairs in the main room instead, necking Bud Ices and enduring the crap R&B.
A couple of the girlies look completely fed up by now; heads bowed, coats on one arm, goodie bags in the other. A couple of the others are still making the best of the situation, bopping around with P the English team leader. It’s a sweet dynamic; he’s genially trashed, and they’re almost mothering him, waggling their figures, skittishly scolding, sharing the joke. P’s Angels. Ah, bless.
Suddenly, the vast projection screens behind the DJ booth dissolve, revealing an illuminated “Celebrity Squares” grid behind. The grid quickly fills with rather sulky girl and boy go-go dancers, in skimpy Santa costumes, disconsolately gyrating to the strains of – I kid you not – a gangsta rap version of “Jingle Bells”. Oooo-KAY. I text K: “You’re not going to believe this, but…”
Time passes. The room fills up. The music switches to chunky, bouncy techno. Ooh, much more like it. We can work with this. Now we’re all bopping on the steps, throwing shapes, laughing away. Every now and again, a curveball is thrown into the mix: a banging choon dissolves into a romantic karaoke ballad, then lurches back into the same chugging riff as before. The sound system is superb, the lasers are wild. We leave the club just as the overhead gymnastic display commences.
I’ve not experienced a single downwards lurch since.