Postcards from Abroad: Shanghai

As people all over the world became Irish on March 17th, Daryl Bolger experienced St Patrick’s Day: the Chinese way We’ve been back in college here just two weeks and I’m already longing for a break. A planned trip to Japan now looks unlikely so Beijing for a few days to visit friends is on the cards for next month; a bit of a downgrade from a trip to Tokyo. Fortunately however, March 17th came in the middle of my second week back. Shanghai knows how to throw a party and it seems St Patrick’s Day is one of their favourites.The week started innocently enough, the Shanghai authorities’ decision to cancel the Irish community’s parade down Nanjing Lu (think Grafton Street except flashier, longer and better) left us with a hastily organised party in a shopping centre downtown. On show were Irish ballad singing, a bit of a trad session and an all-Chinese Irish dancing troupe. There were also stands promoting studying in Ireland from universities such as UL, TCD and DIT. UCD, however, was notable in its absence.Not to be outdone by the no-fun education stands, Murphy’s had a stand offering pint after pint of free stout. After one sip I learnt I hate Murphy’s, I mean, I really hate Murphy’s.Three agonising days of class passed before St Patrick’s Day rolled around. What a start to the day it was – up at 7.30am for an 8am Chinese grammar class.  After four hours of painfully slow class, the tri-colour was proudly wrapped around my shoulders and it was off for a traditional Irish lunch – a greasy ‘Meat Feast Pizza’, washed down with some 35c beers.From here it was to our local, Helen’s, where we somehow spent five hours, making our way through yet more cheap alcohol. Our international friends started to arrive slowly but surely, intrigued as to what we actually did for ‘St Patty’s’, as the Americans like to call it.  However, the offer of free beer from 9pm onwards meant most wouldn’t visit until later.Meanwhile we jumped in some taxis and headed to The Blarney Stone. The Blarney Stone is a classic example of the typical fake Irish pub, a pint is overly expensive, a bodhrán is never far from earshot and the walls look like the Guinness marketing department threw up on them. St Patrick’s Day, unsurprisingly, is their busiest day of the year. Most of our Irish friends from outside UCD were there, many unaware that wearing a green hat in China signifies that your partner is cheating on you – the Chinese must think we’re a nation of polygamists.Of course there were the token non-Irish there too, from the American who studied here 20 years ago and who kindly bought us all a €7 pint of Kilkenny, to the Norwegian who wouldn’t stop shouting at people to sit down so she could see the band, the same band that’s there every single night.After a pint, or four, we headed on towards a club offering an open bar for a fiver for five hours. A few green beers later, my body told me to call it quits and my head agreed. It seemed late enough at the time but I found out the next morning it had only been midnight, shamefully early had it been any other night, but for St Patrick’s it must constitute a personal best.The festivities weren’t to end there; the next night was a formal affair – a reception held by the Irish consul to Shanghai. Hearing rumours of sit-down dinners and open bars in years gone by, I approached the event fully expecting it to be front-page news back home the next day for wasting taxpayer’s money.Not a bit of it, actually it turned out to be a showcase of Irish business and tourism. Tayto, with their new crisps for the Chinese market, Baileys and Jameson were all on show, giving samples of their products in the hope of drumming up business. Of course all they got were Irish ex-pats delighted with a free drink and some Tayto to go with it. Murphy’s were on show again giving away free stout – I stuck to the Jameson.  Afterwards we tumbled into The Blarney Stone, where, yet again, everyone was sporting green hats, although this time it was a pub crawl offending the Chinese.The St Patrick’s weekend festivities made me miss Ireland, but even more so it made me realise how lucky I am to be Irish. From our consuls and our confectioners to our breweries, there’s not one other country that looks after its own like we do and for that we should be grateful.Daryl Bolger is a UCD student currently on Erasmus in Shanghai.