Postcards from Abroad: Shanghai

As the weird and wonderful become an everyday occurrence, Daryl Bolger adjusts to all that Shanghai has to offerI had this column fully written about three weeks ago.  I spent hours working on it and was quite content with what I had written. Then I found myself in Hong Kong, poolside at the Kowloon Cricket Club last week. I was chatting to an 80-year-old gentleman who had just retired and had come over to Hong Kong for a week. The nicest man I’ve ever met. He said something to me that will stick with me for years to come.

I had to rewrite the column.

I’d arrived to a ferocious heatwave in Shanghai a month earlier. Having done all the things to be expected on arrival in a new city – find an apartment, my bearings, and the closest cheap bar – I got settled into things here quite quickly.

Except, you never really settle in Shanghai. It keeps you on your toes 24/7. Through classmates and the local Irish community, I’ve found myself in some bizarre situations, almost on a daily basis.

Take, as an example, my experience at the Kunshan Beer Festival. I’d travelled to China’s version of Oktoberfest after playing football for the Shanghai Gaelic football team in nearby Suzhou. Exhausted mentally and physically from the twelve minutes of Gaelic football I’d partaken in, I reluctantly started drinking the €7 pitchers on offer at a rapid rate. From there, events took a turn towards the bizarre.

Having somehow found myself backstage at the Qingdao main stage (Qingdao is to China as Guinness is to Ireland), I was approached by the stage organiser.  She proceeded to ask myself and my friend Dave to dance about, like the drunken fools we were, on the stage beside a ‘famous’ Chinese singer.

As if things weren’t strange enough already, a man then broke through the barrier, baby in hand, and asked Dave to hold his newborn. This same man had just witnessed Dave obliterate a pitcher of beer seconds earlier.  I’d like to say “only in China,” but having read of the deeds of one Brian Cowen from afar, I don’t think such a statement carries much clout.

Hot on the heels of our Qingdao odyssey, we found ourselves at the 70th birthday party of an Irish community legend the next weekend. The main sponsor of the GAA team (Barry, we’ll call him) actually hailed from Scotland and had spared no expenses for his birthday. Free-flowing Jameson, Smirnoff, Malibu and beer, along with opulent amounts of food and bands flown in from South Africa and the Philippines, not to mention the marching band from Scotland, meant it was always going to be a good night.

And it was. Seeing a 70-year-old man skilfully chatting up women fifty years his junior is something that I wish I’d seen a lot more in my life, as is a fully-clad marching band play ‘O Flower of Scotland’ in the middle of a packed dance floor.

Undoubtedly, the best moment of that night though was simply getting to know the rest of my Gaelic football team – something always likely to happen with an open bar to take advantage of. It was there and then I decided to take the lunge and commit to the team on a regular basis, on both a financial and training/playing basis. This meant a trip to Hong Kong had to be taken.

The All-Asia Gaelic Games 2010 took part in Hong Kong, with teams flying in from as far afield as the Gulf states, Japan, India and Jakarta. Shanghai, in comparison, was only a two-hour flight and short bus journey away, a modest distance, but still financially debilitating for the fifty odd teams who took the trip.

It was at the opening ceremony that I met the gentlemen referenced earlier. I got chatting to him about the weekend and was about to leave when he said: “I’ll see you on Sunday.” “Why?” I replied. “I’ll be presenting you with an All-Star,” came his reply. “I’ve only been playing the game a month, it’d be an awful leap up,” I offered as rebuttal. “Take the leap. Take the leap,” he said. Never have someone’s words had such an impact on me.

I didn’t quite make the All-Star team, but we did reach the semi-finals, punching well above our weight. I took the leap. The gentleman’s name was Micháel O’Muircheartaigh.  The nicest man I’ve ever met.