They may have stapled their name onto the export market and shown America the two fingers, but China still have some ground to make on the nightlife front, if they are to stake an effective claim on world supremacy.
Having lived in China’s flagship- Shanghai -for a month, and with a wizened liver to show for it, I have familiarized myself with the etiquette displayed by Chinese locals, when thrown into the tumultuous grounds of a nightclub. Unfortunately for said clubs, they remain the bastard child of the night, and any true Shanghainese is never seen anywhere else than a KTV Lounge, where you can rent out private rooms to perform classic crooners.
In their gilded hallways, these seedy numbers have resuscitated the dying breed of karaoke from the Wednesday nights at Glaswegian pubs. All to the euphoric reception of the Asian audience.
Befitting the ceremony that Shanghai pays to karaoke, I was led to our private room by the scantily-clad hostesses, whose faces were masked with practised abandon. A Chinese Bryan Adams wafted from other rooms and, peering through the door’s window, I could make out the diamond ear-pieces that marked their wearers as underlings of the Chinese mafia, a prolific client.
In the spangled grounds of a Shanghainese night club, you don’t require the blessing of money to come by a microphone and, if you have the backing of an authentic title, the mike is yours. Parading under the pseudonym of ‘ MC Natural Disaster,’ I was afforded a half hour monologue before being unceremoniously faded out by the DJ.
My set remained, thankfully, unmolested, and I was fortunate not to come into contact with the uniformed guards lurking in the shadows of the club. On the government payroll, they inspect the dance floor from beneath their commissar cap. A quiet reminder of their bosses standing.
Even with the benefit of a microphone, you would do well to lure a number of locals from the refuge of their tables. Under the erratic gaze of the club’s lights, they roll away their time with small dice games, where- with gambling illegalised -the stakes are a reluctant sip of whisky and green tea. No distinction is made between a restaurant and a night club, and you will often see someone tucking into a slice of watermelon- inches away from their dancing companions.
Not every girl has the benefit of this sanctuary and, with the terra incognita of the dance floor out of the question, they prefer instead to perch by the bar. Owing to their cold impassiveness, they morph into an extension of the table-top and, unless you are a mobile phone game of Tetris, there is no hope.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who’ve been educated in foreign fields. Some can be identified by a trophy nose piercing and others, by their familiarity with Chinese novelist Jung Chang- an outspoken critic of Mao. One who would disagree with the general teaching in Chinese schools that Mao was 80 percent right, but fervent supporters of the chairman can still be found.
If this is a matter of contention amongst the Shanghainese, then something which does unite them is the shared curiosity of my Danish flatmate. All of 6ft 4 and gifted with a playful crop of blonde hair, in the warren of underground bars, he has become the apple of many a local businessman’s eye.
Regarded with the lofty bewilderment of a lesser-deity, he has a spot saved for him at a local bar, nestled between the wives of small business-owners. From this position, in the haze of cheap cigarette smoke, he can engage in dice combat with his Asian adversaries whilst dispersing, when he sees fit, small witticisms to the giggled delight of his female companions.
Shanghai nightlife is what you make of it, but it is never short of boring.