Tag Archives: Shanghai Christmas

Beijing vs Shanghai: The Battle for Christmas Capital


With 2 years living in Nanjing, close to Shanghai, on my back and another 2 in Beijing, as well as frequent visits to the fashion and finance center of the South throughout my time up North, I’ve been enjoying comparing the festive spirit and Christmas decorations in both cities on multiple occasions.

Nowadays you will find Christmas music playing non-stop in many of China’s international coffeshop chains and even in most larger shopping centers. Pretty much mid-November the Christmas decorations were also starting to appear in any establishment that fancied itself worldly – and that goes not just for Beijing and Shanghai, but also second-tier cities like Nanjing.

That being said there is always the question of how “genuine”, “tasteful” or surreal the decorations and Christmas celebrations can turn out to be. From Christmas lamas, to Mrs Santa techno flashmobs, Christmas trees decorated with or made out of teddy bears and lots of neon-plastic deco, the festive spirit here can sometimes come across as a little gawdy or just not quite right.

Without much doubt, both Beijing and Shanghai are probably nationwide leaders in Christmas spirit and are getting better at it with every passing year. But is one better than the other? Had you asked me 2 years back I would have without a doubt said that the Western fashion and lifestyle loving Shanghai is the clear winner. With tasteful decorations to be found on the bund, it seemed at the time miles ahead of Beijing, where strange decorative items and festive events abounded.

However, two years on and I am not so sure anymore. Beijing has heaps of amazing Christmas stuff going on. Christmas Bazaars, Markets and Fayres in the Hutongs, with Mulled Wine and Meat Pies. Christmas High Teas at luxury hotel chains. And more Christmas lunches and dinners than you can count. The overall quality of decorations also seems to have gotten much better, as decorations are becoming more sophisticated and tasteful and less screechy, if you know what I mean.

But Shanghai competition is tough! I just went back for a work trip and once I realised this was where I was going I got very giddy at the thought of hitting the Bund and soaking up some of the best Christmas decoration to be found on the Chinese mainland. My very personal absolute favourite is the Peace Hotel (former Cathay Hotel). Not only do they have what I believe to be the most stunning Christmas deco in all of China, I will always remember with the greatest fondness the amazing weekend I got to spend there as part of a media drive. Once in a lifetime kind of weekend! So of course, I had to pop in and see my beloved Peace Hotel Extravaganza and this almost decided the big battle between the two rivals.

However, just before writing this post this afternoon I walked past “The Place”, yet another shopping mall in Beijing and all of a sudden I ran straight into the arms of Santa! I realise he’s not the first Santa to appear in China, but he was the first I ever ran into as I don’t tend to spend my time in many international schools. He was adorable and very much in character, telling me all about his trip over from “Finland”. So, in light of the adorable Santa – who was a marketing stint by a Chinese car company as it turns out – I will have to hand the Christmas Crown to Beijing after all!

Santa came all the way from Finland to Beijing’s “The Place”

PS: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Mobike have changed their locks’ ringtone to Jingle Bells! So much adorable Christmassy-ness – I LOVE IT!

Who wins your Battle for Christmas Capital? Let me know and merry Christmas!




I’m Dreaming of a Chinese Christmas

Christmas is always a fascinating time in China. The concept is as popular here as it is back in Europe, however it is of course completely detached from any religious meaning. Instead, it becomes all about the cookies, the decorations and the Christmas shopping. In a country that has such different standards and tastes in terms of aesthetics, Christmas decorations in China can end up gaudy to downright crazy and related Christmas activities incredibly surreal.

Point in case, during our recent visit to our local shopping centre we got to witness two Christmas llamas squeezed into a small space in the middle of the shopping centre with masses of people snapping away at them. Stepping outside of the centre under an arch constructed of yellow and green that lights up at night, there was a dance troupe of Santa’s and Mrs Santa’s wearing hardly anything but their red little dresses doing a very unchristmassy hip hop dance performance.


I have seen numerous Christmas trees made out of the most unexpected materials possible – a teddy bear tree was one of my highlights – and Christmas displays that were as random as it gets, incorporating carousel horses or even China’s famous Xi Yangyang characters.

That’s not to say there aren’t any decorations out there that are up to our Western standards. Especially in Shanghai in the French concession and on the bund one can find many examples that might as well have been straight out of Europe and Hong Kong has had a century of practice with the British presence.

I have noticed how sinified decorations and those more akin to what I am used to from having grown up in Europe both evoke different emotional reactions. While I do feel grateful and happy to see gaudy Christmas decorations, considering Christmas is not native to China, it is always with a little pang of regret. The often slightly cheap looking trees and baubles remind me of the fact that I am not actually back home while at the same time making sure I don’t forget it’s Christmas time. The more Westernised decorations in Shanghai on the other hand do give me that great Christmas feeling.

Now, Christmas decorations outside are all well and good, but what about my own home? I did spend a considerable amount of time on trying to recreate my type of Christmas and in that I have to say China is a land of sheer brilliance and marvel. Specifically Taobao is a wonderland of cheap Christmas decorations; can you believe I got a Christmas tree including decorations and lights for just 20RMB?! Yes, it’s a plastic tree but at least I can reuse it next year. While I wasn’t able to find advent wreaths with candles attached to them as is customary in Germany to mark the four Sunday’s before Christmas, I simply improvised a little. All in all my Christmas decoration added up to just around 100RMB. I daresay one can barely buy one bauble for that amount in Europe.

I did manage to get my hands on some mince pies at Marks and Spencer Shanghai and my mum has sent me heaps of Christmas biscuits and chocolate – Santas, advent calendars – you name it, I’m stuffing it in my face.

What’s more, since Mr Li spent a long time in the UK, he has turned into a Christmas DJ, blasting a constant playlist of carols and Mariah Carey season’s hits.

So Christmas will be a little different than it is back home. A little more gaudy and a little less expensive, but all round just as tasty. Who’s to say that’s a bad thing after all?

Here’s to a very merry, Chinese Christmas!

German Christmas (Part 3) – Pudong Airport; Futuristic Scanners and Chewing Gum

I DID IT! I actually checked in and got my boarding pass. Can you believe it? I can’t. “Only” took me one and a half hours. I had to stand in line in the queue for the passport control twice because I forgot to fill out that little yellow departure slip; so I had to duck under the dividing belts, earning myself a disapproving look of a security guard, to go and fill it out. Queue was moving along surprisingly speedy though, there is hope yet!

Security check was fascinating, they have this futuristic boarding pass scanner presumably in order to wait for you an extra couple of minutes if you are running a little late. Shanghai is so modern.

On the way to my gate I walk past the duty free store and remember I only spent half of my petty cash on my extravagant dinner, I still have a little money left for a snack. So, drumroll please, … Here is what ¥4 will get you at Shanghai airport:

Chewing gum Shanghai Pudong airport
It was either this or two lollipops. Work out for my face muscles…chewing gum it is. A roll of Mentos was ¥5; there’s that manicured middle finger again. Thanks, Shanghai.

Speaking of fingers, a majority of my gel nails, which last about a day due to the inferior product I got off Taobao, have been peeled off during this trek; my equivalent of nail biting.

Good news is I had my celebratory pee ; best pee of my life. Am considering whether or not to write a Pee Guide to Chinese Toilets.

Finally, I am at the gate. NOTHING CAN STOP ME. Well, if the flight leaves that is.

Frankfurt to Freiburg – Smooth Sailing

As soon as I left Shanghai, the rest of the trek proceeded without incident, further confirming my very unhealthy superstitious obsessions with the city – will be curious to see what happens when I return beginning of January.

Having arrived at Frankfurt airport at 6am, I was looking at a four-hour wait until the departure of my bus to Freiburg. The time went by in the blink of an eye as I wandered through the stores selling German and European sweets, snacks and beverages; squealing with excitement like a five-year old.

Then I managed to hook my phone up to the internet and had a bit if a surf-gasm; the internet outside China is soooo fast! That was exactly what I posted on Facebook, which I had never seen in its latest mobile incarnation, what with the VPN only being able to take you that far.

The rest of the time I simply sat staring at all the people around me from all corners of the world; coming from a rather culturally homogenous surrounding, where you still get excited when you spot a different hair colour among a mass of black, I was not used anymore to the multicultural environment of Germany’s busiest airport.

On my bus trip to Freiburg in the Black Forest, which lasted another four hours, I had a very interesting conversation with Joy, my seat neighbour, a young girl from the Netherlands who grew up in Germany. She even fed me German chocolate, definitely the highlight of the entire trip (although the English breakfast on the airplane was a close second).

After 30 exhausting hours I finally arrived in my parent’s flat, only to fall into an almost 12 hour sleep at 8pm. Yep, that was a silent night, alright!

German Christmas (Part 2) – Shanghai Pudong Airport; So Close But Yet So Far

Merry Christmas everyone! Hope you had a lovely time with your families or holidaying in the tropics (my plan for next year if I can afford it).

Missed out on Part 1? Find it here.

Here is the biggest irony; the bus arrives at Terminal 1 at 8.47 and all I manage is a hysterical giggle at the fact that I almost went loony over nothing. It’s not until we pull into the stop that I realize I have absolutely no idea which terminal I am supposed to be in. Frantically ripping the paper out of bag while chucking my phone with Mr. Li on it into bag, I read Terminal 2 on my paper and relax. I even think of having a celebratory pee when I get into T2. Oh, what a fool I am.

I arrive at the second terminal just to find my flight is not on the black board. Frantic jogging to the information desk and it is revealed to me that the information on my booking is incorrect. I now have to drag my suitcase back to T1. Luckily it’s only ten minutes.

I arrive in T1 feeling quite toasty with my thick winter jacket and run straight to check-in area A, where China Eastern is located according to the huge sign that jumps out at you upon stepping off the escalator. It’s when I turn the corner and there are no people queuing up that I am sure something’s wrong. Of course, this is just the check-in counter for domestic flights. Please storm back half way in the same direction you came from.

At least I am burning all my calories from non-dinner. I wonder if anyone ever missed their flight after arriving three hours prior and spending the entire time lost in the airport. So much for my Shanghai orientation skills.

As I stand in what I am hoping is the right check-in queue – there is a comfortingly large number of foreigners and I even heard some Germans; also I asked one of the staff, but who knows what issue will come up next – I overhear a conversation between a British girl and her mum.

“So do you think it’s going to be like a real holiday?” asks the child.
“No,” replies mum. “We will just be rushing about trying to see everyone.”

I cannot help but smile at how on the money that remark is. Going back home for most of us, whose countries of origin are so far away, is just a big rush from one family member to the next friend. Don’t get me wrong, no one’s complaining, and I love nothing more than to see my dear friends and family. But it is hard work. Once the holiday is over, you find yourself thinking

“I’m going to need a holiday after that holiday.”

In my back and forth storming session I discover a Subway. Subway’s great! I wanted to get me a nice Sub for dinner recently and it wasn’t till the lady at the counter had sliced up my Parmesan encrusted bread, she informs me there is no cheese left. Subway, without cheese??? Hell, no! “Forget it.” I announce and storm off to cheesier pastures.

IF I manage to check in, the celebratory pee might turn into a celebratory Sub. But careful, we don’t want to start getting optimistic, now do we?

Pudong Airport Check-In – Four times a charm

I KNEW IT! As I confidently walk up to the check-in counter, the lady behind the desk tells me

“This is the wrong check-in area, you should go to J.”

“BUT I WAS TOLD TO CHECK IN HERE!” I shout at the woman in a panic-stricken voice.

“By who?” She asks.

“By your own colleagues!” I shout back.

All I manage is a hearty “For Christ’s Sake!!!”, then I storm off in the direction of area J.

As it turns out, asking two airport employees where the China Eastern flight check-in for Frankfurt is, will get you the wrong answer. Also, I soon notice that pretty much every foreigner in the previous queue has suffered the same fate as I, including the aforementioned Germans.

All around me I hear swear words in any European language one can imagine from French to Italian, while I curse into my phone in a very un-lady-like fashion. Mr Li on the other end of the line compliments me that my Chinese swearing has improved a lot recently. I guess that’s something.

The tension is tangible as people are dropping passports and falling over their children. Luckily, neither dad nor daughter were harmed in this unfortunate incident.

As I stand in the queue I notice that in the line behind me there are three European-Chinese couples in a row behind each other, almost naturally all Chinese women and Western men. But at least cross-cultural couplings such as these are becoming increasingly common.

So are AMWF couples tells me Rachel, a lovely British girl, who used to work for my company until she returned to the UK with her Chinese husband. They have the cutest little son and I spent half the day today sending Mr Li the sweetest pictures of him. Another cool thing about Chinese partners – they don’t freak out if you mention babies. Completely forgot that on my list.

German Christmas (Part 1) – Traveling from Nanjing to the Kaiserstuhl and Other Horror Stories

Kaiserstuhl jiangsu tripToday’s the day that I am meant to go to Germany; however, whether I will get there in the end is an entirely different question.

While Nanjing has direct flights to Frankfurt, Shanghai is a lot more affordable, and so the crazy travel route I am supposed to be on today is as follows:

– High-speed train from Nanjing South station to Shanghai Hongqiao Train Station
– Airport Bus from Hongqiao Airport to Pudong Int’l Airport
– Flight from Shanghai to Frankfurt
– Bus to Freiburg in the Black Forest
– Pick-up by my parents and taking train back to the little town they live in
– Walking up to their flat.

GRAND TOTAL: 30 hours on the road, the tracks or in the air.

It all started off with Nanjing South being suspiciously deserted. Instead of the throng of people waiting to pass through security, I simply stepped into the station and caught my train to Shanghai. That was easy.

Shanghai Hongqiao to Pudong Airport Bus – One Smooth Ride

The one thing I did not want to admit to myself is my bad Shanghai charma. Whenever I go there, everything goes wrong. Taxi lines are one hour long, metro ticket machines stop working the minute I step up to them and nine times out of ten I get completely lost; I, who prides herself on a great sense of direction and orientation skills. It’s as if Shanghai is just constantly showing me a slender, fashionably manicured middle finger (probably because I will tell anyone who will listen that I prefer Beijing).

As I knew that almost certainly something would not go smoothly, I booked my train to arrive 4.5 hours prior to my departure from the international airport. My boss gave me the exact instructions on where to find the airport bus, and indeed I managed to locate it without a problem; only to be told that it had just left 1 minute ago. I’m not making this up, it literally left at 7.30pm and I found myself staring up at the mocking red numbers on the display flashing 7.31 in my exasperated face.

So I had to wait for half an hour for the next bus. To make matters worse, the security guard already warned one of my fellow passengers that although the bus usually takes one hour there will almost certainly be loads of traffic and it will take longer. Suddenly my cosy three hours check-in time had shrunk to a less comfortable two hour window; if nothing else went wrong.

I hope for Shanghai’s sake it doesn’t or I will turn into a She-Hulk of unprecedented proportions. That would just be the right Christmas gift; missing my flight to Germany. Let’s hope Santa is in the area and I’m not on his naughty list.

As I get on the bus I see more mocking red numbers showing the time; just to rub it in. Great. So I will be spending the entire 1 plus traffic jam hours staring at these numbers. To add salt to the wound, the woman selling the tickets just announced that sometimes it might take 4 to 5 hours for the bus to arrive. Splendid.

I am wishing I hadn’t bought those items on Amazon now; I was getting too cocky in assuming I would actually make it to Germany. Damn you, Shanghai!

My dinner is a bottle of coke. I had some petty change left but deducting the money for the bus, petty change was exactly ¥8. Also, as I arrive at the airport bus stop there is only a vending machine with drinks, no food in sight. Coke it is, then. All the sugar is not helping my high-strung self calm down either. Time for some music.

I get sick writing or reading on buses, or doing anything involving screens of any kind. But if I don’t type I won’t stop staring at those red digits and convince myself I have the ability to control time and just make the clock stop (I’m sure it’s because I stopped time, not because the batteries died.)

So, the choice is chuck up or break under the pressure of the almighty clock that decides over life or death – of the countless mince pies my mum is baking in my honour. Sure, THEY would love me to miss my flight, so I won’t eat them.

I just looked up – big mistake – while we are currently still moving at slow speed, there is a sea of cars out there, that is just waiting to come to a complete still stand at any given time. Coke is now making my hands shake. The bus driver almost ran over another vehicle. I will have a heart attack. I’m sure of it now.

Shanghai brings out the worst in me. Like my paranoiac tendencies. I clearly remember placing my big, red suitcase in the compartment below. Yet, somehow I have managed to convince myself that I left it at the station. Or a thief with particularly low self-esteem walked by and decided to steal the old, non-brand, torn-up piece of junk. Yes, that’s what happened. Logically.

I am forcing myself to close my eyes and sit here listening to music. It is quite an effort, as the red little digits from hell are calling to me “Glance at us. We are all shiny and red.” NO! I shall resist!

Oh dear. Coke dinner is now making me want to pee. I knew there was something I didn’t consider with my fancy dinner option. Also, the fizziness is combining with the spicy chili oil I had during lunch to create a grumbling volcano in my stomach. Soiling your pants in public – now there’s a funny story. In China, such occurrences are always just a stone throw away.

Fake Wedding (Part 2) – Blondes, Old Jazz Bands and Chinese Media

Shanghai Fairmont Peace Hotel Wedding ShowAfter an action packed day of eating and visiting the hotels stunning presidential and nine nations’s suites (the latter costs about £700 – 800 per night, while the former is ¥88,888 or almost £9000 per stay), finally it was time for the wedding show. It was indeed all staged, and this being Shanghai the female was a tall, stunning blonde model, as opposed to a regular local employee. If ever we needed a reminder that Nanjing is just a second tier city, haha.

Even more interestingly the male model seemed to be mixed Asian-Western, yet another indication of how the local society sees AMWF couples as something to strive for.

While the actors were trying their best to be convincing, they did spend most of the ceremony in conversation or giggling, and it was difficult to tell whether this was meant to be part of the show or whether they were just being disinterested in doing their jobs properly. After the MC gave a far too lengthy and even more sappy speech (am I the only one who gets severely irritated by Chinese MCs and their way too flowery language?), they exchanged the rings and kissed. It became clear at this point that Mr Handsome had been looking forward to this moment as he began to devour the poor girls face; his “kissing style” was positively violent. Yet, the young beauty managed a brilliant smile and even laughed heartily as they poured Champagne over a tower of glasses and tried with minor success to cut the cake. Her dress was beautiful I have to say, and I very much enjoyed the French Renaissance type wedding display.

I did indeed stumble upon something useful for the wedding; the flower bouquets in the decoration used a fabulous mixture of flowers and colours, so I am hoping against hope that the dear Hohotians (is that what they are called? Well, it is now…) will be able to imitate the splendour of Shanghainese decoration companies. I have faith in them, so they better not disappoint me.


Following the fake wedding there was a small surprise, a not so fake proposal. A suspiciously beautiful and perfectly clothed young girl, who looked no day older than 20, got a romantic proposal in the circle of “all of her friends” as the dear MC put it (and 30 strangers give or take) on the roof top of the hotel with the Pearl Tower as the backdrop inside a transparent tent due to the torrential rain that had been raging all day. That’s what I call a grand proposal (not to worry, Mr Li, I still think mine was way better!).

A Trip To The Past – Peace Hotel’s Old Jazz Band


The undisputed highlight of my stay at the Peace Hotel, aside from a fascinating history lesson and a bathtub with feet fashioned into silver mer-creature heads, was the Old Jazz Band, famous in Shanghai and beyond for quite literally being old and rocking, or rather jazzing it up. The band has been playing at the hotel for over 30 years, their oldest member (94 years) having founded the band in 1980. Every night they play the greatest classics of the past century, keeping alive the infamous Shanghai style of the 1920’s. This style was effectively American culture imported and given a local Chinese twist, e.g. Rose,Rose,I Love You 玫瑰玫瑰我爱你. This and many songs I had grown up with such as Que Sera Sera, Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the general MGM repertoire filled the bar with memories from days past.

It was almost as if I stepped into another time, the band were in their element nodding their heads and swaying with the music, the bar man shaking his cocktails along to the beat and my heart was breaking for those days that are over and the people that have left us. My grandfather was in a Jazz band in Germany at one of the numerous American bases in the Frankfurt area. As a handsome young man he played the clarinet and the sax. It really tugged at my heart strings that I had travelled so far in time and space, from Germany to China and from my childhood to my Tweens, and still the culture is there, the classics are there, and so is the feeling. Say what you want about Americans, but they sure know how to bring the world together with their music.

Reflections on Chinese media

Aside from giving me a weekend I shall probably remember for the rest of my life, it was once again a highly interesting and educational experience to interact with fellow Chinese journalists and those who know them well. I ended up getting a private tour of the aforementioned nine nations suites because every one else ran off to their rooms after they had been fed, massaged and shown the hotel’s most expensive quarters. My host and tour guide Belle, a lovely young woman from the Beijing area, commented with tangible frustration that this behaviour is very typical amongst Chinese media. Indeed I have often heard criticism of the way local journalists do their work, enjoying free stays at high-level hotels, but not actually wanting to do any work for it in return. It was not until the next day, and to the utmost surprise of dear Belle, that one of my Chinese colleagues enquired about some historical aspects of the hotel and asked to be shown the hotel museum (a tour I of course promptly joined). It is generally lamented that the quality of journalism in the country is beyond help due to a combination of government control, government funding, abominably low pay (I met a TV reporter who after 10 years of working for the same company earns ¥2000 a month, often less since her expenses do not get reimbursed) and the fact that many who enter the profession do so for the social prestige (or gain of face) that comes with it and not from a passion for reporting or digging for stories.

The result is sub-par journalism that makes me want to laugh and cry and pull my hair out simultaneously, except that I can’t handle so many complex motorical tasks at one time.

Probably one of the most obvious indicators is a conversation I partook in during breakfast with an employee of the hotel and a bunch of the local journalists who were accompanying me on this tour. The employee criticized the government as only protecting cultural heritage sites such as the Peace Hotel if they see the gain and profit in doing so. They would never, unlike the West, protect cultural relics for the sake of preserving past culture, because they are ignorant, stated said employee. The fact they were making this statement in front of a group of journalists truly surprised me; yet, upon second thought it clearly illustrates the difference between ours and the Chinese media. Where people in the West often fear us and feel unsafe about talking to us because they worry we might turn everything into a story, here it is such an unlikely possibility that people even feel safe criticizing the government. More importantly, as an employee of the hotel which is offering these people a free stay worth thousands of RMB, because of this common practice, they needn’t worry, since saying anything bad would be like shooting oneself in one’s own foot. After all, why would you be thorough, if you don’t need to be?

In this context I have to mention one of the few positive things to have come out of Mr. Xi’s rule; his war on corruption has now extended to a crackdown on media and the very common practice of companies paying for stories. It is common that journalists who attend any form of press conference receive a little red envelope for their “efforts”. While the crackdown, if effective at all, as these declarations often go ignored, might result in my not being able to enjoy as many lavish weekends in grand hotels anymore, it will hopefully do something for the quality of local journalism. After all, isn’t the bigger picture more important?

The Fake Wedding (Part 1)

Christmas Cathay hotel Shanghai This weekend I got to go on a rather exciting trip to Shanghai to the grand Peace Hotel (formerly known as the Cathay, home to many a famous film star and political leader in the 1920s and for the most part of the 20th century. Their most esteemed guests include Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin and Muhammed Ali.

Apart from the excitement of a super luxurious mini trip to Shanghai and getting to stay in a hotel I will probably never be able to afford in my life (the perks of working in the dying profession of journalism), I was looking forward to a Fake Wedding as part of the entertainment.

Often, when five-star hotels celebrate a special occasion to make an even bigger splash they will organize a display wedding for the guests and media present. Sometimes the fake wedding is actually not so fake at all, my boss got to witness one of the hotel staff get married on such an occasion (which is of course a win-win situation for both sides, free wedding venue for the bride and free show for the hotel). I will be curious to see whether the fake wedding on my plan today is in fact staged or genuine. Yet, more than that, I am excited to see how the rich and famous in China celebrate their special day, and what the difference will be to my friend Cherry’s wedding; although to be fair, her husband being a national tennis star, they probably fall under the r&f category. In that case, I look forward to seeing how the glamorous Shanghainese handle things; they are after all famous in the entire country for their fashionable, modern stylishness.

The morning started out with a bit of the usual chaos; my train ticket was for quarter past nine on a Sunday morning, and so I got up at 6.30 (still way to early in my books) to get ready and go to Nanjing South, the high-speed railway station. After kissing my bus, I decided to take a taxi to the closest metro station and use the underground transport instead, as it turned out a case of fool’s luck. I maintain that my real name is Queen of Chaos as I am about the most clumsy and confused person I know. You might have guessed where I am going with this. After having been on the road for three quarters of an hour and two stops away from my destination, it suddenly dawned on me that I had note checked whether the train was in fact leaving from Nanjing South and not from the older Nanjing railway station in the a North if the city. And sure enough, there it was, printed in big and mocking characters on my ticket: departure 9.13am, Nanjing railway station. My heart began to race and so did I; out of the metro as soon as it pulled into the next stop.

Oaf that I am what I do have going for myself is a big portion of luck, but don’t ask me what I did to deserve it. The metro line no 1. In Nanjing runs directly from one railway station to the other and as I noticed my mistake I had about one hour before my train was due to leave.

Baidu maps did nothing to calm my hyper-ventilating self as it announced a 44 minute trip lay ahead of me; including the walk from metro exit to station entrance, security check and the trip to the right platform, this was cutting it awfully close. Thank heaven, Baidu maps is rarely right when it comes to estimating time of arrival, often adding 10 to 30 minutes onto the actual duration, which does make you wonder about the validity of its existence, but in my case it was a welcome misrepresentation of the facts. Plus, due to the older train station being a lot smaller in scale than the mammoth that is NJ South, in fact the largest train station in all of Asia by area, it only took me about five minutes from exiting the metro to arriving at my gate. Had the station been the size of the aforementioned, it would have taken about 20 minutes to get from point A to point B. It was 8.40 and I thanked my transportation paranoia for having left ridiculously early. Ironically, I glanced at my ticket earlier to see that my seat number was the number 13, which I consider my lucky number as I explained in an earlier post. Well, in the end I was incredibly lucky not to miss my train, so there you go.

I even had enough time to sprint to the loo and do my make-up, something I had originally intended for the train ride. In hindsight, that was probably a terrible idea; with the rickety environment of a vehicle moving at around 300 km/h, my face would have quite certainly ended up looking like a Picasso. As it was, and without wanting to sound immodest, I managed to do one of the best jobs with my make-up that I with my limited skills could have done. Maybe I should make a pit-stop at train stations to apply my face paint more often.

Arriving in Shanghai reminded me once again of the difference between the southern hub and the Northern capital. Where Beijing is wide and sprawled, Shanghai is tall. You almost get a crick in the neck as you crane it to try and see the end of the seemingly limitless skyscrapers as plentiful as there are stars in the sky (not that one gets to see stars a lot in Chinese cities; due to the heavy smog it is usually impossible).

The next feeling that enveloped me was severe homesickness as we pulled onto the bund and I saw the city’s Christmas decorations. As much as I am critical of Shanghai, and it of me (all I will say our Facebook status would be complicated, since I have terrible Shanghai charma), what Shanghai has down to a tee is creating a genuine Western feeling. The baubles and green twigs winding their way along rooftops were incredibly stylish, another reminder of how backwards Nanjing can sometimes be. As much as it pains me to say it, but the festive decorations here come about as gaudy and cheap as they get.

All of this splendor culminated in the lobby of the Peace Hotel, aka the former Cathay Hotel. What must have been a 10m high Christmas tree with what can only be described as gingerbread villas at its foot greeted our group of media representatives in the Art Deco interior of the Majestic piece of Gothic architecture with Egyptian elements, that was the tallest, grandest and most expensive construction in its time. Walking the halls of this historical place, whose original interior has been preserved, was an incredible feeling, a mixture of humility and pride.