After 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?