Shanghai is a vibrant, exciting, cosmopolitan city. In the first few months after an expat’s arrival the city is totally captivating. You can see no faults and even get a little defensive when you hear others criticise the place.
However, just as with human relationships, as time passes you notice the flaws. “Could I really not see them before ?” you ask yourself. After a while, you realise that you still love Shanghai but you are no longer in love.
One of the first failings to dawn on you is the green deficit. Shanghai, is grey and endless. Yes, there are some pockets of green in the French concession, the Xi Jiao Guest House etc etc but this is China and the these isolated islands of green are for the admiring of, not for the walking on….
No, in no time at all you are lusting after green, unpopulated terrain….where you can wander free, unhindered by the teeming multidudes of metropolitan Shanghai.
For me, golf was the answer. When the stress levels were rising, golf was the verdant safety valve. The saviour. The escape…
Exactly why the stress could be relieved by the playing of a game that I wasn’t very good at, I cannot really say. I occasionally hit a tremendous drive. Most of the time finds me in the rough or the trees however. I suppose I should have been frustrated with my inability, my rank inconsistency. Not the case however. Whether I was experiencing an abject performance at She Shan, Tianma or even at my local Hongquio golf club, I just felt calm and relaxed. Happy with the massively increased personal space maybe. Or perhaps it was the relatively fresh air ? Whatever the reason, it felt good.
I suspect I particularly enjoyed golf in Shanghai because I played with foreign expat friends. Golf can be very frustrating and there is nothing like letting out an expletive after a particularly inept shot. I think I’d exhausted the English swear words available to me but on playing with Alwyn (Dutch) and Olaf (German) I became aware that there were a whole host of foreign curses just waiting for me to try out…
A particularly annoying scenario is when you fail to keep your head down until after you’ve hit the ball. The consequence of looking up too early is that you end up “topping the ball” causing it to rip through the grass without succeeding in achieving any real levitation. The friction of the grass leads the ball to die after a very disappointing 40 or 50 yards.
On topping the ball I’d always cursed in my best anglo saxon however Olaf soon introduced me the curse “Das ist ein Schnecke Ficker !” Schnecke meaning snail. Ficker ?, well I’ll leave that to your imagination. Fantastic. Very cathartic. Once introduced to this curse, any English alternative just didn’t seem to cut the mustard !
My father was also a golf enthusiast and after his early exhilaration at Shanghai had subsided, he too longed for a golfing escape.
“ I quite fancy a game of golf sometime Rich “
“Yes, No problem Dad. Just tell me when suits…”
“How much are the green fees ?”
“Depends when you play. Week days it’s usually around 900 to 1,000 kwai per person…” Around 100 pounds.
“What the hell !!! “
Now golf in China was the game of the aspirational middle classes. If you played golf then it showed you were getting on in the world. A burgeoning middle class coupled with a scarcity of available land meant high fees. It was a fact of life.
My father was a man of higher principle than myself. There was no way he was going to play 100 quid for a game of golf. I told him I respected his stance but he should bear in mind that the Chinese clubs would inevitably ignore his noble boycott and continue to charge the market rate.
My father stuck to his guns. I offered several opportunities for him to join my friends and I for a game but politely, he turned each offer down. I could see that he was deriving quite a lot of pleasure from his occupation of the high moral ground although if you looked closer, you could see he was getting increasing annoyed by the fact that his pragmatic son was showing no inclination to join his crusade. Not only was he being punished for doing the right thing, but his unprincipled son was enjoying a game of golf every week !
Finally, my father could take the injustice of this no more and declared ;
“I’ve been thinking, Rich….”
“Steady on Dad. You don’t want to make a habit of it.”
“No, I think I’d like to have a game of golf. You know, just as a one off….”
“Are you sure Dad ? It’s a lot of money…. Also, how do you know that the golf clubs aren’t on the verge of caving in to your boycott and going to massively drop their prices…. Just remember, it’s always darkest just before the dawn. Maybe you should hold on for a bit longer……”
“ Don’t push it ! ” he gave me a look and I realised that as much as I loved to take the mick out of my Dad, I’d taken this one as far as I could safely go….
A slot at Tianma Golf and Country Club was booked for the following Tuesday morning.
After coffee on the patio at mine, my father, Olaf and myself set off for Tianma. The air was October fresh. The sky was blue. What could possibly go wrong……