August 14, 2022

Australia Day in Shanghai

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Australia Day is a national celebration characterized by barbecues and beer. Looking back on my childhood I always loved this holiday, and what kid wouldnt?

Australia Day is an extra day off school, a colourful procession down the main street of your town, and then a huge meal with all your mates.

On January 26th 1788 the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay, and since then Australia Day has commemorated everything that is good about our great nation, being lazy, eating great food, and downing more alcohol than is good for you.

This particular Australia Day I was feeling more patriotic than ever on account of having spent the past four months living in China teaching English. Nothing makes you crave a snag on the barbie, or a meat pie, or a can of VB more than four months of eating dog, jelly fish, turtle, ducks intestine and lambs penis, and drinking rice wine that has more in common with paint stripper than a fine red. On the 26th of January I found myself newly arrived in Shanghai, pulsating metropolis of the east, a paragon of modernity and the greatest western virtue of all, consumerism. ‘If there is anywhere in this heathen country I was going to find Aussie beer on Australia Day it was Shanghai’, thought I.

After consulting the bible, (The Lonely Planet Guide to China) I learned that the Australian Consulate was quite close by. Surely they would know where steaks and sausages and beer could be got. So, clad in a Red Army trench coat and laden with more luggage than a Nepalese sherpa, I launched myself into the streets of Shanghai. Not for the first time in my travels I was soon incredibly lost through a combination of stupidity and a short attention span, and set about asking any local I saw for directions to the Australian Consulate. I had no trouble finding the American Consulate, nor the French Consulate, nor the Malaysian, nor the Iranian, but the small slice of Australia that I was seeking eluded my grasp.

I spent close to 3 hours in this futile pursuit, and often during my wanderings I would glimpse my reflection in shop windows and would recoil in horror at the grubby, Chinese trench coat and muddy boot wearing, beast of burden that stared back at me. Gone were my romantic notions of backpacker life, the incredible bone-reshaping pain of carrying my 20-tons of luggage saw to that. With my aspirations of feasting on Australian tucker disappearing before my now tear filled eyes, I admitted defeat and headed to the nearest backpacker hostel to spend the night.

However the quest was not over, for on inquiring in the hostel I found that the Australian consulate had moved (once again the Lonely Planet had deceived me) so I sprinted off and arrived just before closing time at the consulate. I am sad to admit that next to the colonial grandeur of the French Consulate, or the commanding facade of the Consulate of the United States, the Australian Consulate is a sad representative of our country. I stood before a dreary office, in a skyscraper, in the commercial district of Shanghai, with nary an Australian in sight. Security was provided by a metal detector, which at that time appeared switched off to conserve power, and a Chinese security guard dozing in the corner who seemed most upset that he had to rise from his seat and give a cursory glance at my passport.

I was soon armed with information I needed, the address of a drinking establishment known as the Kangaroo bar. I returned to the hostel where I met a really nice guy from Perth, and another from Canada. After we chatted for a bit I suggested we try to find this Kangaroo bar, thereby recruiting them into my mad search for any semblance of Australiana to celebrate the auspicious day. The bar actually turned out to be a small, pokey concrete building whose only claim to being Australian was a small picture of a marsupial hanging over the door. Dejected and disheartened, I resigned myself to the fact that my Australia Day was ruined. There would be no great reminder of home, no meat pie, no barbecue, just another day in China.

It was then that I spied it, the object that ended the misfortune I had suffered all day, a small chalkboard inscribed with the words 100 RMB for all you can drink Fosters. 20 Australian dollars for all the beer you could drink? Admittedly it was only Fosters but that was Australian enough for me. We rushed into the bar, and I cant really remember what happened after that. Things that should have bothered me no longer did; the fact the Australian bar was run by a kiwi, the fact I was only one of three actual Australians in the bar, the fact some completely smashed American girl kept trying to drape herself all over me, the fact the Fosters ran out around midnight so we had to drink Chinese beer, it didnt matter. Everyone had a great time, and that is what Australia day is all about.

So whats the moral of the story? Perhaps it is that there is a little bit of the Australian spirit of mateship and larakinism in everyone, regardless of colour or creed. Or maybe its that all countries look the same when you’re off your tits. Or more likely the moral of the story is that I’m an alcoholic…

-By Robert Flawith

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