What The Hell Am I Doing Here: Notes on End of Year Work Festivities in Shanghai

The ultimate in meta photography. Writing about my office within the photo of me writing about my office. Inception, Part 2.

The ultimate in meta photography. Writing about my office within the photo of me writing about my office. Inception, Part 2.


It’s Saturday and I’m at work. I’ve been here since, oh, 8 o’clock this morning and at the rate things are piling up, I doubt I’ll ever leave. Teaching on Saturdays is a new thing, something that was explicitly written into my contract as something that just wouldn’t be done. Not that contracts mean much. Everything is malleable. I’ve learned that over the years.

But then there was that kerfuffle with some islands. Not the kerfuffle that left racist signs and defaced Japanese flags all over the city, no. That was the other set of islands. This time there was a kerfuffle over some islands claimed by both the Philippines and by China and suddenly all pinoys were being denied work visas and abruptly booted out.

With 2 days’ notice, my lovely and overqualified but definitely Filipina assistant was gone and I was alone again. Saturday classes it shall be then. Temporarily I hoped, though I have learned to never get my hopes up in this business.

When I came in early this morning, still exhausted from a week of sore throat and heavy lungs and terrible sleep, I learned that there would be a New Years party in the school in the afternoon. I learned also that they expected me to sing.

Yeah, right.

Aside from the throat and lung issues, I don’t sing. I just don’t. I’ll bite your hand clear through before you drag me up onto that stage to belt out something cheesy that I’ve had no time to even prepare for.

You wouldn’t want to hear me anyway.

Aside from the fact that I already had afternoon and evening plans and wasn’t even supposed to be at work on a Saturday, I accepted that I had to stay for the party. I was certain that my white face needed to be present, my laowai voice needed to be heard, even if no one was listening. Not because I had anything to say but, well, for saving face and developing guanxi with the right people. It’s a process. There are roles to play, obligations to fulfill.

Then I was informed that it was to be a banquet. At a fancy hotel.  A banquet! The kind that goes on until the wee hours, with forced toasts of scary booze with your hand held at specific heights so as to not offend, and all sorts of dishes that make me cry inside (hello shark fin soup! hello bear paw!).  The banquet wouldn’t even start until evening.

I’m in my cold office now, with the view through the chicken wire grille of the grey and rainy parking lot, still bundled in coat and sweater and scarves, even though the wall heater is in theory on. A five hour wait, with fully restricted internet. No colleagues. No coffee. Numb fingers as I type. I have my giant cat mug full of hot water because it’s the only thing keeping me from turning into an ice cube. Someone down the hall is playing an endless loop of the same song on piano, over and over for hours now. Kids are running up and down the hall, shouting.


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I bet you thought I was joking about the chicken wire, right?


I swear, the universe is trying to make me stronger but I don’t know why it’s choosing this route.

Anybody feel like cheering me up? Please?




8:24pm: I stayed at work until nearly 6pm, snow falling heavily, and there was no sign of the car to take me to the elusive banquet that should have started at 5. Inexplicably, when 2 of my 3 directors showed up (the 3rd is in the US right now), suddenly sympathy was evident. My previous dinner plans were suddenly not brushed away.  Suddenly my presence at the banquet was non-essential. Six hours of waiting in my freezing office and now I was being driven to the nearest metro station to go home.



It’s colder and wetter than it looks, especially with a broken coat.



So after an hour in the metro, coming in from the suburbs, then a 20 minute walk in the freezing snow wearing a coat with a broken zipper, I got to keep my dinner plans. Slightly belated, but there was tzatziki and dolmades and wine. The waitress handed me a stack of napkins to dry off with.

Now I’m at home, thawing with hot Earl Grey tea and cookies. I’m not emerging til Monday. I swear.


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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.