Communist China = Closed China?
Embarking on my first trip to China, I had conjured up a few ideas in my mind about what the country would be like. The imagery of families living under strict regimes in a reserved and orderly manner did not fit well with the contrasted idea I had of the international metropolis that is Shanghai, brimming with foreigners and bright lights. Finding myself curious about the nightlife scene, I set off to research this topic, and in return discovered 7 main differences between the East and West. Here are my findings about how China does nightlife differently:
Shanghai has an eclectic mix of venues, but high-end bars are of the greatest abundance. After all, the city is best known for its luxury lifestyle, exemplified by its numerous skyscrapers and countless designer boutiques. This running theme of glitz and glamour extends into the nightlife scene where guest lists, cover charges, VIP events, bottle and table service are to be expected. And a night out in the big city calls for dressing to the nines. I’m afraid your best shirt won’t do compared to the Chinese, who rock immaculately crafted hairdos and ‘suit up’ without a crinkle in sight.
If like me, you picture nightclubs as a large furniture-less dance floor full of young people swinging their hair and bodies to the beat, think again. My experiences so far have taught me that tables and booths take up maybe 80% of the entire club; yes, so much so that sometimes it can be hard to even pin point the dance floor!
The majority of patrons have not come here to just dance, but to sit, drink, snack and most importantly, socialise by playing games. Drinking games, or 酒令 jiǔlìng in Chinese, typically involve dice or hands, and are a popular past time. Sitting with friends at a round table (symbolising ‘unity’ from the phrase: 团圆 tuán yuán, meaning united and round) is the main form of entertainment. Don’t be afraid to join them too. In fact, wealthy Chinese people often take great pleasure in inviting foreigners to join their table, and enforcing copious amounts of whiskey onto them!
Chinese people love tiny glasses, be it tea or alcohol. Popular drink choices are白酒 báijiǔ, a strong Chinese liquor (around 40-60% alcohol), as are Western drinks like whiskey 威士忌 wēishìjì and brandy 白兰地 báilándì (notice the phonetically similar pronunciation compared to their English names). This can be compared with foreigners who mostly drink beer and mixers (though the Chinese often drink beer shots too!). As can be imagined, drinking liquor straight will set you up for an eventful night. Drinking to get drunk is commonly observed, the party does not stop until everyone has fainted/ passed out!
The familiar hissing sounds and strong smells of the smoke machines are replaced by actual smoke from cigarettes. Smoking indoors is not banned here, so that is something to get used to since there are many smokers in China. With disco balls, chandeliers, mechanical flashing lights and stages, the décor can sometimes pass off as gaudy rather than glamorous, so you can say that the smoke aids to mask that.
The notoriously high prices charged for hiring tables can be justified for the entertainment value provided by the club. It is not uncommon to find female dancers in sparkling outfits singing or miming on stage. Sometimes there are even magic and fire performances throughout the night. Attendants will bring you your champagne in ice served alongside platters of freshly cut fruit, complete with sparklers and fog effects of course! Partying sure is an elaborate affair and it is safe to say the focus on going to a nightclub is not to dance and drink only, there is much more to it than that!
The majority of bars and clubs you find in China will play foreign, mostly English music. Despite the vast majority not understanding the meanings of these popular Western songs, Chinese people love to sing along to them. If KTV (karaoke) rooms aren’t joined to the club itself, do not fear as you are never far from a KTV joint in China. Karaoke/KTV is a cultural phenomenon and one in which you do not have to be musically gifted to enjoy. Often following a trip to a nightclub, Chinese people love to sing to their hearts content until the wee hours of the morning. It is usually sunrise by the time a Chinese night out finishes! While partying this hard might sound tough, keep in mind that a catnap in the corner is totally acceptable. And let’s not forget the street food, which is available at all hours and never far away from bars and KTV clubs.
Well there you go: 7 ways China does nightlife differently. While your usual routine of a night out may change and seem bizarre at first, it is not long before you find yourself getting used to it, joining in and partying like a local! 干杯 gānbēi, ‘bottoms-up’ to that!
Have you experienced other ways that China does nightlife differently? Or anything else for that matter? Let us know in the comment section, we know lots of people are eager to learn more about the Middle Kingdom.
Ready to have a China adventure of your own?
Amy Wong (Marketing Officer) and Louis Costenoble (Marketing Intern)