– Christmas, of course, gets bigger and bigger every year in China. One wise seasonal initiative we saw in 2009 was a police clampdown on drunk driving in cities. Driving under the influence is not unusual here and, combined with large numbers of new drivers and a somewhat haphazard approach to road safety in general, it has been the cause of many tragedies. Random breathalyzer tests caught a large number of over-the-top drivers resulting in fines, revoked licenses and not a few imprisonments. One side effect has been a drop-off in business for some high-end Chinese restaurants – Tianjin and Dalian seem to be the most severely hit. Worried about being apprehended for drunk driving, well-to-do clients have decided it isn’t worth rolling up in their fancy cars for a bit of status benefit. They won’t take taxis and they certainly won’t walk, so they’re staying home instead. Chinese New Year looks like it will be a repeat of this slump.
– Recently, I did something I don’t do that often – attended the opening of an exhibition at an art gallery in Shanghai. It was a display of some photographs an old friend had taken and they were really rather good. What surprised me was how many people, Chinese and foreigners, turned up on a chilly Sunday afternoon – my friend is good, but not really well known. One regular art gallery opening attendee told me that there are so many galleries now in Shanghai and Beijing, a sizeable group of people simply float from one to another enjoying the art and, more pertinently, the inevitable free wine and food. I’m sure all cities with thriving art scenes have this sub-group of attendees, but what exactly is the collective noun for them?
– Here’s an early year prediction: 2010 will be the year that the leading luxury brands (all European, all well known) start to see their Shanghai sales plateau – Louis Vuitton in particular. The Shanghai luxury market is now maturing fast, and with it comes a certain level of sophistication. This isn’t good news for LV, which is a typical ba fa hu brand, the symbol of the get-rich-quick. I hear very little about LV from older consumers in China who have had money for some time now, yet hit a tier-three city and you find it’s all the rage. It is interesting to note that one of their most successful stores now is Ulan Bator, in Mongolia, thanks to the new minerals money.
– There’s a definite outbreak of CBD creep afoot in China. The CBD – Central Business District – phenomenon first emerged in Beijing and it works as follows: A fairly well regulated zone is anointed the CBD, but before long office and property developments all over the city are claiming to be resident in it despite being miles away. Now it seems every city in China (or at least every property developer in those cities) has invented CBDs. Shanghai has fallen victim to the virus too: I noticed that a new retail-office development on far-flung Wanhangdu Lu, up near Suzhou Creek, claims to be in the heart of Shanghai’s CBD. If Shanghai has a formal CBD, it’s news to me; and if its up by Wanhangdu Lu then I’m not sure what so "central" about that!
– And so welcome to the year of the Shanghai Expo and total Haibao overdrive for five months until the gates open and the crowds flock in. Haibao is everywhere now – every shop, every hotel lobby, on thousands of street signs across the city and in toy shops (real and fake). Is Shanghai suffering Haibao fatigue? Quite possibly. Chinese journalists tell me they have been warned not make fun of Haibao (by official order) after some articles and blog postings appeared mocking the poor little blue mascot.