It is seriously missing one thing, though. Football.
I know I should probably reserve judgment until after I go to tonight’s game, but the footballlessness is really striking.Visually: No replica shirts, nothing in the papers. In convenience stores, pop bottles and chip packs are marked by a complete absence of Ronaldinho, no galacticos, no
(Let me interrupt this blog entry to just say that the fish appetizer I am eating right now is absolutely delicious. Really top notch. An eagerly awaiting my crispy beef)
Faced with this visual lacuna, I decided to go book-shopping to see if I could at least get a handle on how the game is consumed in print. Shanghai, like many Asian cities, is helpfully laid out according into retail clusters: eighteen stationary stores next to each other, followed by thirty-five musical instrument stores all next to each other, etc (Hanoi even has a replica football shirt district, but clearly that’s absent here). So I went to the book district, which was packed on account of today’s the launch day for the Mandarin edition of the final Harry Potter novel, and found the largest bookstore I could find: The Shanghai Book Mall. Seven massive stories of literature, books, DVDs, etc – as modern a bookstore as you’re going to find anywhere in the world.
(Crispy beef has arrived. It’s a monumental disappointment after the fish because it appears to be – and I wish I were kidding about this - covered in mayonnaise).
Anyways, this is a bookstore with literature in translation from all over the world. The business section in particular is filled with books by Peter Drucker, Peter Lynch, et. al. The Maoism-Marxism-Leninism section seems to be part of “management”, so the Mao treatises are actually right next to the Drucker tomes. I find this shelving arrangement particularly amusing, though I can’t imagine either of them would.
(Yup. Mayonnaise. Or something hideously close to it.)
All of which made the football section of the bookstore a particularly weird place. With all the vast repertoire of different football books out there in all those languages available for translation, the football section contained a relatively slim 37 different monographs. Thirty-six of them were “how-to” books on training, tactics and conditioning; mostly, these were by local authors, with the exception for Charlie “Route One” Hughes’ book on football tactics, published by the English FA (which is either ominous or hilarious depending on your point of view). The other was a pictorial history of AC Milan.
A less intriguing line-up of books would be impossible to conceive. Even the most tedious and pedestrian of Beckham biographies would at least have brought Chinese readers some insight into some of the passion and culture associated with the game, but there was nothing, nada. This is Lobanovsky-ism run amok: the complete atomization of the game, an attempt at mastering of an art without appreciating its soul. There is probably an analogy here with the country’s approach to capitalism, but it’s a little beyond me at the moment as I’m well into my second
All of which begs the question: just what do Real Madrid, Barca and ManU really think they are achieving with their visits here? I know they keep banging on about “reaping the Chinese market”…but to be blunt, what market? This ground is positively barren.
More after tonight’s zuqiu bisai (football match).