OPINION> Chen Weihua
Optimism defeats slowdown in Shanghai
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-24 08:04

The economic recession seems to have disappeared from the streets of Shanghai. At least, that's the way it feels.

With the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival, just around the corner, walk the city streets, and you'll have optimism walking right beside you.

The cheerfulness is remarkable, considering the grave challenges posed by a sagging global economy that is sending lingering shockwaves - stock market in doldrums with no recovery in sight, closure of factories, rising unemployment, and shrinking year-end bonuses.

The city's restaurants are probably the best place to get a feel of the upbeat mood.

If you're planning to eat out these days, you'd better book way in advance. A table in any of your favorite eateries won't come easy this coming week.

Ask me. I've been struggling to find a place to host a birthday party and a family reunion during the Chinese New Year.

It's not that people here are eating out less due to the economic slowdown. On the contrary, most restaurants are fully booked even the day before the Chinese New Year's eve, which is unheard of.

Many families have booked tables two nights in a row, which is also uncommon.

Spring Festival is very much about eating and reunions.

It's a misconception that the financial crisis has forced people here to tighten their purses. Walk in to any of the shopping malls here and you'll see hundreds of men and women carrying multiple bags of branded clothing.

While department stores are overflowing with the fashion-conscious youngsters hoping to score branded goods on sale ahead of the festival, the food stores are packed with housewives, filling up their baskets with hams, fruits, chocolates and roasted seeds.

People are spending on traveling as well. Flights from Shanghai to destinations like Sanya, Harbin, the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand are already sold out. The only place that seems to be losing appeal this year is Thailand, still haunted by the recent political riots.

As usual, the festive mood is never complete without the sound of firecrackers. And so, some 1,800 licensed stores in town have lined up some of the most glorious sparklers, hoping for a decorated New Year sky.

The demand for crackers is huge. In the last six weeks, the police have confiscated more than 12,000 boxes of "illegal" fireworks.

My suggestion is, stay up late to witness splendid firework displays on at least three nights - Chinese New Year's Eve (Jan 25 midnight), the greeting of the God of Fortune (Jan 29 midnight), and the Lantern Festival (Feb 9), for, even if you try to sleep, you probably won't be able to.

While Mayor Han Zheng tried to give locals some hope and confidence, announcing measures to secure 9 percent GDP growth in 2009, community parks have also launched many Spring Festival celebrations, with big prizes on offer, in a bid to "restore confidence during the economic crisis", as park authorities have claimed.

The mercury in Shanghai will drop below freezing point during Spring Festival days, the meteorological bureau predicted. But the cheerful streets, restaurants and parks will provide people with the much-needed warmth.

A recent poll conducted by Gallup International ranked the Chinese city 2nd in the world after Kosovo in terms of optimism level for 2009. That coincides with the Chinese belief in the Year of the Ox, or niu in Chinese. Niu is associated with strength, hard-work and bullish markets.

Here's wishing you a very Happy Niu Year!

E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 01/24/2009 page4)