Shanghai turned green on Saturday as it celebrated St Patrick's Day with family festivals, a charity ball and scores of special nights at bars all over town. Traditionally the day when anyone can be Irish, Shanghai saw hundreds gather at Huaihai Park to watch traditional Irish folk dancing (performed by a group of Chinese dancers), a game of Gaelic football (at which vice president Xi Jinping showed his skills when he visited Dublin recently) and musicians playing traditional music.
Irishman Brian Irwin has been working in Shanghai as an IELTS examiner for 14 years and has never missed celebrating St Patrick's Day. This year he brought his family to enjoy the day at the park.
"Back in Ireland I sometimes went to church for mass on this special day. Then everyone would take to the streets and enjoy themselves," Irwin said. "About six years ago they started to hold St Patrick's Day parades in Shanghai. As an Irishman this was impossible to ignore.
"I've lived here for 14 years and witnessed tons of changes here," he told the Global Times. "Back in my home in Ireland every corner of my house has become Chinese because I have been completely immersed in this culture." He thinks he will be here for another two years - he finds it hard to say goodbye to Shanghai.
St Patrick's Day is a very special day for the Irish. One elderly couple traveled from Ningbo just to join in the celebrations at Huaihai Park. They said their children were back in Ireland and on this special day celebrating here in Shanghai felt like a way to bond with them.
Legend has it that St Patrick was the man who brought Christianity to Ireland and also banished snakes from that country. But, according to London's Daily Mail on Saturday, researchers now claim that St Patrick actually fled to Ireland to avoid becoming a tax collector. Once there, however, it is said he took up an even more dubious occupation - as a slave trader. Patrick's father was a Roman official responsible for tax collection in Britain. But he used a bailout clause in Roman law that allowed him to leave his post by joining the clergy on the condition the job was passed to his son.
Roy Flechner, an expert in ancient and medieval history from Cambridge University, claims that Patrick, alarmed at the prospect of taking on the unpopular job, decided to emigrate in 410 AD and to retain some of the family estate - in the shape of slaves - to pay for his new life in Ireland.
From far away
At present there are some 500 Irish citizens living in Shanghai. They are a diverse bunch and include executives with multinational companies, entrepreneurs and teachers.
Liam Conway and Maeve Kelly are in the unique Irish folk band Fling which performed in the park. This was their second St Patrick's Day in Shanghai and they felt it was great to spend the day in another country celebrating. "We will go to some of the Irish pubs later tonight and have a few drinks with friends. So it's part work, part holiday," said Kelly.
John Short and Tom Kelly are both lecturers in art and design from the Dublin Institute of Technology. They arrived in Shanghai a week ago to launch their photography exhibition at the M50 Creative Garden on Moganshan Road. "We flew between Shanghai and Dublin to capture all sorts of scenes and moments that we thought are reflective of both countries' cultures," said Short. "It also makes us proud to see that Irish culture has been celebrated and spread to every corner of the world."
The Shanghainese joined in as well - for some it was the first experience of Irish culture and they appreciated the day and the fun. "This is the first time I have celebrated Irish National Day with the Irish," said Zhang Qian, a local resident. "I visited the Ireland Pavilion during the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai and was really impressed by their culture."
Another spectator, surnamed Zhu commented: "The Irish people are really friendly. I wish other people from different countries in Shanghai could organize events like this and make them a part of this city's culture."
With backing from city authorities, the day was pronounced a success all round. "We cherish the deep and sincere friendship between Ireland and China," Sha Hailin, the deputy secretary general of the Shanghai municipal government and a former ambassador to Ireland, said in his welcoming speech at the park on Saturday. "I have always been deeply impressed by the close ties we two countries established. We will do our best to host Irish people who are living their lives here and hope Shanghai will be a comfort home away from home, for all of them."