Since Father’s Day is coming up, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few posts on the SH blog to the unwitting figure of hilarity that is my dad. Don’t worry – it’s not going to be some sort of soppy homage. Think of it more as a comedy of errors.

Dad came to Shanghai last year. His epic voyage east was part of a China business trip, which happily coincided with the October holiday. I had been living in Shanghai for a year by then, and it was his first trip out to see me. I offered him the spare room in my apartment, but he insisted on staying in a youth hostel. He’s not short of a penny or two, so I’m unsure exactly why he didn’t splash out on something fancier. But anyway. More about the hostel in a later episode.

He didn’t exactly fall in love with China. My father is a man of few words and measured sentiment, observing much but commenting little. I like that about him, but it doesn’t sit well with the Shanghainese idea of how a British tourist should be. His white beard and general roundness make people think that he’s some sort of amiable Santa Claus figure, when in fact he’s more Ebenezer Scrooge with a flea in his ear. When manhandled into posing for a photograph on the Bund with some cheerful students, Dad made a face like a cat’s bum and stood, rigid, as they swarmed around him, grinning and posing with V-signs.

“Father Christmaaas!” the students yelled jovially, as Dad passed through silent circles of personal hell, nudging the more persistent kids away with his elbows. I should have stepped in sooner. Before I knew it, every child and teenager within twenty meters of us on the Bund (i.e. around three thousand) had gathered around Dad, yelling “Santa Claus” and scrambling to find their cameras. Soon I couldn’t even see him in the melee. All I could do was watch helplessly as he jostled his way out of the crowd.

They weren’t going to let him get away that easily. I pulled him away from the scrum and we broke into a run, followed by a (thankfully) ever-thinning straggle of Chinese children. The cries of “Santa” diminished as we made our way onto Nanjing Dong Lu.

“I hate this place,” Dad huffed as we slowed to a walk. “I need a drink.”