The ADB parties on in Shanghai

In a job only marginally more challenging than that of a war correspondent, we did the cocktail circuit at the ADB.

This year's Asian Development Bank meeting was, as usual, a swirl of parties, in a city that is rapidly returning to its rightful place as the party capital of Asia  Shanghai.

My initial fears that the elevator banks of the Grand Hyatt  whose lobby is on the 54th floor  would be so crowded as to resemble a Charlton Heston disaster movie, proved unfounded. I was more accurate, however, in my prediction that you would not be able to cross its lobby, or the Shangri-La's, without bumping into someone whose mind was largely not focused on Asian poverty alleviation (ie an investment banker).

The cocktail parties kicked off with a Citigroup bash that was crammed full of finance ministers, past and present. No surprise there, since Citi is an alma mater for so many of them.

A glass of Chablis later, many astute party-goers then headed back across from Pudong to old Shanghai (Puxi) to attend the BNP Paribas event. This was held in the French Consulate, and had everyone very agitated by the threat that the gate to the outer wall would be shut to new arrivals by 8pm.

This never happened, but it has to be one of the most successful strategies Chatroom has ever come across for ensuring people get to a party on time.

Out in the garden, BNP Paribas had clearly put a lot of thought into its event, and credit for this probably goes to Virginie Ourceyre. A stage had been erected in the middle of a transparent marquee and bars and food tables (decked with Peking Duck) lined the perimeter. Guests were entertained every half an hour; beginning with a fashion show that left no one in any doubt of Shanghai women's feminine prowess; and ending with an even racier can-can.

For some, the highlight was the puppet show, whose story line was not entirely clear to this viewer, but which saw a frog murdered near its finale in what many Brits took to be a savage commentary by the Chinese puppeteers on the French banking industry.

The next evening we obeyed our annual ritual and attended the State Bank of India bash, whose greatest asset has always been the abundant food. Guest of honour was finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, who was wandering around the room with little or no security at all and looked very relaxed.
Immediately after this, the Mayor of Shanghai held a cocktail party and dinner, the latter reportedly not the greatest culinary success  in trying to appeal to the Westerners present, the Chinese diners were shocked to be served such hybrid dishes as abalone with Italian pasta.

Meanwhile Goldman had hired the back half of Shanghai's most fashionable venue, M on the Bund, for its own party, and pleased all with its liberal policy on handing out fine Cuban cigars. Philippines finance minister, Jose Camacho made an appearance, and seemed to enjoy the view of the sprawling Bund from the balcony, which the Shanghai mayor had lit up even more than normal to honour the ADB. By the look on his face, he thought it more impressive than Metro Manila.

As Friday evening melted into Saturday morning, small packs of party animals disappeared into Shanghai's lively bar scene; to areas such as Xintiandi, and to what became a favourite, the Face Bar in the Ruixin Guest House.

On Saturday (aka Party Day Three) ABN AMRO threw the 'surprise' party of the entire ADB. It had deliberately kept its guestlist very exclusive  gaining acceptances from key FIG clients such as DBS's CEO, Philippe Paillart  and hired a small pottery gallery that required a map to find. The secret of its success was hiring the Shaolin monks for the event, and when word of this got round, the numbers that turned up vastly exceeded the guestlist.

The Shaolin monks did, however, cause some concern among party organizers when their high-flying, sword-wielding, acrobatic antics had led to the complete and utter destruction of the stage in rehearsals. Fortunately, the evenings performance went off without similar hick-ups, and the whole thing was a great success.

The final major party of the conference, and what has become the 'must go event' of the ADB over the years, was the UBS Warburg bash. This year it hired a 1920s house, and threw an atmospheric party featuring musical accompaniment from a trio of Shanghainese girls dressed in thirties style, and whose keyboard player was a dead-ringer for Lucy Liu from Ally McBeal.

Cigars and champagne flowed, as did a few priceless moments. Foremost among these was Goldman's vice chairman Carlos Cordeiro arriving and being met at the door by Peter Burnett who welcomed him. Burnett, as host, then asked what he would like to drink and was a little put out when Cordeiro requested a glass of water. When FinanceAsia's Jackie Horne and UBS DCM head Paddy O'Brien increduously queried his choice of drink, he joked that it was fact, "neat gin." (Explanations were actually made the next day, when Carlos admitted he needed water because he'd just got off a treadmill at the gym.)

To its infinite credit, UBSW's party went on till very late indeed. Ironically enough, the hosts themselves were among the first to leave their own party for dinner at Face, in part because it was chairman, Rodney Ward's birthday. Then again, the party only got wilder as a result. Indeed, the Shanghainese girl band finished a performance of considerable note with a rendition of 'Simply the Best'. This song, which normally drives most people up the wall, was made curiously more pleasant as sung on this occasion, since the lead singer proved adept at slipping up and down the microphone and made some very slinky noises indeed.

Did anyone go to more parties than us? Tough call. Having considered this extensively on a Dragonair flight back to Hong Kong, I predict it could be a photo-finish between ourselves and CBA's affable Stephen Holden.

On second thoughts, CBA has it; a bottle of Bolly awaits from FinanceAsia awaits Holden.

Tomorrow: photos from the parties

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