Style | Diary of a Somebody

Yann Debelle de Montby

Shanghai’s luxury doyen lets China get under his skin

Yann Debelle de Montby

Image: Derrick Santini

October 28 2010
Yann Debelle de Montby

Day: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

I had a sleepless night last night. This was because the rain was pouring – from our bedroom ceiling and walls. I had to go in the middle of the night, in a sort of typhoon (from now on, I will just sleep with my beloved boots on!), to convince my neighbours that the problem I was having was most probably linked to their badly-maintained roof. I have never met my very rich neighbours; I had only heard their super-expensive-noisy cars (a Lamborghini, a Ferrari) being started and revved very early every morning. They proved to be very civilised with me. Back at home, I tried to relax and read a fantastic book that my wife has just offered me: A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953.

Frenetic Shanghai, and China generally, must be having a really strong influence on my behaviour, as I realise that I am reading five or six books all at the same time: Tristes Tropiques by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Oriental Tales by Marguerite Yourcenar, In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki , the Pablo Picasso monograph from the Taschen Basic Art Series; African Masks: The Barbier-Mueller Collection. I’ve never done this in my life. Good training for the challenge of the eclectic diversity of problems I have to solve every day, I guess.

After a hectic night, I wanted to have breakfast with my younger children, as they’re up at 6.15 every weekday in order to catch their 7am bus to the French Lycée Shanghai (the Lycée is very far from the centre of the city). It’s a very early hour for a child; but in four and a half years, strangely, I have never heard a complaint from them. They seem to intuitively realise how lucky they are to spend these years in China. Actually, they love Shanghai; they seem if anything happier than in comfortable London. I have to say that the Chinese, and especially the Shanghainese, have been extremely welcoming to us. They’re very kind with children – and of course it helps that Shanghai is one of the safest large cities, not only in China but in the world.

See also

China, People