British Badhrul: Boxing and books in Shanghai

Ji Jiayue
Han Yueran
Wang Meihan
Zhang Tiancheng
Badhrul Islam from Britain reflects on 14 years of food, literature and boxing in Shanghai.
Ji Jiayue
Han Yueran
Wang Meihan
Zhang Tiancheng

Shot by Wang Meihan, and Zhang Tiancheng. Edited by Wang Meihan and Zhang Tiancheng. Subtitles by Zhang Tiancheng and Wang Meihan. 

In a grey shirt and black pants, Badhrul Islam is reading Dostoyevsky in the afternoon sunshine. In a few hours, he'll be in the ring, demonstrating combinations, yelling “left, right,” and "keep your hands up," to the boxers he is training.

Islam was born in Great Britain and has spent  a total of 14 years in Shanghai. The 39-year-old is a literature teacher at Wellington College Shanghai and coaches boxing at the Golden Gloves gym in Wuding road, Jing'an District. He is also coaching for Brawl on the Bund, a biannual boxing event.

Zhang Tiancheng and Han Yueran / SHINE

Islam watches trainees hard at it in his Golden Gloves gym in Jingan District.

In early 2016, Islam put some money into the Golden Gloves gym and became a part owner. At first it was a club purely for foreigners but many locals have since joined. Over the past three years, Golden Gloves has become a center of the city's overseas community. 

Islam still remembers his first day in Shanghai 17 years ago — the city was not as glamorous as it is today, but still impressive. For him, Shanghai is now a city of gastronomy. 

“The most noticeable thing for me is the number of good restaurants around. Shanghai is such a great place to eat. You get Spanish food cooked by Spanish people, you get Italian food cooked by Italians and food from lots of different countries,” said Islam.

Islam is happy in his two very different roles of literature teacher and boxing coach. He doesn’t want his day job to define him. 

“It’s like the two sides of a coin. Both are passions. A single side can’t represent me,” he said.

He has decorated his classroom in Wellington College with pictures from a graphic version of Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness," his favorite. 

Zhang Tiancheng and Han Yueran / SHINE

Islam has decorated his classroom with pictures from a graphic version of "Heart of Darkness." 

Name: Badhrul Islam
Nationality: British
Job: Boxing coach and literature teacher
Years in Shanghai: 14

Q: Why did you pick Shanghai as a place to work?

A: Actually, I've a good friend who is still here called Karl. If you are watching this video, thanks Karl. He recommended Shanghai as a good place to work and arranged a job interview for me. Why I came here was pretty much down to Karl. He said it was quite a fun city.

Q: Share with us your first impression of Shanghai.

A: It was in June 2002.  My best friend and I came to Shanghai together and stayed for three years. Then I went back to Britain for a while and came back again in 2008.  It was very different then to how it is now. I remember being pretty confused in 2002, and it was also very hot when we arrived. We didn’t speak much Chinese and I remember getting lost. But my first impressions are still pretty vivid. The size of the place was very impressive.

Q: As you said, Shanghai is a pretty lively city, so how do you spend your weekends?

A: It’s a real mix. Friday night, I generally like to have a drink and relax, because I never drink during the week. On Saturday, I might be coaching. We’ve just started training fighters for the Brawl on the Bund, which is quite well-known boxing event. This Saturday, I will be coaching there. And Sunday night is often spent in a bar or club. This week, for example, it’s a friend’s birthday, so I will be out with him.

Q: Tell us about the teaching side of your life.

A: Well my day job is as a teacher of literature. Actually my degree is in literature so I am very passionate about books. My day job allows me to work with what I really like - literature, novels, poetry. 

Lots of my friends work in the business world and their jobs are to do with meetings, computers, and office work while mine is working with young people and literature. It’s nice to be able to do this job in Shanghai. 

Zhang Tiancheng and Han Yueran / SHINE

Islam looks through a Polish novel in Wellington College library.

Q: How long have you been a boxing lover? Why did you choose to be a boxing coach? 

A: I am from England and boxing is a very popular sport there. I had been watching boxing for my whole life and taking part for ten or eleven years before I came here. In Shanghai, I have been involved for quite a long time, maybe almost ten years. We started the Golden Gloves gym in Xinze Road and now we have moved to Wuding Road. 

Boxing is becoming more and more popular. When we started Golden Gloves, it was the first big foreign gym, and I think we have made a real community for boxing now. At the same time, a lot of our members now are local Chinese people who are interested in fitness. They get more and more addicted and become boxing lovers.

Q: Which street do you like best? And why?

A: Wuding Road is really good for foreigners. It’s quite well-known. It’s near Changping Road. So we can get all different kinds of food, and it’s really convenient for my gym, which is only one-minute’s walk away and a very important part of my life.

Q: Compared to your hometown, what do you dislike about Shanghai? Do you have some suggestions to change it for the better?

A: I think that Shanghai like many big cities can be a little bit unfriendly. Well, individual people are always friendly. But generally, in my hometown, if you bump into someone, you turn around and you apologize or you hold the door open for someone. But I think you know to be fair it is not just Shanghai.

In places like New York or London you also find that "big-city attitude."

Q: What changes have you noticed since you came to Shanghai?

A: Well, one of the big changes of course that everyone notices is the buildings going up, and metro and these are important, right? When I first got there, there was only line 1 and 2 but now the metro is everywhere which is brilliant. The buildings are also very noticeable and in English, what we called "gentrification." 

When I first went to Wuding Road, it was pretty local. Now it’s pretty nice and modern. The most noticeable thing for me or the best thing for me is the number of good restaurants around there. Shanghai is such a great place to eat. 

Special Reports