Shanghai Daily's original foreign crew member shares his memories
Countless times, Bivash Mukherjee has thought about leaving Shanghai, a city he has called home since 1999.
The Mumbai native had traveled the world, working on English-language newspapers in Bangkok and Moscow before coming here as part of the team assembled to launch Shanghai Daily.
“Initially, I didn’t know how long I would stay,” he said. “I was in Moscow at the time, and my plan was to help launch the paper and then go back.”
But Shanghai captivated him. In his first year here, Mukherjee frequently roamed the streets of the city into the wee hours of the morning. He not only got to know his way around but also made friends with many locals on his nocturnal foot travels. When Shanghai Daily journalists wanted to go out for a few beers after work, he always led them to the most interesting night spots.
“China was completely new to me,” he said. “Everyone was interested in the mystery of the Chinese mainland. I knew only a little bit about Beijing. As for Shanghai, I knew little of its history – only that it was the city where the money was.”
Well, so much for initial impressions.
Twenty years on, he is somewhat famously known as the foreigner who gives cab drivers road directions, even when accompanied by Chinese passengers. He is the “go-to” foreigner for many Chinese journalists at Shanghai Daily who have questions on English usage or international affairs. New foreigners who come to work at the newspaper turn to him for tips on living in Shanghai.
Mukherjee has won two Magnolia awards from the municipal government for his contributions to the city and is always at the forefront of the welcoming party when ministers and mayors visit the newspaper office.
He married an Indian and the couple has two children, both born and raised in Shanghai. Though they are now back in Mumbai for schooling, the jovial Mukherjee still refers to them as “half Shanghainese.” His wife and children, who all share his love for the city, visit him whenever possible.
“I’ve done most of China,” he said. “Every year, I think, this is it, time to go. But there is always something new to see.”
For years Mukherjee, a cricket fan, piloted Shanghai Daily’s sports pages, giving them an international focus. One of the high points was Beijing’s hosting of the Summer Olympics in 2008.
Mukherjee was excited about the Olympics from the first day Beijing was announced as the host city. Shanghai Daily’s coverage of the games produced what he considers among his most memorable stories.
“I went with a reporter to People’s Square, and the huge area was packed with crowds,” he said of public support for the games. “It was just special listening to and watching them. That was a special moment.”
He worked tirelessly with reporters and editors on the special Olympics edition, thinking he would return to India after the games to be closer to his aging parents. After covering one of China’s biggest international events, that would be it.
“We have the world expo coming, and this time it will be in Shanghai,” then deputy chief editor Jiang Jianjun told him in her efforts to convince him to stay.
“My father was in town at the time, and he said you should stay in a place you are wanted instead of pushing yourself to go home for us,” Mukherjee recalled.
“I stayed,” he said. “And I don’t think I will be going back anytime soon.”