Bowling Mania Strikes Shanghai

ENTERTAINING a big client and eager to offer him something other than the usual night of karaoke singing? Then follow the latest craze among Shanghai's young people and take him bowling.

Bowling has become so popular in China's largest city that bowling entrepreneurs say they can recoup their investment in 18 months. Shanghai, with 13 million people, has more than 30 bowling alleys with 1,000 lanes, nearly all of them built in the past two years.

"Everyone can learn to bowl in five minutes," says a manager at Shanghai New Palace Bowling Hall, which has 20 lanes, computer scoreboards, and waitresses in shorts and brand-name T-shirts.

The New Palace, on pricey Nanjing Road, cost 10 million yuan ($1.2 million) to build and opened in the second half of 1995. Like most of the new alleys, it's a foreign joint venture. Two years ago, bowling alleys in Shanghai could only be found in four- and five-star hotels, for use by foreigners.

But several joint ventures between foreign entertainment companies and Shanghai firms decided to test the waters by building alleys for the general public. They scored a strike.

One game costs 35 to 40 yuan ($4.50) in the evenings and half that during the day. With average incomes in Shanghai about 800 yuan ($96) a month, it's is too expensive for most people.

But those who work in foreign-funded firms can afford a couple of games a month. "I'm bored with karaoke and come here to play bowling for a fresh experience," says a bank clerk, accompanied by his girlfriend.

The rapid growth has worried some managers, though. "The fad will last three years at most," says one manager. "We are already facing serious competition among existing alleys."

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