Lost in a time lapse… that’s how I feel at the moment. I have amassed quite a lot of photos and sound recordings during these last two weeks of research in Shanghai, but had no time to re-think and write about my time here. Only a few notes here and there, written on paper tissues lying on cafe tables and my tiny notebook. Would any of these make sense in a couple of weeks, when I will be back in London?
“I am at Lola, the bar for expats in Shanghai. The windows on the facade of the building next door do not lead to the sky. The moon is strange tonight. Where is the opium which English merchant ships brought to Chinese shores so long ago? Where did they hide it? Where is the key to unlock the past of this city? Where is the door? Space on this small piece of paper is limited, and so is my time, like my seven minutes of video/sound work. Where do I start from? What do I put down? Expats… Sometimes I feel like Chinese taxi drivers look down on them. Interesting dynamics. Repetitions / Shanghai / Repetition / London at the other side of the spectrum. Time and space is limited. Opium.”
This is such a different process from the one I went through in Tangier. Time there seemed to move at a slowerer, softer pace; history lingered in the air, filling it with its memories. Here I don’t know where to look. My camera frames run faster; light is flat; the air around me is cotton; my head feels heavy and I wake up tired. I find difficult to focus… There is no time and space feels huge.
Where should I start? The temples I visited to learn about the movements of the body bending rhythmically north, east, south, and west?
The murmuring of the priests during Buddha’s birthday celebration?
My new, young Chinese friends living in an old house in the old part of Shanghai where I stayed for one night on my arrival from Ningbo, sharing with them the pains and the joys of living conditions which are hundred years old?
Or should I take inspiration from the exhibitions and meetings with Chinese artists from Shanghai, which helped me to get the pulse of the city from within rather than without?
Back in the streets, how do I convey the feeling of owe sitting on the pavement in front of the World Financial Centre, taking photos of high scrapers in Pudong?
But then I would leave out the incessant calling of shop assistants selling watches, bags, silk and anything else on planet earth. The sound of traffic, crickets and cicadas, mixed with people’s raucous spitting and workers’ metal drilling. Ah, my endless attempts to communicate in English and then resort to my physical theatre training for basic body language. How do I express the wondrous kindness of the people I constantly stop in the streets for directions? The crazy horning of taxi drivers, scooter drivers, car drivers, and anybody on any kind of wheels in this heavily trafficked city!
How will I work out the intricacies of Sunday mornings in People’s Park with its marriage market, English speaking corner and lazy, sleepy couples, the museums, archives and libraries.
I have visited antique markets, second hand markets, fake markets, food markets! I feel full. Not enough time to download. My memory card is too small…
Yesterday I stopped for a cappuccino in a French brasserie at the corner between Xiangyang Road and Julu Road, the leafy French concession area. It felt like this was the first time I stopped since I arrived in Shanghai, but then, it’s already time to go. Will I learn the Tai Chi breathing exercise before it’s too late?
What a breathless place, what a ceaseless place. No wonder couples sleep. You have conjured up a fleeting picture of an alien cityscape. It joins memories of other images of that place and leaves me wondering how much that world has changed since my Grandfather’s childhood, caught in sepia photos in fragile leather-bound albums, along with accounts of the English in China 100 years ago. The strange and heady mix of garish temporary clutter drawn from ancient time honoured traditions of oriental aesthetics versus the Buddhist way of peace and tranquillity. The rush, pace and chaos of a populous in constant movement and change versus the pockets of public stillness and pause. This is surely humanity at the edge, it is both fantastic and terrifying. Change is the new God, bring me my opium!!
That’s it: “humanity at the edge, both fantastic and terrifying”. You summarise my experience in this amazing city so perfectly that I’m left wondering if the best way to reflect on my time in Shanghai isn’t through the eyes and sensibilities of people like you!
That’s a genuinely imprsevsie answer.