Shanghai is commonly abbreviated in Chinese as the single character Hu, which, as well as coming from Hu Du the name of the ancient Chinese fishing village, Hu also refers to the Hai character, at the end of Shanghai, which means “sea” in English while Shang may mean “on, up or above”. So there are disputes about how the name should be interpreted. Official histories assert it to mean the ‘upper reaches of the sea’, but the coastline has shifted so Shanghai was once literally ‘on the sea’ therefore, in a sense, it is known as many different places. Shanghai has so many identities that it ends up with no identity, or you might try and find one, but you can’t. Fixed identities are unsettled here, it’s an “xtra-reality” and so the whole logic of the place is slippery and layered – it is impossible to pin down. There is no way you can possibly figure it out…


and actually you can see that nice floating digital screen and really just meditate on that all afternoon.


This slide shows an interesting situation. At one point they evidently decided they needed a guard shelter and then decided it should be round. It sort of suggests Hieronymus Bosch. I don’t know whether you know Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly delights but the main panel is full of these circular structures that are plopped in the midst of ponds and shrubbery, and this sort of guards the Chinese territory and your just left with this rather playful hut structure and I rather like this particular technique. It’s an “xtra-architerization” you might say. It’s an insertion of extra form. After all buildings are for more than just sheltering. Actually I spent many happy moments in the New Le Hu Building contemplating this particular hut. It really appeals to me. I like that sort of Humpty Dumpty look.


Now this is a fairly common sight in Shanghai. It’s a kind of cable-web you might say. And they make a fine perch for the Egrets and Herons. They are all connected too. If you look closely you’ll see only a very few cut ends. In between the cables and coils of cables you can see the overhead tram lines, interwoven. You can just imagine the effect of it all going full throttle as current flows throughout the city creating a lattice like power grid  – one that has real physical representation. I like that kind of sense of consistency. One can’t quite figure out why they hung the remaining loops of cable there, but they do seem to belong, they seem to have some incredible sort of necessity. They just grew out like tropical growth, a sort of Chinese industrial-technologic, man-made wonder.

(slide)man on bike with pole

Now this is an image of a man with a pole on a bike photographed by Emily Woodward. Emily was sitting next to me in the back seat of a taxi when we saw this man pass by.  It is actually not unusual at all to see all manner of goods loaded, or more often overloaded onto bicycles. As bikes and scooters are one of the primary forms of transportation they tend to come up with fairly novel and often quite complex means for transporting large loads of materials – which is actually quite canny. The pole is probably 3 or 4 times the man’s height but he seems quite adept at carrying it aloft while on his journey. Once again this is just another example of the kind of the xtra-reality of the place. Of course here you can only catch the very end of the back wheel …. there it is.


Now here is one of the more interesting pictures in the New Le Hu Building. This shows a jovial moment between Zhou Enlai and Chairman Mao. You know this picture is actually placed here in a sort of retro reference, thought of as a kind of kitsch by the locals. You can’t really see, because Mao Zedong’s head is turned to the side, but if you could see him actually facing full to the front, you would notice just how round his face is. My feeling is that this has had an impact on the Chinese. That this face, facade, has lent an enormous amount of influence on the structure of things here. The spirit of Mao’s cultural teachings is a series of facades within facades, overlapping, facades on facades on facades. Now you won’t learn anything of the cultural revolution in this lecture, that’s something you’ll have to investigate for yourself, and I do hope you go to The New Le Hu Building so you can learn something about the way the Shanghainese are still experiencing what the cultural revolution brought. So to me this seemingly simple picture calls forth all sorts of truths about the Chinese temperament.


It would look like the Shanghainese know where they are and where they are going but they don’t  – nor do I. Anyhow here they are going somewhere but there is no point trying to figure out where. And the way the pillars here seem to be floating amid this lovely grey corrugated roof.  I like to think this is the grey and white perspective. It shows you the kind of controlled chaos of the place – it’s hard to tell the difference between confusion and order when you come to a place like this. They seem to intertwine with each other, and lose each other and cancel each other out so there is no possibility of knowing where you are.


Now this is a temple, actually  one of the main temples. And it seems that it suggests a sort of behind the scenes or through the looking glass quality. That rounded doorway like that seems to lead to somewhere but it doesn’t. It  has just become a sort of closet of objects, guarded and inaccessible, much like the impenetrable nature of The New Le Hu Building or of Shanghai itself. In the front you can see something that looks like a bike, now that is a bike and it is only partially laden with goods at the time I was there. No doubt it could be utilized to transport much, much more in future.


Now here we come to the more ingenious aspects of this place. Evidently they wanted an area without the constant noise and blare but when you come to a crowded place like this you really do need to negotiate with an awful lot of traffic. And i really like they way they’ve solved the problem of language here through the use of a picture. Although i must admit at first look I took it to mean no trumpets. And there is a nice confusion as well because there is just so much information trying to be relayed. It calls forth that idea of controlled chaos again, the basic situation of Chinese culture.


Now here is another view of a guard shack, and you can see much better the inside of this one. Now that is the gate he is guarding behind him. I just love this view. I think that the accordion gate and then the sleeping official – it just offers so much gratification. The situation is really marvelous and really communist China in spirit. Also you might notice the pole leaning against the desk there – the official might be napping but I wouldn’t want to test this premise just in case that’s not the case. Now if you imagine yourself quietly inching back away from the Guardhouse and you turnaround and…


We come to the market. This is the market closest to the New Le Hu Building of course. You can see the fruit that is imported from Taiwan and now fills the carts here, after all Taiwan is the People’s Republic of China. The further back you walk through the market the more stallkeepers are preparing hot food in large woks and on charcoal grills. It is a popular spot for both eating and shopping, where even live food and pets can be purchased – which is quite a remarkable situation to me.


Here is one of the available items for purchase – though I am not quite sure for which this is intended. I only hope the shade covering for the birds, an import from the southern part of the United States, is not at all an indicator.


Now here we see the shop window just opposite the market displaying a rather nice cake topped by a sort of buttocks alluding peach, a sort of peachy bum you could say. I think the icing-depicted heavens is rather glorious and suggests the sweetness  of nature and the universe, also you can have your desert here. And I think that this is quite a remarkable piece of construction, and when you are there in Shanghai be sure to go and see it.


Now this is part of a story about the life of JG Ballard who recently passed away. He actually grew up in part in Shanghai. In fact his younger days are portrayed in the movie Empire of the Sun, which though directed by Steven Spielberg, was adapted to the screen in part by Ballard.  Ballard lived in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation when it was known as Song Hu. For example, the Japanese attack on Shanghai in August 1937 is commonly called the Song Hu Battle. Song Hu is asort of nickname of Songjiang, it also comes from Wusoung Kou, Wu Song River, combining the character for Song with that for Hu. The city has also had various nicknames in English, including “Paris of the East” and “Pearl of the Orient”. You can really just go on and on, there are many many more iterations of it. You know its position at the mouth of the Yangtsee River made it an ideal location for trading with the west, and at many points in time Shanghai held foreign extraterritoriality on Chinese soil. So that sort of gives you that feeling of “extra-reality” of the place. There is something about Shanghai, an overall science fiction about the landscape itself. Many fictions are set in Shanghai so you have to be careful when you go that you are not caught up in this – in any of this unconscious myth making that inundates every patch of earth and every trickle of water. So, if you ever do go over there I would be on guard.


Here you can see a modern building. The place should be starting to take shape in your mind at this point. You should be getting the point I am trying to make which is no point actually. The interesting thing about this whole place is that there is no point of rest. You just see these things purely as sites and circumstances that seem to be somewhere. Well actually you know they are here. I think the basic use of the map – the darkened spaces indicating land mass on the globe structure – could be a complete trip in itself. You could really get involved in that, you could do your whole thesis on that, you know just that situation which is really a direct technique. And also you can see how circular it is . You can see all they way around it as a matter of fact.


Here’s another shot of a globe. You can see it better. There is a rather intruding sign there, well-placed to grab your attention and encourage you to investigate, if you hadn’t already thought to do so. As it turns out this structure is an exhibition meant to allow you total immersion in the Shanghai experience. Unfortunately the sign is an indicator that the effect isn’t working and in fact the exhibition is broken. I don’t know, I mean the excitement of finding this edifice that was then both heightened and dashed at the prospect of an experience denied is a ride all its own. You are taken on a bit of a roller coaster experience, but your really not going to have too much time to dwell on it anyway, I just thought it might be an interesting thing for you to see. You wonder why actually, but after a while you really start to lose interest and you stop looking at it and you go on to other things.

(slide)workers with orange helmets

Now this is some workers with orange helmets. Once again Emily Woodward took this photograph from the middle seat of the taxi we were in.. and she didn’t get the actual workers so you will have to bear with me and accept that they are there behind the man on the  bike. In fact you can see the mid-section of one of the workers just to the left of the bikers jacket. You’ll notice the dusty rose colored wall in the background, well the workers helmets contrast quite beautifully with their neon orange hue. I mean it was almost like it was art directed by some street designer, which gives one pause…


Now here you can see a shrine. In the back you can see an arching pole, but in the front there you see a sort of, you know a little car shrine. There it is, just for itself. I mean there is nothing like a little shrine just as a shrine. It’s not going anywhere, well actually it might be said to as it’s on the dashboard of a car, but it’s just there, just think of it and enjoy it for its shrine-ness. You don’t really care what use its going to be put to. It just happens to be there and its justness gives it a certain frisson, a kind of value it might not otherwise have. And in the back there is part of a windshield wiper – we’re all familiar with windshield wipers actually – and that is blunt, unpretentious, its not calling attention to itself, it doesn’t wear its function on its sleeve.


Oh and here’s a sign. And what i thought was interesting was the way it looks like a shower door. The way its got this nice translucent surface and what looks like a little handle almost, on the left side there. Behind it is another pillar like we saw earlier.


This is just some statues. When you think of it,  the camera fell out of my grasp just as I was taking the photo, and the effect, I kind of like that it just sort of suggests a kind of circular situation.


Now we are finally at the bridge of the New Le Hu Building. We see the canal and overhanging plants too. I like this, as you come to the Building you see this canal and its a kind of nice situation to see.


Here’s a view of another sign. In English this is translated as Lucky Person and I like that the character on the left actually looks like a person.. walking away from the other two to seek his luck.


This is interesting. Here we have some statues sort of just standing around, back up against this wall. And they signify something. I never figured it out while I was there but it seemed to suggest some kind of orderly anarchy. All these disparate elements had been brought together. We were just kind of grabbed by it. You really just felt like there was sense behind this confusion. It was like a sign – a sign of something  significant. And there is just the briefest glimpse of a penetratingly vibrant blue amidst it all. There are little touches now and then, a sort of shocking element, the element of drama and fantasy and… But of course you are probably well familiar with that by now.


Oh here’s an alley. I couldn’t get a complete shot of it, but there it is and I am on top of a roof or something. They’ve used every bit of space there, you know . They’ve turned it into a sort of al fresco dining experience. The alley is very interesting as its a passageway that is at times fully impeded. It’s a kind of impassable passageway.


This just gives you an idea of a certain kind of commemoration plaque they have. It’s sustained a bit of water damage but it is quite nicely framed. It’s set against a good solid stone wall and one wonders exactly why this is here, but we must go on.


This is another statue, which by now you are quite familiar with. If you look very closely, very hard, you’ll see the lack of hands and then the painted beard – the addition of an extra element infiltrating. It is very solidly built. And there it is.


This is interesting because if any of you ever visit Shanghai your sure to see a lot to do with the communist revolution. There’s a building specially built and devoted to an extremely large miniature model that takes up all 5 floors, one of which is devoted to the changes that took place over the course of the revolution. And this is actually true. This plaque is in that building, written in both Chinese and English, and you can see the two circles at the heart of the word there. And I thought that was a rather interesting thing.


This is sort of the Plaza. At first you notice right at the back that’s its tiled, right? There’s not really much you can say about it, I mean it’s just a tiled plaza. We’ve all seen tiled plazas at one point in our lives. It gives out a sense of universality that way, a sense of kind of global cohesion. The plaza probably sits nowhere and opens on nowhere so that we leave Shanghai and the New Le Hu Building with this open plaza and return to the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading.

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