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From Toronto to Shanghai

Author: • Oct 2nd, 2007 •

Category: Ballardosphere, deep time, Shanghai, Shepperton, travel

Ballardian: Shanghai

    Above: the Ballard family’s former house, now lit up in the colours of capitalism. Photo: Rick McGrath.

“Do you believe in synchronicity?” Andy asked. “That’s the 10 o’clock signal for today’s national anniversary. Sirens are blowing all over the country right now.” He leaned in, conspiratorially. “It was precisely 70 years ago today the Japanese attacked China and bombed the crap outta Shanghai. Tuesday, September 18, 1937. The beginning of the end for everyone living around here. And Jim’s childhood.”

I was dumbfounded. No, gobsmacked. What were the odds of this happening on the one day I was here? It was like some temporal shift was taking place, and I was being swept along in a sort of dual timeline. The walls were coming together to form an angle.

Aircraft had always interested Jim, and especially the Japanese bombers that had devastated the Nantao and Hongkew districts of Shanghai in 1937. Street after street of Chinese tenements had been leveled to the dust, and in the Avenue Edward VII a single bomb had killed a thousand people, more than any other bomb in the history of warfare.

Rick McGrath has onlined the travelogue detailing his visit to J.G. Ballard’s former home in Shanghai, the sovereign domestic zone that played host to a number of resonant scenes in Empire of the Sun.

In 2006, using Google maps and good old snail mail, McGrath nailed the location. Later, I received an email from Andy Best in Shanghai: “Did you know Ballard’s former house is now a restaurant?” Knowing of Rick’s obsession, I forwarded it on. Rick was in touch with Andy, and then Rick was gone.

Arriving in Shanghai, Andy is his guide. They eat at Ballard’s house. The restaurant’s proprietor gets interested in a potential tie-in with the building’s unique history. They explore ‘other sites of Ballardian temporal archaeology’, including Lunghua Civilian Assembly Camp (now Shanghai High School), where Ballard and his family were interned.

The journey is surreal. Ballard freefalls in (non)space. The experience of Shanghai and Shepperton colours everything Ballard writes, or at least, everything he writes colours Ballard’s experience of Shanghai and Shepperton. Geographic boundaries dissolve in a mesh of psycho-spatial coordinates. But now, Rick McGrath is in the perfect position to weave a scale cartography of the inside of J.G. Ballard’s head.

First phase: ‘doorstepping’ JGB in Shepperton earlier this year. Second phase: Shanghai Central.

..:: MORE

+ Chris Mitchell, of jgballard.com, has an appreciative appraisal of Rick’s Shanghai trip from a travel writer’s perspective at his other site, Travel Happy.
+ Compare Rick’s photos of the house and its innards with Ballard’s own return to Shanghai, as documented in Shanghai Jim.

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3 Responses »

  1. Simon. If you’re ever coming over, contact me through Rick and I’ll ‘hook you up’.

  2. This is PURE Jungian synchronicity, NO DOUBT. Still a mystery…..

  3. If I ever make it to Shanghai, Andy, you can be sure I’ll be looking you up. Cheers, Simon.

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