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That’s Shanghai April 2010 Sounds Underground By Helen Elfer Never mind the city that never sleeps, Shanghai is the city that never shuts the hell up. Which of these audio idiosyncrasies started getting on your nerves first? Was it the disembodied voice calling for recyclable “Kongtiao… diannao….” through a loudspeaker? Exploding festive firecrackers? Maybe the national anthem blasting out into school playgrounds at 8am every Monday morning? Even the most charming of the city’s sounds can become pretty grating after a while, so it’s inevitable we end up trying to tune out the cacophony. Terence Lloren’s new project, however, is all about tuning back in. His ‘soundwalks’ encourage people to concentrate on everyday sounds and absorb as much of Shanghai’s character though listening to it as they can through looking at it. Growing Up with Shanghai, Lloren’s soundwalks project, is a book partnered with a series of recordings, each focusing on a particular street in Shanghai. He invites young Shanghainese to take him for a walk through a road of their choosing, and tell him stories of their memories and associations with the location. The results are fascinating. For a start, it’s much easier to pay attention to an eclectic mix of noises when they’re recorded, especially as ordinary noises like background laughter or clanging bells seem to take on an extra significance. Secondly, although the tales people have to tell are pretty much free-flow rambles, the effect is still intimate and engaging, giving an insight into how other people perceive the city. Lemon, who narrates the Fengjing walk, recounts her childhood memory of a creepy old woman she used to visit. “We would come here to help her out whenever we were free. Her place is part of the old street alleyways and very dark. We would help her fix the walls. She was over 80 years old. When we first went there she really scared us. While we were using newspaper to fix the walls she would keep saying, “There’s a shadow, a shadow… ” Lloren says, “This project has made the city become more alive to me. The Nanjing Road walk yielded many interesting local facts, for example that the RMB2 ‘tip’ given to the funeral clothes maker at Lao Jie Fu was a symbol of reincarnation.” Other interesting snippets include information about jail cells in the basement of the Tai Kang food store and the dark local stories surrounding the 353 Plaza, where rumor has it people jumped from the roof to escape persecution during the ‘Cultural Revolution.’ “Some say that their spirits still curse the area, so that businesses can never stay longer than two years there.”

All the vocals on the recordings are in Shanghainese, but if you don’t speak the language, this enables you to focus your attention on the sounds of the words and how they chime in with the rest of the city’s soundtrack. It’s also a chance to pick up a little local slang – expressions such as ‘Shangzeguo,’ an area where wealthy people live and ‘Deng yang’ which means a bit less than handsome but still good looking and manly, are all featured. For translations, you can refer to the partnered book, which also features photos of the sites. Lloren says, “There is no correct way to experience this project but ideally, first put down the book and listen to the audio. Of course, to get the full experience, definitely walk the routes while reading the book and listening to the audio. There are photos and addresses that give you a sort of ‘treasure map’ to follow.” Growing Up with Shanghai RMB 200, is available at The Red Bookstore in the Shanghai Sculpture Space, or from

That's Shanghai Article- April 2010  

By Helen Elfer

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