Photo by Terrence Lloren/Growing Up With Shanghai
Last summer, we brought to your attention a movie called Building 173, which profiled the transformation of a certain Shanghai apartment block from high-society penthouses to middle class family homes and finally to tenements for the working poor. Highlighted, too, were the external factors – namely war and politics – which underlay and, in some cases, directly caused this metamorphosis, narrated in the most accurate and vivid way possible: directly from the people who lived in the building through it all.
Terence Lloren, one of the creatives behind Building 173, has taken the concept a step further in his new, self-published book Growing Up With Shanghai. Accompanied by an interactive, multimedia-laden website of the same name, the tome is a logical extension of the movie that preceded it: Building extrapolated from a very small cross section the story of Shanghai as a whole during its dramatic transition from boom town to war town to just another communist town; Growing Up is composed of “soundwalks” with local Shanghainese born after 1978, when a post-Mao China began walking the road to reform.
The website is divided, by neighborhood, into pages, each of which is born of a “soundwalk” with a Shanghainese who grew up there. Audio files on each page, in either Shangainese or the person’s own dialect, provide personal perspectives on what most of the outside world can perceive only as “fantastic growth” over the past two decades. For those of us who have enough trouble speaking Mandarin without being bothered to learn dialects, there are lengthy English transcriptions of each walk. Still, it might be worth it to check out one or two of the clips, to better understand the world into which the author takes us with this project, whether for the pauses, sighs and emotions–or the sound of broken glass being stepped on, construction happening at fever pace and the endless stream of car horns, voices and babies crying that pepper Shanghai’s soundwaves. As Lloren explains, “the current sounds of Shanghai can be heard behind the dialog and also serve as an audio document for future generations of Shanghainese.”
The first publishing run of the book was released at the end of last month. Limited to 200 copies, the hardcover-bound volume features color photographs, transcriptions and supplementary information about each of the soundwalks. It’s accompanied by a data-DVD in eBook format, enriched with the audio files themselves. A promotional copy of the book is on display at the Huaihai location of Boonna Cafe, while you can order one of your own directly from the website. Whatever your inclination, we highly recommend that you check out this project in one of its many forms. Lloren himself sums it up best:
Like sound itself, this project can be experienced and interpreted on many levels. On the surface it may just be a field recording of street sounds in another language, it could be everything I mention here, or something totally different. Whatever you get from these recordings, transcripts, and photos is exclusive only to you and your imagination. I hope that it makes Shanghai less intimidating and familiar to you and that if you do come, you try to experience a more intimate side of Shanghai by following one of these on your own.