Update on the Shanghai Residency 2023

The flight over was uneventful and I was safely delivered to the apartment early on a Friday morning and was the first of the writers to arrive. So what can I tell you about the residency so far? Shanghai is an amazing and beautiful city. It has a population of nearly 25 million people so it’s teeming with life and folk driving motorbikes on the footpaths. Crossing the road (when you have the green light to do so) is like an elaborate folk dance with pedestrians, cars, motorbikes and bicycles weaving in and out of each other to successfully reach their destination. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And they drive on the other side of the road so I have to remember to look the other way for traffic. Our apartment building is in the ‘diamond’ district, so mostly businesses and lots of newer high rise and flash cars. We went to the French Concession on the Monday for our official welcome and this is a more character-filled area with older buildings and a hipper, younger, more chic kind of vibe. Four of us headed back there last night for a wander and some kai.

Before the welcome we were treated to a sophisticated banquet – although I wasn’t game to try the turtle, the lily, lotus root, moon cakes and other goodies were delicious. After, we were treated to some traditional Pingtan ‘theatre’ – two artistes playing instruments, singing and acting, which was incredible. We are going to a longer performance later in the month. There is art going on everywhere if you look for it. On Saturday night some of us wandered up to and along the Suzhou River and it was spectacular in the dark, with art works dotted here and there along both banks. Today I walked along Beijing Road to the Sculpture Park and enjoyed the art and the green space. I am taking lots of photos as mementos, and as research. Writing is going pretty well and I am able to spend a good chunk of time each day adding to the project and making use of my own experiences to breathe life into my main character.

The other residents are all lovely people and we are getting along well, talking books, writing, and the ups and downs of being published in our respective countries of origin. Also, at the ‘welcome’ there was a picture book reading by a Chinese writer who had come to the Michael King Writers Centre in 2017 as the reciprocal Shanghai resident. It was wonderful to meet a fellow ‘writer for children’, and one who has shared the residency experience, albeit in reverse.

The language barrier makes for some interesting challenges but this is all part of the ‘stranger in a strange land’ experience and is certainly giving me a new and useful perspective on a whole host of things. My one frustration is the lack of access to all the usual online resources and points of connection I am used to having. I miss talking daily to my children and am sorry I can’t share more of my experiences ‘as they happen’ with friends and family back home. I will have to save them all up for my return. And I’m sorry not to have tv to escape into in the evenings, and I’m wishing I’d brought more books to read – perhaps I will just have to write my own entertainment. Tomorrow we set out as a group on a bit of a guided walking tour and I’m hoping to ask our guide some questions that might help with my project.

Melinda Szymanik