Back on Track in Muggy Shanghai

Summer has hit Shanghai with a vengeance, slamming us bugs into the pavement like a great big fly-swatter.  Having lived in Aus for all those years I’d forgotten how jarring four extreme seasons can be.  It’s just hot as hell out there today.  And humid—like a great big bowl of steaming wonton soup.  Thank Buddha for air conditioning, even though it’s a contributor to global warming, which is just making the problem worse in the long run.  But we humans, we’re short-term thinkers.  Looking out for our own comfort without regard for the generations to come.  

Since my dear old mother left town to return to the good ol’ US of A, many a tear has been shed in these parts, but we’re getting on with life nonetheless.  Sarah is still working on her swimming and drawing skills, and now I’m teaching her to spell--after all, in this accelerated age, even a 3-year old should be able to spell a few words, eh?  Mency is doing her TV programs.  I’m trying to finish my book on the jazz-age nightlife industry of Shanghai in the 1920s-50s.  As Tony Soprano’s gangster dad once quipped, “you’re like an albacore around my neck!”  It’s been a long journey and I’ll be extremely pleased when it’s out there, even though it’ll never be as perfect as I’d like it to be.  Far from it in fact, but who cares at this point?

I’ve been having strange dreams about rolling green hills, sun, and Sydney surf and old colleagues at UNSW, none of whom have made any attempt to keep in touch with me (sob!) except for my good friends Nick and Geoff.  Usually tied in with doing research on the book.  I think there’s a lot of residual guilt built up over the fact that I left quite suddenly and didn’t publish my book while I was still working there, thus denying them the research quanta that every good uni needs to keep functioning properly.  Oh well, no use crying over spilt milk, is there?  The belated glory will come when I credit UNSW with having me helped nurture the book to life.  To that effect, my nightlife history course was very useful in giving me some comparative historical trends to look at.  

But I don’t wish to bore my readers (if there are any these days!) with news of a book that has yet to see the light or my own psychological burdens.  The big news for me these days is that I’ve been hired on full-time by CIEE.  My new job title is Academic Director of the China in a Global Context (CGC for short) program, which currently has around 40 students enrolled.  I’ll be overseeing the students and the other adjunct profs who are teaching courses in history, literature, international relations, and politics.  As our Shanghai CIEE director Justin O’Jack put it to me yesterday, I’ll be the “magnet” holding the program together.  I also get to devise and lead fieldtrips for the group, including a big week-long trip to Beijing, which I can rightly say is one of my fortes, especially after directing the Dartmouth program up there last year.  

So all in all things seem to be turning for the better.  A full time job, with teaching and administrative responsibilities and a program to run and develop.  I hope there’ll still be time to work on publications, but to hedge my bets I’m trying to get as much done on my book as possible, and hope to have the revised manuscript back to my publisher by the time the teaching semester begins.

Another project that I’m busy working on these days is my doco film about the indie rock scene in China.  I’ve come up with a catchy (I hope) and fitting title for the film:  SUBSURFACE.  The reason for which will become apparent to anybody who watches the film.  With Jud’s production assistant now working on the editing, and my initial script completed, I’m relatively free to focus on my book, but the arduous work of transcription looms ahead.  And once the rough editing is done, there’s the painstaking work of fine-tuning.

Meanwhile, as if all these projects weren’t enough on my plate, I’ve also moved forward on my plan to build a home recording studio.  The other weekend, to celebrate my new job, I went out and splurged on an electronic keyboard.  I picked up the CASIO Privia PX-120 for a pretty good price at Parsons Music store on Jinling Lu.  It is a full keyboard with a real piano feel to it, but with MIDI connections and other bells and whistles thrown in.  Sounds great, though there was a bit of buzzing at first when I hit some of the keys, but it seems to have gone away.  Been ages since I’ve worked on my piano skills, leading also to many guilt-ridden dreams about practicing old songs I once played well and have forgotten over the years, but really I want to use it to back up some of the songs I’ve been writing for guitar.  I also found a decent mic—the M-AUDIO Nova, and an audio recording interface, also made by M-AUDIO, to hook up the mic and my guitar to the computer. 

Here’s a photo of me doing a poor imitation of my hero and idol, Thomas Dolby.  Astute viewers will notice that the shirt I’m wearing is from his Sole Inhabitant Tour, and that over the trademark spectacles is his very own signature!  TMDR might be happy to learn that I’m taking the poem I wrote him years ago and turning it into a song.  Or not.  Depends on the results I suppose.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to use some of the software that’s out there for recording and mixing music.  I know what you’re thinking:  mid-life crisis!  And you’re damn right.

Another sign of mid-life blues is that I’ve been trying to reconnect with all these old friends from high school and college that I haven’t seen or heard from in ages.  Enter Facebook—amazing how a bit of cleverly engineered software can hook the world back together.

I leave you with some images of the scenery looking southward toward the city from our new apartment window, up on the 18th floor of the same compound and even the very building that Mency’s folks live in.  One of my little pursuits has been taking photos of the view in different weather and different times of day and night.