Monday, 24 August 2009


I arrived in something of a jetlagged fog into the smog of Shanghai sometime on Sunday morning local time to be met by a wall of humidity and by an employee of the Children’s Art Theatre of China called Pan Tao, who asked to be called Peter (unless they are a Mister X or Madam Y, most people we met gave an ‘english’ name, which mostly I preferred not to use). He’s quite new to CATC and is an assistant in the production department, and a friendly and informative host he was as we rattled our way through the traffic from Pudong in the east to The French Concession area in the west where CATC is based. I was introduced to my apartment, which apparently had been kitted out according to the Japanese principle of ‘just-in-time’ as I was the first occupant. And a lovely apartment it is, all shiny and new with a water cooler and new chintzy suite and lampshades still wrapped in plastic. There was a bit of a welcoming committee consisting of the general manager, another lady from the office, an IT guy and the cleaner and they were all eager to see I liked the place as I slightly embarrassedly looked around and smiled and nodded, trying out the only Chinese I thus far knew; Ni Hao (hallo) and xiexie (thank you). How we laughed. Barry Plews and Hu He from Reckless Moments, the Shanghai-based producers, then arrived and we went for coffee at the local Costa coffee (where I am now) and we sat outside where Barry, an Australian who’s been here for the last 14 years, outlined the project in more detail and held forth on the complicated politics of China and how they impinge on it. Barry is literally ‘our man in Shanghai’ as he’s the only westerner doing what he does – bringing artists into China and creating collaborations with the Chinese, a very delicate operation at the best of times. He knows how the Chinese system works and if you give him the chance will explain it at length, with glee, and with the credulity that can only come with much experience of incredulous situations.

After a much-needed shower I took my seat in the Malan Flower Theatre at the CATC (which involved me walking all of 100 paces from my apartment) to watch their 2pm show. Parents and their single children gradually filed in – it wasn’t busy but bear in mind there are 2 shows most days of the year and this is a purely childrens’ theatre. The theatre has a proper auditorium and seats around 400; The CATC has a standing company of over fifty, which would be unheard of in the UK. When not actually performing, the actors are on a retainer which, although not a living wage, comes with health benefits and at least the promise of an extra fee for performing work throughout the year. The show began with an opening number not dissimilar to a british pantomime and with much mimed singing and miming of medieval European instruments including a very Breughel-esque set of bagpipes to Disney-esque music – in fact the whole thing felt very esque. The story seemed to involve a happy-go-lucky cobbler, played by a principal boy (woman) in true panto style, attempting to woo an unhappy girl and impress her parents. I was told later it was called something like Happy Hans – a true German-Chinese traditional tale (Chineutch? Deutschese?) – it’s a funny coincidence that members of the main Chinese ethnic group are also called Hans…or is it a coincidence? I can’t say I was gripped but you have to remember I’d been up for about 25 hours at this point and I was rather glad just to be able to go back to the apartment for a long sleep, broken only by the very edge of the typhoon over Japan and Taiwan.

Friday, 21 August 2009


It’s midday Friday in Shanghai, somewhere in the middle of Thursday night in the UK and all of you millions of followers must be wondering what has happened to this blog for a week. The truth is I’ve been unable to access blogspot at all in that time. I managed to get hooked up with internet access in my room and can get wireless here in Costa coffee on Zhenging Lu, but still no Or Facebook for that matter. It transpires that such free-expression vehicles are totally blocked over here. Opinion varies as to whether it’s to do with the Chinese authorities - who apparently scan every email in and out of the country – or the Russians, who are apparently also blocking certain sites around the world. I suspect it’s the former.

So, as my week in Shanghai comes to an end I’m putting this report together in Word, ready to paste in on my return. I’m having to try and summarise a pretty full-on week, which I was hoping not to have to do, as blogging should in essence provide the opportunity to be brief and instant. Many of my initial impressions and experiences have now blended into familiarity and history but I shall endeavour to convey them as best I can. The days' events may appear somewhat sporadically . . .

Saturday, 8 August 2009


. . When I said The Childrens' Art Theatre of Shanghai I of course meant The Childrens Art Theatre of China - sounds even better that. In my defence I was rushing around doing last minute toothpaste checks. Actually on the plane now at Heathrow hoping there'll be good Ba distractions, at least I got a window seat ,. Far too fiddly on this phone keyboard so signing off for now - see you in China olli.allah.laks olillemelal yukk predictive text woe trilc usingogog irw

...and off I bloggin' go

Unaccustomed as I am to public blogging, I start. In about 24 hours, all being well, I'll be landing in Pudong Airport in Shanghai, to be met by one of those signs you see people holding in films with a name on, only this time it'll be mine - "Matt Marks" is what it'll hopefully say and I'll be whisked off to my accommodation in The Childrens' Art Theatre of Shanghai. It's going to be quite an adventure and I'll explain more about it as I go along. I have my mandarin phrase books, my trusty Hohner student accordion, my MacBook and my nose flute (no, really) and I'm set to go. And now a little sleep before heading off to Heathrow...