Monday, December 31, 2007


A really great year for the company - almost up there with our annus mirabilis of 2004. Dilemma was, of course, the highlight, and I shall long treasure the memory of a packed house rising to its feet in one spontaneous movement on the last night. But there was also much exciting work in the ever-growing Laboratory, with the work around First Nations theatre, and the launch of the Origins Festival with the symposium at Australia House being especially exciting. And we also published our first Theatre and.... book, Theatre and Slavery, with a very glitzy list of contributors. And we laid the foundations for some really important developments in the future. As I write this, Dzifa Glikpoe is in the UK as our Arts Council International Fellow; we're talking to organisations in China and India about the next stage of the Orientations Trilogy, and Origins is moving on. Yes, it's been a great year.....

A few cultural highlights for me personally (this being New Year's Eve).

The best book I read this year was the first: English Passengers by Matthew Kneale. An amazing (and very funny) voyage into the colonial process in Australia. I also loved reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which I devoured in one hungry sitting (admittedly sitting on a plane for a long time). It's incredibly disturbing and deeply compelling. I finally got round to reading Life of Pi, of which I had great expectations, none of which were fulfilled. It's all the same... Best factual book (though that's not an adequate description for this wonderful poetic journey) - Wild by Jay Griffiths.

In the theatre, I much enjoyed Complicite's A Disappearing Number, and Peter Brook's production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead, both at the Barbican, and Lemi Ponifasio's beautiful Polynesian ritual Requiem at the QEH. It was also wonderful to see Ngapartji Ngapartji at the Dreaming in Australia, and this Festival is my overall cultural experience of the year. I also saw some great films there: Rhoda Roberts' A Sister's Love, and Alan Collins' Sunset to Sunrise (the latter we later screened at the Origins symposium). In mainstream film, I guess my film of the year is The Last King of Scotland.

Music: John Adams (of course) - The Flowering Tree and Dharma at Big Sur.

Roll on 2008....

Friday, December 28, 2007

Books for Ghana

The year ends on a high note for us, with a grant from the Morel Trust, which will enable us to distribute 100 copies of the Theatre and Slavery book around Ghanaian libraries. That's very good news! Too often books like this don't get read where they can really make a difference. I've still not given up hope of getting the production out there - though that's a challenge! - this is at least a start.

Dilemma and the trip to China have left me feeling optimistic about the future - though there are many signs that I shouldn't be! The Arts Council ended the year by sending letters to a great many clients informing them that their revenue funding is being cut. The list is very long - with the Drill Hall probably the most shocking of them all. If there were any sign of new clients stepping in as RFOs, that would be a compensation, but there doesn't seem to be any. And here are we clinging on as a project-funded company.... What's more, the British Council is apparently closing all (yes all) its arts departments. I don't yet know much about this - I can't imagine it means that there won't be any more arts activity within the organisation, but it does sound very like the arts will again be pressed into the service of other masters, like "development" and "governance", and the inevitable propaganda for the British education system.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Mme. Mao's suicide

On my last evening in China, I finished reading The White-Boned Demon. I was amazed to discover that Jiang Ching actually wasn't in prison when she hanged herself, but in a "treatment apartment". Ross Terrill writes: "Toward 3.00 a.m. a weak and depressed Jiang crept from her bedroom to the bathroom and with several handkerchiefs fashioned a noose and tied it to an iron frame above the bathtub... At 3.30 a.m. a nurse came in and found her suspended above the bathtub." This is amazing, given that when we created Dis-Orientations we had no idea that there was a bathtub anywhere near when Mme. Mao died. And yet the image we found was of her hanging herself at the same time as Alex prepared her own fatal bath. Spooky or what?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tianjin and back to Shanghai

Tianjin, an hour or so from Beijing by train, is "Not a very big city", or so I am told by Zhao Hui from the International Cultural Exchange Agency of Tianjin, China, who meets me at the station. Its population is only 11 million people. Fair enough: you would have to add London's measly 6 million to that in order to match Shanghai.

I knew very little about the place before this trip, but I've been reading about its particular importance for Jiang Ching during the Cultural Revolution. She was very popular here: a bit of an irony considering that Zhou Enlai was also educated in this city. As Hui and her boss, Qiao Zhi, drive me through the urban sprawl, I can imagine her raving away amidst its Stalinist architecture. It's not a very pretty place.

Qiao Zhi has been interested in Dis-Orientations since it first appeared on the CTC website, and we've exchanged emails from time to time ever since. I scared him a while ago with a suggested fee for performances, but now things look more possible, if the Yue Opera Company and the Festival do what they said they would / might. I'm very aware that we've not talked about money at all - I hope that the Chinese partners will handle finance in China as we did in the UK, but that's by no means a given. At least Qiao Zhi is direct about this from the start: they will pay a fee for one performance in Tianjin, provided they can afford that fee. Fair enough!

Qiao Zhi and Zhao Hui turn out to be incredibly kind, hospitable hosts. Our meeting only takes an hour or so, but they then take my for lunch, followed by looking at videos of other work they've presented (virtually all of it Chinese, in spit of the International label), and then a shopping trip in the "tourist area", during which they help me haggle over clothes for the children, and insist on buying me a traditional hand-painted bust of a Peking Opera performer. As if that wasn't enough, we then go for dinner (although it's only three hours since a big lunch). This time it's traditional Tianjin food, which is like no cuisine I've ever tasted. We have a sweet purple mash which they tell me is made from "something like a big tomato"; three different porridges in incandescent colours, one of which tastes like liquid marzipan; various fungi and the comparatively familiar pork in honey sauce. They're very sweet-toothed in Tianjin. The restaurant, called 1928 after the year it opened, is vast, and the waiters are all mounted on roller skates to deal with the distances they have to travel. As well as food, there's a Peking opera cabaret, a little bazaar, and a photographic exhibition, which includes images from the Cultural Revolution period. There's one of a performance taking place in a village, as a form of political education. In another photo, a family is sitting on the floor of their tiny home. Qiao Zhi says that his family was just like that twenty years ago. It's not all that long, really. He's a young man, and yet he has seen enormous changes in his lifetime. At the next table is an old lady with her family. What she must have seen....

Another overnight train brings me back to Shanghai, and a meeting with Nick Yu from the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre. I enjoyed meeting Nick when I was last here, and felt we had a lot of similar ideas. I'd intended this to be a courtesy call really; and was interested to hear about his recent projects. He's done an intriguing piece called Drift, set in different times, and a re-working of the first Chinese play to adopt the Western spoken form (huaju), exactly 100 years ago. This play was itself adapted from Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Nick's version, the master-slave relationship reflects on the position of the artist in relation to powerful people.... potent stuff or what? I tell him about our own work on slavery - it's an interesting coincidence. Then Nick asks if we would like to develop another project in collaboration with SDAC. Well, yes.... how about Re-Orientations? He jumps at the idea. This is intriguing. Maybe we can present Dis-Orientations here, and develop the third part with a different partner but around the same time... I begin the usual conversation about possible funding sources, and Nick cuts in to say that he knows that's a problem in the UK, but that he already has the money for the Chinese actors and for our accommodation and per diems. So that means I only have to find funding for flights and UK fees. This is starting to get very interesting indeed! Of course, there's many a slip, and I promise myself that I won't get too excited. Yet.

De-briefing session with Ophelia Huang at the British Council. She sounds all the cautionary notes I've been sounding to myself - only louder. In particular, she thinks it's important to find somebody who can be a bi-lingual contact between ourselves and the Yue Opera, as much as anything so that the British Council doesn't appear to get involved in direct negotiations of contracts etc. She's going to check with Director You if there's an English-speaker among their admin staff, and I promise to take some soundings in London. I have a few ideas. SDAC is less of a problem: Nick's English is fluent.

I walk back along Fuzhou Lu, the street of bookshops and the Yu Fu Theatre. I'm fired up enough to think I should invest in some research materials for the next stage of the project. Mao's poetry. A VCD of Mei Lanfang. The Journey to the West. A CD and DVD of the androgynous Super-Girl Li Yuchun, who is now being marketed under the gender-and-culture ambiguous title "Chris Lee". Where might all this lead us?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hangzhou and Beijing

On the train to Hangzhou on Saturday morning, I found myself sitting next to a young man who saw me as a good opportunity to practice his English. He was on his way from Ningbo to Hangzhou in order to sit an exam for the Civil Service. It was, he told me, very competitive. He was surprised to see me reading The White-Boned Demon. "Why do you want to read about this bad woman?" he asked. "She almost destroyed China." He then explained to me that Jiang Ching was Mao's second wife. I told him that she was actually his fourth. He looked at me with the "mad foreigner" expression I've grown accustomed to in the People's Republic.

Hangzhou, he tells me, is "the most beautiful city in China". On arrival at the train station, it looks like every other Chinese city I've been to - concrete and haze. However, a short if hairy taxi ride takes you to the area around the West Lake, which is very pretty indeed, if shrouded by the omnipresent pollution-induced mist. This is one of China's ancient capitals, and the city where Zhou Yingtai and Liang Shanbo (the Butterfly Lovers whose Yueju story we use in Dis-Orientations) met and fell in love. It also has a very famous cuisine, with fish from the lake cooked in a sugar and vinegar sauce a speciality. I try this on Saturday night at the Louwailou restaurant on Gushan Island, with a photo of Zhou Enlai having the same meal in the same room over my head, which appeals. For Sunday lunch, I sampled Dongpo pork, which is unbelievably fatty, but tasty with it!

I sit by the lake with the video camera running, just in case I find we want to have a Hangzhou scene in Re-Orientations. That is, assuming it ever happens. The down side of this trip has been the way in which the bringing of the existing play to China has totally eclipsed the idea of making a new one, to the extent that I'm not sure we're even eligible for some of the funds we've applied for towards this. I feel a strong artistic need to make the third part - but it may be that it ends up being a separate piece again, which doesn't get performed as a full Trilogy. Wait and see.....

Although Chinese people seem to work a seven-day week, my schedule is actually quite light for this bit of the trip. Hangzhou really is just a bit of research and some sight-seeing. I take in the Lingyin Temple (a Zen Buddhist monastery) with its amazing ancient statues carved into the mountain beside it, known as the Peak Flying from Afar, because (intriguingly) the mountain, like the religion, was supposed to have been transported from India. These links between China and India are very interesting in view of Re-Orientations. Of course, the famous Journey to the West is all about a trip to collect Buddhist texts. There's an allusion to this in The White-Boned Demon: Jiang Ching once sent Mao a note of apology for one of her rages, which was a quotation from the book. Like Monkey, when the monk has left him to go to India, she writes "My body is in Water Curtain Cave, but my heart is following you."

I visit the National Tea Museum in Hangzhou, where I fall into conversation with a young Russian woman called Masha, in China for a year to learn Chinese so she can get better at her job (which seems to be something like a high-powered economic consultant to governments the world over). She's been reading Xinran's books, and tells me how much the accounts of the 50s and 60s in China remind her of her own family history in Stalinist Russia. Her grandparents were condemned and transported to Khazakstan (where she, no Borat, was born), because they had owned a couple of chickens and cows, which made them bourgeois. Failing to find a taxi, we take a bus together back into the city centre - the tea museum is set among tea plantations. Like many spaces in modern China, the bus has TV playing on it. This one is showing a Western documentary about medieval ideas, particularly Thomas Aquinas. Strangely enough, nobody seems to be watching.

I take the overnight train to Beijing, and am able to get online again! Last time I came to this city, I wrote in this blog about it being shrouded in perpetual haze. This time it's back with a vengeance, accompanied by snow. Visibility is very limited. I catch up on admin, then take the tube to the Confucian Temple in Dongcheng. In Ningbo, one of the staff, Brian Hilton, said that I should read up a bit on Confucius - since he was making the same points about dialogue as the means to the discovery of truth that I said I admired in Plato; and round about the same time as Plato too. Unlike the Buddhist Lama Temple and the Taoist Dongyue Temple which I visited two years ago, this one has virtually no religious use any more, since it was associated so intimately with the Imperial cult - although I do see one man fall to his knees for a furtive prayer, and there are some offerings in the main hall. But it's nothing compared to all the bowing, praying and incense burning I saw at Lingyin yesterday. The guide book explains that ceremonies ended in 1948 (pretty obvious why), but were brought back in 1989 "as a tourist programme".

This is also the area where you can still see Beijing's traditional hutongs; most of which have been flattened in the drive towards "modernization", and particularly to make way for next year's Olympics. I walk through the back streets, and peer into the courtyards of these traditional communal living spaces. People cycle up and down the lanes, cutting through the haze, and buy dumplings from the street vendor. If these hutongs go too, what will happen to these people?

Friday, December 07, 2007


I took a short internal flight yesterday from Shanghai to Ningbo. No, I'd never heard of it either, but it turns out to be a huge, largely industrial city and port on the Yangtze delta. It boasts seven thousand years of history, but you wouldn't think so to look at the centre, which is like a Chinese version of Milton Keynes. Still, the cultural heritage is very much alive, and Director You got quite excited when he heard I was coming here. This is the region from which Yueju originated, before it really took off in Shanghai, and there's an ongoing loyalty to and love of the form here. Also, Ningbo boasts a campus of the University of Nottingham, which (with rumours of further outposts in India and Mexico) seems intent on global domination. The campus, with its very disconcerting replica of the Trent building in Nottingham, has so far been (perhaps inevitably) dominated by Business Studies and Accounting - but just recently has branched out into fields like Literature and Linguistics. And that's why our Literary Advisor and former board member, the Mauritian academic Roshni Mooneeram, is now working here.

Roshni is planning a conference on Intercultural approaches to Shakespeare for next year, and we spend some of the morning discussing it. I'm pleased to be able to point her to some interesting Chinese theatre-makers, once of whom, Lin Zhaohua, has a production of Coriolanus running in Beijing at the moment. I had hoped to see it - but I'm only going to be in Beijing on Monday night, and that's the only night it doesn't play. Maybe I'll get to sample his work here next year.... The conference in in September, so it may well be I'll be here anyway. Let's hope.

Don, who teaches Computing, takes Walter (a visiting Dutch academic) and myself to a tea house for what was meant to be a morning tea and develops into lunch. That gives you an idea of the rhythm of the place. Nothing is even remotely close to hurried. The tea itself is supposed to be calming, and perhaps it is, but I suspect that the ritual which surrounds the tea is every bit as important to the mellowing process. You get to this tea house through a James Bond entrance in a very unprepossessing lift - and suddenly you are in another world of indoor streams and curtained alcoves. The waitresses pour the various infusions into clay pots, using all manner of complex tactics to maximize heat and seal the aroma. After a couple of hours, during which we've talked about everything, we've become serious tea junkies. Wonderfully, they charge us the equivalent of £10 for the tea, and all the food is thrown in for free. Incredible.

Tonight, I give a talk to Staff and Students at the campus. The topic is "Cross-Cultural Collaboration in the Theatre", and this obviously means talking a lot about making Dis-Orientations, and the particular fascination and pitfalls of working with Chinese artists. As a sampler for presenting the show here, the talk is a very useful litmus test. For one thing, it's very well attended, and there are loads of questions at the end. The right questions too. Also, the temperature in the room gets very high as I show them some of the scenes. They're wowed by Ieng Un as Jiang Ching (and this is only on an OK-ish DVD), and excited by the Yueju and the ballet. But the incredible moment is when I show them the scene of Julian and Sammy's gay encounter. The tension is palpable - they've clearly never seen something like this before. One male voice hisses "Stop!" - not as a command, but as if he can't control himself. But nobody voices any objection - the questions are not about whether such material is accurate or appropriate, but only whether it will be allowed. I can only answer that I've been told we can imply such things provided they are not shown explicitly, and that from the research done into the subject, it is something which needs to be talked about.

There's a queue of students who want to talk to me privately afterwards - and it's in many ways a relief to add that it's how to make cross-cultural performance that is on their minds.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mr. President

Now I know how Nixon felt.

At 9.30 this morning, Director You (my Zhou Enlai for the day) appears in the hotel lobby with a huge car, in which we are driven across town. No translator, so we just keep smiling at one another politely and uncomprehendingly. Just after 10, we are in the very fast lift of the Yihai Building, being rocketed up to the 24th floor, where we are met by Forrina Chen (playing Nancy Tang for the day). I met Forrina in Hong Kong back in March: she's in the "International Liaison Department" of the China Shanghai International Arts Festival. And (thank god) is perfectly bi-lingual.

Forrina shows us into a vast meeting room, around the walls of which are huge armchairs, into which we sink. Mine is just to the right of the room's centre. There's a table in the very centre of the wall, which has a big pot-plant on it. Director You is seated to my right, and Forrina takes a chair to the left, leaving the centre-left space for the President. Then Mr Chen Sheng Lai arrives. He says "Hello" and I say "Ni hua", and from then on we're dependent on Forrina. It's just as well, because we both sink quite deeply into the chairs, and so we can't really look at each other, but end up playing hide and seek with our eyes around the pot plant. Or stare into the empty space in the middle of the room. It all feels just like the scene in Mao's library from Nixon in China.... So much so that even the photographer appears, and we all rise to our feet and stand in an awkward smiling line to mark the momentous intercultural encounter.

Luckily, what is actually being said at the meeting is all rather useful. Mr Chen likes the idea of a cross-cultural collaboration in theatre - they've only done this with music before - and the presence of Zhang Ruihong makes it a sure seller. He's intrigued about the ways we handle language in the production, and he like the thought of a piece set in contemporary Shanghai with Western performers, which also draws off the traditional culture here. He asks some astute questions about why we wanted to work with Yueju: I give quite a complicated answer about gender, identity and the changing world - I have no way of telling how Forrina translates this, but both President Chen and Director You nod sagely, so it must have been convincing on some level. I decide that I'd better take the opportunity to pre-empt any possible difficulties later on, and tell them that I've taken on board Mr Ke Yasha's recommendations about ways of making the piece more "suitable for a Chinese audience" - which means dealing with sexual and political content in a subtle way. More sagely nodding. I'm beginning to think this might just happen....

DVDs are taken, and I suppose much depends on these. I hope they can play them more readily than I could on the laptop yesterday.... Then Mr Chen give me a copy of the Festival programme for this year. It's a 200 page coffee-table book, bound in hard covers, with every page in full colour. And the list of performances is extraordinary. This explains the Presidential suite - it's the largest Festival in China, and one of the largest in the world. And here are we being backed by the Yue Opera Company, one of their main collaborators, to be a part of it.

I only hope they like that DVD.....

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

City for Sale

I got that phrase from Ross Terrill's biography of Mme. Mao - The White-Boned Demon. It was used to describe Shanghai in the 30s, and seems every bit as apposite now. If anything, the rampant capitalism, with all its bizarre inequalities and contradictions (known as "Chinese characteristics") seems even more extreme than it was when I was here two years ago. Certainly the number of people who accost me on the street with a heavily accented "Hello - watch-bag-DVD?" has increased many-fold; although the targeting of the foreign devil has still not quite reached Indian or Zimbabwean proportions. The pimping, on the other hand, is in a league of its own. "Want girl? Boy?" is the frequent mantra on the open street. Prostitution is supposed to be illegal in China. But the activity of the pimps, and the ads for "massage" in classy ex-pat magazines like Talk Shanghai suggest the city isn't far away from its 1930s position in this regard either. When Lan Ping (later Jiang Ching) came here in 1933, one person in 130 was a prostitute (compared with London's one in 960, and decadent Weimar Berlin's one in 580).

I spend much of the day trundling around the place, watching its extraordinary way of living, as I wait for more crucial meetings tomorrow. I find my way back to the Foreign Languages Bookshop on Fuzhou Road (long famed for the Yifu theatre, where I saw the Yueju performances two years ago, for books and art, and in the 1930s for the inevitable brothels, though those have now gone underground). It was here I found the hilarious World Talk CD, which we used for the language-learning scene in Dis-Orientations, and which sadly got lost along the way. I'm not able to replace it precisely, but I do find an English-language CD produced in Shanghai (called Real Talk), and a really promising couple of tapes called One Breath English Speeches, which promise such delights as "How to break up peacefully" and "How to live a colourful life". Since talking to Ruihong and Director You yesterday, I've been fired up creatively by the now very real possibility of bringing the show here, and I want to move it forward, both to make it inherently stronger and to make it more readily understood by a Chinese audience. More Chinese language, for a start, I suppose. Maybe I'd better start taking this language-learning business seriously myself!

I find a much needed oasis of calm in the Yuyuan Gardens - a Ming garden which somehow survived the Cultural Revolution. Spaces like this, the occasional sight of people doing Tai-chi in a city park, or the yueju itself, are little reminders of the still spiritual heart of Chinese culture, which is still there, buried under the surface of wild cupidity. It's this tension which fascinates me, and which I want to explore through the piece. The search for real value.

Then I get onto the Metro at rush hour. Big mistake. This is a city of 17 million people. Most of them were in the same carriage as I was.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Sleepwalking in Shanghai

Two years ago, when I last wrote this blog in mainland China, I said that it wasn't possible to read it there. As if by magic, it suddenly was - suggesting that somebody was watching carefully. So -I'll try the same thing again. Mr Censor, if you're looking, I don't think there's anything here you should find too objectionable. Other sites that are barred make some sort of sense - I've not been able to look at much news from the UK, for example - but the Border Crossings blog? Really?

Anyway - I can still write it for folk back home.

I was wrong about the Astor House Hotel - as I discovered when I checked out this morning. It was actually remarkably good value for the vast room and the very good breakfast. I'd been freaked by the official room rate - what I'd got online was the discounted one. I was too chicken to bottle out once I'd been given the bill.... and in any case the hotel I moved to was the same one I used two years ago: very close to the Yue Opera Company's HQ, and even less costly for a perfectly decent place. It's called the Nan Ying, and it feels quite nostalgic, especially since it gets an honorary mention in Dis-Orientations.

Heavy with jet-lag, my body screaming that it's 2am in London, I go with a young man from the British Council, Du Wei, to meet Director You. He's as charming as ever, through the lengthy process of translation, and seems very excited about what we can do to develop the work further. Ruihong arrives and joins us: great to see her again. We joke that we meet once a year. Oddly, if what we're thinking about now pays off, then this will turn out to be true for next year as well.

Director You wants to bring Dis-Orientations back to China, ideally as a presentation in the Shanghai Festival, with a tour of other venues (perhaps especially universities). This is wonderful - exactly what Ke Yasha and I discussed just after the show finished in London. He's less keen on developing a third play and showing all three - not least because I suspect he doesn't want Ruihong to leave China for a long time again. Fair enough. I can re-think plans for the third piece, and work out for myself hat's the best way to round this off. But the opportunity to present something so innovative and daring to a Chinese audience during the Olympic year is just too good to pass up. There's many a slip of course - like just who's going to pay for all this.... but the goodwill is palpable, and I suspect, if we get a positive response from the Festival, that this will happen. I also think the Festival probably will be positive: I met the director in Hong Kong back in March, and he was asking then if the piece might be available for this year!

We go down to the rehearsal stage, and watch some of the younger performers working on a version of The Dream of the Red Chamber. Gender games are much on show again: the main character in the sequence is a dan actor(male to female impersonator), who is mistaken for a real woman by a clown character. Ironically, both roles are here played by women. The moment when "he" reveals his true identity is fabulous - the young woman puts on her sheng boots and so seems to grow, as well as shifting her vocal tone and performance demeanour. As so often in these forms, the acting undercuts any essentialism on the gender question.

I've often wondered if they know just how radical their work is. I guess that, if they are taking on our de-construction of it, then yes they do.

Ruihong, Du Wei and I have lunch in a nearby restaurant. Ruihong is clearly a "star" in this public space. This is good news too: there shouldn't be a problem getting a Chinese audience for a production with her in it. I tell her, via Du Wei. And she agrees!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Back to Shanghai

Kate and I spent most of last week doing the accounts for the production, tidying up, paying people and making sure we'd broken even. I had hoped to get reports in to the Arts Council and Passage of Music - but the sums are complicated, and we didn't quite make it by the weekend. So now it has to be on hold, while I do another scouting trip to China.

I landed in Shanghai at 9.25 this morning. My body thought it was 1am, and I'm still struggling to convince it otherwise. Everybody had said China in December would be freezing - but actually it's about the same as London, and slightly sunnier. The haze is here, though. This evening I see the hoards of cyclists battling through the rush hour, their mouths covered with masks to keep out the pollution, looking like a variation on the stocking-masks of Dis-Orientations. It's this show that I'm here to talk about, and (just like last time) the Yue opera company are keen to meet as soon as possible, so I have to contrive a way of waking up tomorrow morning. This is going to be made yet more tricky by the luxury nature of tonight's bedroom at the Astor Hotel. My guide book for some reason claims that this - Shanghai's oldest hotel, dating from 1846, a mere stone's throw from the Bund, and the place where Chaplin, Einstein, Ulysses S. Grant and Bertrand Russell passed their Shanghai days, is a budget option. Being fool enough to believe them, I booked it online, thinking, in my mid-Dilemma blur, that the price I signed up to was for all three nights. It's not: it's per night. Needless to say, I shall be moving tomorrow to somewhere which allows my Connections Through Culture grant to seem a little more appropriate.

I'd not exactly had much time to plan this trip while Dilemma was running, but I think it's going to be quite exciting, provided I can get my head back into the Trilogy quickly enough. Walking around the streets this afternoon, the "feel" of China came rushing back rather quickly. And the craziness of Shanghai, which is so central to this work. The trip into town from the airport takes no time at all on the incredible Maglev train: it works through magnets, so there is no contact between train and track, and the resulting lack of friction means the train goes at an astonishing 430km/h. And now I sit in a huge, oak-panelled room, wondering if Einstein had this bed.