Darryl Chen, 29 07 08


Who ever thought that travelling from one side of the Huangpu River to the other could be such a mind-altering experience? After descending from the regal Bund district into a collecting tunnel, uniformed attendees usher you into a sanitized antechamber, receiving room for the automated people-movers small standing height vehicles taking the form of white bubbles, exhibiting a smoothness of design not out of place in Kubrick’s A Space Odyssey. Eerie muzak dominates over the electrical silence of the vehicles adding to the cinematic nature of the experience. Pass the duchie and read on.   

Once aboard the car, the journey proper begins. Immediately, an all-surrounding array of computer-triggered lights washes out any recent visual memories fresh in the mind, and anaesthetizes the sense for the journey ahead. To the soundtrack of a calm and soothing voiceover the disembodied commentaries of elevators and emergency announcements ­ you and your space pod are led through a tunnel with images of shooting stars, grasses, octopi, clouds, mackerel and molten lava, interspersed with hyper-random flashes of light. Normal socialization has conditioned us to read such devices like flashing lights as warning signals or the garish marketing ploys of Las Vegas casinos and internet porn sites. But in this dark environment, senses already numbed, such devices are strangely calming. And all the while, voices male and female, in English and Chinese, announce each scene with cryptic simplicity: “heaven and hell… salty blue water… meteor shower…” You start laughing for no apparent reason. And why does everything seem in slow motion…?

When one arrives at the opposite termination point (the cars actually continue in a Sysiphian shuffle, submissive agents of their masters), there is an overwhelming sense of anticlimax. Cheery muzak accompanies the visitor to a bare landing ­ the only signage indicates sardonically that the exit doors are immediately in front of you. Outside is a small sunken plaza, the only orientation device in sight a sign atop a generic-styled building opposite announcing in confident white letters: “Welcome to Pudong”. You have arrived. But where the hell are you?

[originally published in Quo magazine, Dec 2002]

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