To return to Shanghai, for the first time since I was a boy, was a strange experience for me. Memories were waiting for me everywhere, like old friends at an arrivals gate, each carrying a piece of cardboard bearing my name. I looked down from my room on the 17th floor of the Hilton and could see at a glance that there were two Shanghais – the skyscraper city newer than yesterday and at street level the old Shanghai that I had cycled around as a boy.JG Ballard reminisces about his childhood in Shanghai in his new biography Miracles of Life, dues out next month. (This piece from a longer extract was published in the Times and the author is also interviewed by Stuart Wavell, here.)
I slipped out of the hotel and began to walk the street. The pavements were already crowded with food vendors, porters steering new photocopiers into office entrances, smartly dressed young secretaries shaking their heads at a plump and sweating 60-year-old European out on some dishevelled errand.
And I was on an errand, though I had yet to grasp the true nature of my assignment. I was looking for my younger self, the boy in a Cathedral school cap and blazer who had played hide-and-seek with his friends half a century earlier. I soon found him, hurrying with me along the Bubbling Well Road, smiling at the puzzled typists and trying to hide the sweat that drenched my shirt.
Ballard was imprisoned as a boy in a Japanese prison camp which inspired his most famous novel, Empire of the Sun. (Later made into an excellent film by Stephen Spielberg.)
The biography was written after he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer in 2006: nothing focuses the mind half as well as time running out.
(Thanks Twan for sending me the link.)