2014 began with an air of finality: after two and a half years of work, it was time to marry sound and picture and create the master. Let me tell you, I was a little freaked out because Heidi, my assistant editor with all the experience, was tied up on another job and I would have to do it myself. I was alone in the cockpit. Heidi talked me through it in advance, assuring me I would not crash the plane. Even if I did crash the plane, it was only a digital plane and I could try again with a backup if I had to.
I didn’t crash the plane. I delivered it safely to Mission Control who mastered it onto HD-CamSR, a stable digital tape format. I had to decide how many copies to make, but at the start of our supposed festival year it was impossible to know when and where My Shanghai would go. What if we had two acceptances for the same week in different states? Or three? But that’s the optimist talking, and without the optimist, My Shanghai would never have been made in the first place.
I had a couple of HD-Cams made (a decision I would come to regret, but I’ll save that for another column) and a half dozen Blu-Rays for exhibition. You’d think it would’ve been a smooth glide once the mastering was done, but no. Something went wonky with the Blu-Ray duplicator. Fortunately, I caught the error in time to make new ones, and we were ready to go. Ready for those festival invitations to arrive in my inbox.
My plan was to premiere in Santa Barbara. Well, why not? says the optimist. Joan and I had even scouted restaurants for our premiere party. We were that ready. Santa Barbara, on the other hand, was not ready for us, which made our quick acceptance into San Luis Obispo International Film Festival that much sweeter.
Note to filmmakers waiting for festival acceptance emails: sometimes you don’t get an email. You get a phone call. You get to hear how much they love your film. You might not hear it again, so savor every word. They love your film.
SLOIFF was the ideal opener for us. “Slo,” as the locals say, is a small town on the central California coast with big screens and great restaurants and an abundance of heart. It also happens to be in our leading lady’s back yard. Virginia was able to go and was the hit of the evening at our sold-out premiere on March 8th. She even surprised us by going to the second screening the next day in Atascadero, just north on the 101 — “over the grade,” the Slo locals say.
It’s a good thing we had such a good time. It carried us through the next few no-festival months. The no-festivals we no-attended included no-Ashland, no-AmDocs, no-Los Angeles, and a bunch of others I no-think about now.
I’d planned to take the summer off anyway — yes, really — due to a big production in my back yard. I’m trying to convince IMDb to add the Wells Family Wedding to my producing credits.
And then we did Portland. It was awesome to screen My Shanghai on our home turf at the Portland Film Festival at the end of August. This was PDXFF’s second year, and I’m amazed how well it came together given the ambitious screening schedule and all the panels and filmmaker interviews and live music and movies in the park, cloudbursts and all —
Note to filmmakers who are bummed to be scheduled for only one screening: sell out your one screening in advance and festival organizers will likely give you another one. Which we were and we did and they did.
As soon as PDXFF was over, Joan and I jumped on a plane and headed to DOCUTAH (long name: Southern Utah International Documentary Film Festival). We’d been invited months earlier — another phone call! I’d written everything down, but the best word was “lyrical.” Our film was lyrical!
I have to say, DOCUTAH was a blast. This is a college-based festival at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. All the films were shown on campus, so going to as many films as you wanted was easy. DOCUTAH also organized a non-campus event for us: a field trip to Zion National Park (only an hour away) with the local press. Spectacular. Red rocks and reporters! You’re just not going to find that at a big festival.
A bonus round from DOCUTAH: My Shanghai was selected from DOCUTAH’s slate of films for Mesquite’s Best of Fest Film Festival in Mesquite, Nevada. Unfortunately, my plans to attend were washed out along with I-15 between St. George and Las Vegas!
Next up,Big Bear Lake International Film Festivalin Southern California. Joan’s “Motherload” script had done well here in competition a couple of years ago and both of us have read for the screenplay competition, so we knew it met the criteria we’d come to love in small-town/big-screen/good-food venues. Although we were underwhelmed at the turnout for the first screening — 10am on a Friday morning — the vibe was good, the praise was sincere, and I think we attracted some long-lasting attention. Oh, and from a technical standpoint, we were thrilled at what BBLIFF did with “My Shanghai” by converting it to DCP format for exhibition. DCP is state of the art in digital projection. My, oh, my, I’ve never seen it so pretty.
Big Bear also has an inside track on the industry, having to do with its resort location in the mountains east of L.A. Some very interesting people come to Big Bear, and they speak on panels and you can talk to them about your projects and exchange business cards and whatnot.
Note to filmmakers: small can be mighty. Put BBLIFF on your radar. September.
There was one more festival coming up: Moondance in Boulder. Of course, we’d thought we’d go. We wanted to go. Joan had won a screenwriting award at Moondance a few years back. We no go, and what happens? “My Shanghai” wins two awards:
– the Columbine Award for Best Feature Documentary; P.H. Wells, Director. The Columbine Award is given to a film that promotes non-violence or portrays non-violent conflict resolution. I have to assume, because I wasn’t told, that Virginia’s acceptance of the Japanese people and Japanese culture after the war had some bearing on winning this prize;
– and the Seahorse Award for Best Film Score; Jonathan Geer, Composer.
So that was our festival year. We may have a few more festivals to explore in 2015, but that’s not all. One of the more interesting folks we met recently was someone who spoke on a panel in Big Bear. He and I have entered into an interesting discussion on the future of My Shanghai. There’s not much to report at this point, which is why I’m ending with this bit of news instead of starting with it. With any luck, the new year will begin with a whole new life for My Shanghai.
Note to filmmakers: Feed your optimist and let yourself fly.
Wishing you health, peace, and prosperity in 2015!
I have a lot of laurels in my yard. English laurels. India laurels. They grow like crazy and pop up all over the place, and hardly a day goes by that I’m not yanking them out or cutting them back or just plain cursing them.
Portland laurels are a different matter.
Yep, it’s my way of saying we’ve been invited to the Portland Film Festival! August 26-September 1, 2014 in Portland, Oregon. They’ve lined up a lot of cool venues for films in downtown theaters and parks. More on that when we get our screening times…
PDXFF scheduled us for one screening:
5:15pm Thursday, August 28 at the Living Room Theaters, 341 SW Tenth Ave, Portland OR
After a flurry of ticket sales, we SOLD OUT! Hence, a second screening:
12 noon Sunday, August 31 at McMenamins Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St, Portland OR
We’re thrilled to announce a new festival invitation to DOCUTAH, Sept. 2-6 in sunny St. George, Utah. This will be the 5th annual DOCUTAH, a.k.a. Southern Utah International Documentary Film Festival, presented by Dixie State University.
DOCUTAHscreens inside and out in the dramatic red rock venues of Southern Utah and Southern Nevada. Their motto is, “Come for the films, stay for the scenery!”
Today I sent out the link to the HD download of My Shanghai to our Kickstarter backers. I think this is our real world premiere. In the U.S., our backers come from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. And those are just the ones I know about!
Then there’s Guam, which is both part of and beyond the U.S. The rest of our worldwide support comes from Canada, Australia, England, Germany and China.
I mentioned in my update to them (Project Update #26) that one year ago today, we had raised $736 toward our $20,000 goal. A lot changed in a month, and a lot has changed in a year.
On Sunday, My Shanghai will be the focus of a seminar at the 4th Annual Ojai WordFestin beautiful Ojai, California. This awesome opportunity came at the invitation of the festival’s director, Mary Sequoia Hamilton, after she saw the film in San Luis Obispo.
Thank you, Mary!
Here’s the official class description:
April 14, 1pm – “Writing for the Screen”at the Ojai Library,111 E Ojai Ave. (805) 6461639 | FREE | Award-winning screenwriter Joan Macbeth will give a talk on screenwriting, adaptation, and independent film. Joan co-wrote and executive produced My Shanghai – a documentary that sold out its world premiere screening at a recent film festival [YEAH, BABY]*. She has written and optioned several scripts, and adapted a bestselling novel for producer Michael Gruskoff (My Favorite Year, Young Frankenstein). Bring your questions on what steps to take to move your passion-project forward.
Taking on any documentary film project means being ready to go anywhere your story leads you. In the case of My Shanghai, the roads have linked oceans, decades and cultures, with one exit off the I-5 in Keizer, Oregon. This is where I found Thomas Crossland.
Thomas is a Japanese print dealer. Wherefore, ahead of its March premiere, My Shanghai is on display in his online gallery of Japanese woodblock prints, ukiyoe-gallery.com. The business grew out of his passion for old Japanese culture and the lengths he has taken to explore it, including two solo bicycle trips covering 1,600 miles in 1995 and 1997.
Of woodblock prints, Thomas writes, “Words such as dreamlike, hypnotic, and mystical do not seem to even fully describe the degree to which these magical works of art move me. But, in their viewing, I find myself clearly taken from the present and moved back in time….”
I had emailed him a couple of months ago about Virginia’s collection. He not only smoothed the way for me to make contact with the original Japanese publishers of her prints, he offered to publicize the film and even made a donation. More evidence that My Shanghai can take you where you didn’t expect to go.
Thomas has put together an extensive, thoughtful story on Virginia, me and My Shanghai entitled “Library Article #58”. Well, it has a fancier title, but I kind of like that one. Article #58 circles back through myshanghaifilm.com archives to highlight where we’ve been and where we’re going… which is to California for our World Premiere at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival on March 8!
Until then, you’ll find us in Thomas Crossland’s gallery next to some other rare beauties.
Cecilia Reid • Jenny Schrader • Mike Stahl • Larry Starke
Sherwood Oaks College • Deborah Stenard-Bowman • Connie Taylor
Dave Weisbord • J’hon Williams • Ruth Witteried
Backers who contributed $100 or more are listed in the closing credits of the film (please see “Closing Credits” posted in MY SHANGHAI JOURNAL a couple of days ago). Included there, too, are some folks who may have donated a little less but helped in other ways.
If you backed My Shanghai with a ten-spot, we’re still very grateful! Ten bucks is a show of faith, and that we found in abundance, not in our mattresses.
As 2013 comes to a close, I’m raising my glass to everyone associated with My Shanghai. So many people have generously supported this documentary. On behalf of the My Shanghai team, I give our most sincere thanks.
If you worked on the film, gave us materials to use onscreen, consulted, researched, held an umbrella over my head or kicked in $100 or more through Kickstarter or otherwise, you will likely see your name listed below.
IMPORTANT! LAST CHANCE! If you see a misspelling, want to alter or eliminate your name, PLEASE tell me now! I can consider TINY CHANGES up until SUNDAY, JANUARY 5th. The master print will be made shortly after that.
MORE EXCITING! We have begun submitting to film festivals. Until we hear something…. well, let’s just say we’re a little superstitious. Hopefully, we’ll be screening at a film festival near you. The running time is 57 minutes, so it’s not destined for theatrical release at your neighborhood cinema. We’ll keep you posted.
For now, just open that bottle of Tango Champán and celebrate knowing you’ve helped bring Virginia’s story to the world.
Japanese print publishers S. Watanabe WoodBlock Print Co., Tokyo • Doi Hangaten, Tokyo
Photographic archives courtesy of The McCutcheon & Lumsdaine families
Andy Archibald • Greg Leck • Rick McGrath • Rurik Nystrom • Allen Wooten
National Archives, U.K. • The Internet Archive
Grassroots publicity Leanne Collins Miller
Brittani Axtell • Roy Baley • Lynn Aberle Brown • Lynne Bunch • Stephanie Burchiel • Delia Davies • Marina Mousouris Delio • Marla Hayes • Carol Hovsepian • Mary Hurst • Dick Jaffe • Barbara King • Diana Lumsdaine • Dawn Ellen McConachie • Vern McKimmey • Melva McLean • Barbra Mousouris • Michelle Muldoon • Diane Palmer • Virginia G. Palmer • Randall Platt • Rick Schmidt • Dana Sears • Pedram Shawd • Jerry Van Fossen • Luana Vargas • Gloria Walker • Alan Wells • David Wells • Edward Wells • Hannah Wells • Mark Wells
If you’ve visited our Facebook page in the last couple of days, you’ll know we’ve been soliciting title ideas for for the closing credits music. On request from the producers (or was it the writers?), Jonathan wrote a dashing little tango to wrap up the film. I asked him to choose the title from our Facebook suggestions… okay, I planted a few, but our fans threw a lot more into the pot. (Before you say it was too hard to think of a name without hearing the music, did you really wait until after your kids were born to name them?)
My favorite was “Breakfast at Jimmy’s.” Joan begged for “My Shanghai Tango.” In the end, Jonathan chose the most exotic, and who can blame him?
Besides, we’re half a block away from celebrating the end of production and the beginning, we hope, of My Shanghai‘s voyage into festival space. Virginia is almost 94 and she can’t wait to see it.
Here’s where you’ll find all the latest goings-on with My Shanghai.
We have a new format to disguise the fact that we’re still bloggy-based (sshhh!!!), so our posts don’t appear on the front page anymore. It may take a few days to get it all set, but you’ll still get to read all about what’s new around here.
Yeah, in fact, so much is new that some of us have been too busy to write about it. Sound, music and color are currently farmed out to our expert crew — Gonzo, Jonathan and Vashi, respectively. Joan and I are headed to Santa Monica next week to attend the American Film Market (AFM) — which we consider an exploratory mission, not a marketing mission per se. But you never know… and Heidi will connect all the dots at the end to finish — yes! — the whole picture!
Keep you posted.
P.S. Thanks to everyone who has liked us on Facebook. We like that.
So long, summer. We like a change of season at My Shanghai. We’re bringing on people to get this little film into shape for the big show…. er, festival circuit… which we plan to begin in early 2014.
Meet our new assistant editor, Heidi Zimmerman, who will be in charge of all the specs and codecs to finish the film.Heidi grew up on the east coast, moved to LA and found her way to Portland. Welcome, Heidi.
Heidi Zimmerman is a picture editor with over ten years of post-production experience in narrative films, documentaries, commercials, and clip shows. Heidi received a BFA in Film/TV Production at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has worked with major entertainment companies such as Universal Music Group and Warner Brothers. Under the mentorship of Academy Award winning editor Pietro Scalia, Heidi cut her first feature documentary, 40 Years of Silence, about the 1965 mass killings in Indonesia. Since then, she has cut a wide range of independent feature projects. From urban gardening in Detroit to Haitian development after the earthquake, her work continues to bring inspiring and provocative social justice stories to audiences around the globe.
My Shanghai’s talent pool just got a lot deeper. With the success of Kickstarter, we’ve now met one of our goals: bringing a top sound editor onto the project.
Meet Michael Gandsey, sound designer, re-recording mixer and owner of T2 Audio in Portland.
Originally from Burbank, Michael grew up with the music and film industry in his back yard and has been working in professional sound since 1980.
He’s got plenty to say about sound:
“Unlike images on film or video which cannot in themselves produce sound, sound has the unique ability to evoke an image. It is the supreme conjurer of the imagination and emotions.
“Sound is powerful stuff. Most of the sounds we hear are registered subliminally, but we instantly ‘place’ them when we hear the rush of incoming tide, the clank and hiss of a steam radiator, the whirr of the dentist’s drill or the cawing din of blackbirds descending.
“We locate these sounds in our mind’s past… we can smell them, and feel their shape, mass, and texture. This is important information. When sound is linked physically to place, it has the capacity to deepen both the sense and the memory of that place.
“… More important is the capacity of a sound to evoke unlimited pictures in the mind, to interject the listener into the picture, to play with the scene, to write alternative scripts.”
Among Michael’s many film and television credits: Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, Far from Heaven, The Hunted, Hear and Now, On Paper Wings; and The Revisionaries for Independent Lens, Buried Alive, National Geographic Explorer, Nova and The American Experience. Current work includes sound design for The Winding Stream, a feature music documentary-in-progress about country music’s legendary Carter and Cash families.
The McCutcheon family has its own legend. You’ll hear it from Michael Gandsey.
At 3pm last Friday, with 24 hours and 2 minutes left on Kickstarter, I posted the first in a series of hourly thank-yous on our Facebook page. Since many of you are not on FB (for good reason, I’m sure), I’ll share them here.
3pmVirginia McCutcheon, for being our hero, for opening the book on your life and going with the flow when clearly it was time for a Scotch.
4pmGinny Palmer, for your candor, patience and determination. Oh, and for introducing us to your mum.
5pmJoan Macbeth, my friend, fellow producer and co-writer. We’d be nowhere without your talent, heart, energy and readiness to share the adventure. And your Best Western free night card.
6pmRon Macbeth. You deserve much credit for your camera work, team spirit and road-trip readiness, but we expect that from a Canadian, eh?
7pmNeil Wells, for just about everything I can think of since this project began two years ago. And I’ll make sure to stock the freezer with burritos before I go off again…
8pmBarbra Mousouris, for placing your trust in us and sharing your insights and wonderful stories. You’re the only person I’ve ever met with a hamster up her sleeve.
9pmJohn McCutcheon, for sharing your art and your indomitable spirit. You’re such an inspiration and I’m hoping maybe to talk you out of another of your paintings someday.
10pm Gifted composer Jonathan Geer, for agreeing to score the film. How I decided a tango musician from Texas was the right fit for a Japanese internment camp movie — oh, wait —
11pmEric Palmer, for allowing your personal struggles to add to the depth of this film. Your bond with your grandmother is undeniable, your challenges both different and the same. I never had a chance to tell you I went to Chino Men’s Correctional Facility to take pictures and was summarily required to remove them from my camera. We do what we have to do. R.I.P.
12amBarbara King, for contributing in so many ways behind the scenes. I know Virginia thinks of you as her other daughter, so in an extended family sense you must be my other cousin!
1amAndy Archibald, for kindly sharing your archival photos of Virginia’s brother, Jack, who competed for England in the ’52 Olympics as a Modern Pentathlete. Well, what does one do after flying in the R.A.F.?
2amDr. Jiyu Yang, for writing “My Shanghai” in beautiful Chinese calligraphy and for many afternoons in your company at the teahouse at Lan Su Chinese Garden. I only wish I had more time to learn the art of patience.
3amDan Lu Kesi, for designing and carving “My Shanghai” into beautiful marble seals as your donation to the film. I’ll be careful not to use them upside-down. I’ll also review the concept of yin and yang and fix what I mis-posted last week…
4amSarah Inglis, for your amazing and timely offer to delve into British Special Operations archives. Who knew we’d find spies among us?
5amRoy Baley, for the use of your beautiful garden by the bay. I really don’t hold you responsible for the fog.
6am The vendors at the Los Osos Farmers Market who appear in the film trailer — soupmakers Stephanie Burchiel and Brittani Axtell, and Gary “The Date Guy” Billington. Will we see you in the final cut? That’s like asking for the secret recipe…
7amLeanne Miller, for handling so much of our grassroots publicity and for being the first person to pledge on Kickstarter! You got it rolling and helped keep it rolling!
8am The good people at NW Documentary and NW Film Center. Sorry, I handled just enough equipment to make me dangerous.
9amMichelle Muldoon, for the opportunity to get my first producing credit on “A Rendezvous.” I’m not exactly sure how helping you make your postcards led me to believe I could make a film, but there you go.
10amCynthia Whitcomb, screenwriter, playwright, teacher. If I hadn’t wandered into your screenwriting workshops and watched Ordinary People and Butch Cassidy and hadn’t written my first screenplay… see what you started? (right, Joan?)
11amLynn Federman of the San Luis Obispo County Film Commission, for waiving the permit fee on our location shoot at the farmers’ market. I don’t know how we managed to be around all that food and not spend any money!
12pmDean Piper, for allowing me to promote the film on internet radio W4CY.com. Thanks for offering to give me my own show, too, but my hands are pretty full right now.
1pmWriters in the Rafters. The dedicated women in this group climb the little stairs over the coffee house kitchen twice a month. We do it for the writing, but that’s not the only thing. We do it for the coffee. We do it for the coolness factor of meeting in the attic of a coffee house, and the chill factor of meeting in the winter in the attic of a coffee house…
2pmMilwaukie Bomber. No, I’m not thanking a scary guy in a ski mask; it’s a real B-17 in my neighborhood. This WWII-era lady didn’t didn’t lose her nose section in a dogfight over Germany or her engines over the Pacific. She still has a story to tell.
2:50pmALL OUR PROJECT BACKERS. I’ve scheduled this post to publish at 2:50pm PDT, which is 12 minutes before the Kickstarter door snaps shut. No matter what happens, I appreciate every one of you, whether you’ve been on board from the beginning or just came across it last night. Thank you! You still have 11 minutes.
The spring has brought changes to My Shanghai. Beyond everything else, we mourn the passing of Virginia’s grandson, Eric Palmer, who let us into his life on camera and helped with the production. His obituary is online in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
May has also been fundraising season. Our Kickstarter drive runs until Saturday at 3pm PDT. With 1 day to go, we still need pledges to reach the $20,000 goal. Can we do it? Yes, we can do it! All it takes is a bunch of people to say, “Hey, let’s do it!”
We have until 3:00pm PDT Saturday, June 1, to reach $20,000
But no matter what happens with the campaign,I’ve come to appreciate the way things fall into place when you’re meant to do something. You’re not sure why; they just do. Take, for example, Virginia’s furniture.
The tall chest sits near the stairs. It’s humble. Someone decorated these doors with a thick brush and a little pot of paint. Virginia says she never got around to having it translated, so I took a picture on one of my recent trips. I had to know.
Dr. Jiyu Yang is the resident scholar at Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland. He’s been a wonderful resource for many of the cultural aspects of My Shanghai — calligraphy, music, poetry. At first glance, he said it was probably a poem and was happy to translate it.
Now, for the falling into place part. My co-writer, Joan, and I decided months ago we would build My Shanghai around the seasons. It’s a traditional approach to a life story, of course, but what could be more natural? Especially when you loosen up a bit about what seasons are and what seasons mean.
The seasons have been here much longer than we have. We are required to adapt to them and not the other way around. The seasons don’t care what country we live in.
In the trailer, Virginia shows us her Japanese woodblock prints that she bought in Japan. “My three children all want them,” she says with a little laugh. “So it’s going to be difficult.”
Unlike the prints, the humble furniture doesn’t have a big role in My Shanghai. I don’t know if anyone will ever draw straws to see who gets it. But like any good supernumerary, it quietly serves the story. Here is Dr. Yang’s translation:
Attention screenwriters: we added a fantastic new backer reward for the Kickstarter campaign! Now, at the $1000 donation level, Joan and I will do a full evaluation of one of your screenplays. Both of us are experienced readers for competitions, and both of us have had more than a few of our own scripts torn apart by some of the best analysts out there. More details are on our project site.
It’s something I felt could add value to this funny business of asking people for money. If we offer a real service as a benefit for your supporting My Shanghai, then the perk is suddenly more than a token. I can’t tell you how much time I spent agonizing over what to offer with each donation category. T-shirts? You have to deal with sizes. Mugs? Pretty heavy to ship, though I want one. Posters? We have to print posters at some point, but you need mailing tubes…
Hats are essential. One size fits all, easy to mail, and I just happen to like hats. I’m waiting for the final design, a beautiful Chinese seal that my friend Dan Lucas is designing and carving with traditional Chinese characters. It’s gonna look sharp, red on a black hat. You’ll see the seal on the poster too… as soon as we get posters…
So, Kickstarter. It can be a hard nut to crack. Many thanks to everyone who has donated so far. A lot of people still don’t know about Kickstarter, or they want to think about donating and it slips their mind. Studio System News has a good article comparing Kickstarter to a few other crowdfunding sites. I explain that it’s like pledging to PBS, only there’s no bank of phones behind me and there’s no money in front of me if we don’t reach our goal of $20,000 by June 1. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing deal.
Now, as I’m writing, a mouse has run between the piano and a big chair three or four times. Each time I get up and move the humane mousetrap where he can get a sniff of the peanut butter inside. I love peanut butter so I don’t know why he didn’t run in there immediately. Should I leave it undisturbed and wait, or change out the peanut butter for something else more enticing? Some other nut, perhaps? Would he like a t-shirt?
Maybe I should just get out the camera and put him in the movie. Ah! There he goes, back under the piano…
I’m no expert on Chinese-Japanese relations, not by a long shot. But my research for My Shanghai has prompted me to try and understand the issues underlying the serious disputes over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. China claims them as the Diaoyu, Japan claims them as the Senkaku. The potential mineral assets and fishing hauls don’t seem to account for the more than 300 times Japan has scrambled fighter jets against Chinese aircraft in the past year, nor the car-smashing protests that have sprung up all over China.
An article by Ian Buruma in the May 11 Review section of the Wall Street Journal lays out the historical, political and cultural dynamics of it all especially well, I think. What strikes me is how symbolic these rocks are, and how fragile. One of them, known as Red Back North Island by the Chinese and North Islet by the Japanese, is said to be only 50 yards wide, the size of an Olympic swimming pool. So it’s not about the rocks.
Before World War II, Shanghai itself was like an island in China, carved out as a treaty port at the end of the Opium Wars in the mid-1800s — still Chinese territory (unlike Hong Kong), but ruled by foreigners, mainly British, Americans and French. This is the environment Virginia grew up in, an international city inside China.
Bill MCutcheon also grew up in Shanghai. He’s the guy who won her heart in Lunghwa camp and married her as soon as he could after the war. Bill worked for the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, and his first posting after the war was Hong Kong. The second was Tokyo.
Virginia will be the first to tell you that even as the “incidents” between the Chinese and Japanese tore up the outskirts of Shanghai in the ’30s, even as the Japanese marched in to occupy the city after Pearl Harbor, even as she and her mother and many loved ones were forced into camps for the duration of the war, she carries no resentment.
“Fortunately there’d been a few years between being in Shanghai and having been in Hong Kong next, and then back to Japan,” she told me. “And the years had sort of healed a lot of people.”
Virginia made up her mind to embrace the arts in Japan. Her home today is filled with Asian art, both Chinese and Japanese, and she still practices ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Can a focus on the arts bring two cultures back together in today’s world? Buruma writes, “For much of its history, Japan looked up to China as the center of civilization.” And, “Before the Japanese invaded their country in the 1930s, many Chinese viewed Japan as a model of modernity.”
My Shanghai is not about the Senkakus or the Daioyus. For us, the history helps to give a little more context to one woman’s life, her personal story, and her claim on the waters around her. And it’s not too much to hope that some healing can be found in the waters of the East China Sea.