"China 2010" story # 8

Shouguang, Shandong Province           May 4, 2010

Of course, another thing that's up in the air in China are the kites.
     Last Sunday, I rode a bus from my city to nearby Weifang - the Kite Capital of the World.
     The big city's skyscrapers included a glass building whose silvery-green surface was disected by rectangular snakes - black and off-white - which made it resemble the inside of a computer. A clear, silvery-green river was surrounded by yellow-buttercup-tree pathways on one side, and by island parks and leaping wooden bridges and Chinese pavilions and romancing couples on the other.
     In a city square, people were flying kites.
     They flew: a white & pink airplane; a rainbow-colored bird with a rainbow tail; a blue dragonfly; a magnificent brown falcon; and a pink kite with a blue-and-red joker in the foreground. An orange kite had two big eyes and eyebrows on it, and a rainbow streaming tail. My favorite kites were small butterflies that stayed close to the ground and flapped their wings in the wind: one was red-and-mauve, the other was creamy orange.
     I was happy just watching the happy people fly their kites. But, I also went into the "Fengzheng Bowuguan" (Kite Museum).
     In the main hall, long segmented dragons, beside red goldfish with elegant fins and googly eyes, hung from the ceiling. Kites elsewhere in the "bowuguan" (lit. - a place rich with things) included:
     a stunning brown-red-green-blue turkey; a vibrant, ornery rooster; a brown hawk whose every feather had been given 3D detail; a colorful beetle; a praying mantis eating a fly; a butterfly with a nine-foot wingspan; a red-and-white mollusk shell; two fish swimming around a lotus; a cobra; and two tiny, segmented dragons playing with a pearl; ...
     a boy riding a swallow (swallows were popular kite subjects, portrayed with dopey friendly faces); a girl catching a fish; a man carrying two bird cages; a dragon with a phoenix, to symbolize propitiousness (whatever that means); and a pair of scarlet boys' slippers decorated with tiger eyes and teeth; ...
     big kites that each had two babies holding animals - for example, a snake and a rooster - probably to celebrate new years; ...
     a giant 3D Buddha, with three babies poking his ears and belly-button, which made a laughing sound when flown, entitled "Happiness"; ...
     Nantong kites - often with a red-and-white checkerboard pattern, decorated with paintings of pink flowers or countryside people - that had bamboo weights hanging off them that whistled in the air; ...
     a tv with legs, an electrical cord, and a guy inside; a ship with lime-green sails; ...
     a kite painted with a boy playing a flute for his girl on a green meadow, between two roses; ...
     and a radish.
     It's a good thing I love kites!
     That radish kite made me hungry, though.
     Not really. But, I traveled from the World Kite Capital to the "Zhongguo-de" (Chinese) Vegetable Capital. A grad student from my university named "Leo" drove me to his hometown, Shouguang.
     Thirty-year-old Leo had a thin, happy nose; thin eyes that looked near-sighted behind his glasses; and thinning black hair on the top of his short body. He used to have a job helping to - as he put it - "eggport redbulls"; I later learned he meant, "export vegetables". After that, he loved being a high school teacher.
     This day, he'd taken a test in Weifang to try to get a government job. 2,500 people had tested to fill forty positions. Government jobs are very well-paid and secure.
     Leo lived with his wife and baby son - to whom I gave the English name, "Donald" - in a dull-communism-style apartment building. Other than the bathroom plumbing, the apartment was comfortable. Leo's wife gave us: a bitter vegetable called "kugua"; fish that had been fried whole with their bones, and we could pick them up by their tails; small crabs whose shells we could crunch on and swallow; and tomato-and-egg soup with rice. Leo's mother lived with them, so she could care for the baby, while Leo's wife worked - as is the custom.
     The next day, Leo showed me his parents' village and home. The few dozen homes in the village shared brick walls, or were separated by lazy dirt roads. Gates, leading through the walls to houses and courtyards, were decorated with colorful tiles, hanging red ribbons, bronze door handles, and delicate paintings of Oriental gardens. Inside Leo's father's living room, I could feel the relaxation of countryside naps, and sniff the fresh wood of the furniture. In one of the village's many greenhouses, which burrowed low in the earth, I saw the tall plants that bore the withered, cucumber-like "kugua".
     I was very happy in this village. I was also very happy to get the chance to speak Chinese, with Leo's twenty-five-year-old sister. From the toy shop she'd recently opened, Leo drove her to Shouguang, on two-lane roads that were dangerous.
     "Driving a car is like driving a tiger." - Chinese saying
     I said to Leo's sister, "Ni qu zuo shenme zai Shouguang?" (What are you going to do in Shouguang?) "Wan!" said the bowl-haired girl. (Play!) "Wei shenme ni bu gongzuo?" (Why won't you work?) "You ren," she said. (I have a worker.) She laughed very cutely and explosively and like a child.
     But, we dropped her off and headed to the annual Vegetable Exposition.
     Thousands of Chinese people and I toured around village-sized exhibits. In enormous tents, leafy plants sprouted up all over the floor; eggplants, red and yellow peppers, and capsicum clung to the walls; and long gourds hung from the ceiling. A stout tree had purple mushrooms flowering off it, and it looked like a fantastical home for wood nymphs.
     Vegetables grew out of plastic pipes, under red and blue lights providing nocturnal sunlight, and on floating islands beside waterfalls.
     Sculptures, murals, and fountains incorporated fresh vegetables as building material. There were yellow dragons climbing up pillars; giant sunflowers in idyllic meadows; other giant veggie scenery; a long mural of traditional Chinese people; and pandas under an orange sun. Millions of beans were used to make light colors, thousands of gourds provided the orange or green, and peppers were used for red or yellow. Above one fountain, Buddhas cradled real, super-sized pumpkins.
     Okay. Now, I was hungry. "Come on, Leo, let's go get some noodles."

love and peace,
Modern Oddyseus

Much thanks to (Leo) Liu Xingjun, Zhang Yuehua, Liu Huaiyun (Donald), & Leo's mother for the place to visit!

go to the previous story                                                                                   go to the next story

J. Breen's modern-o.com