Back from China after what felt like a long month! It was certainly an interesting experience and somewhat difficult to put into words in many ways. The Chinese culture is so very different to our own that it was often difficult to comprehend the people there, and not be horribly frustrated with how they do things, especially with the addition of the huge language barrier. I’m sure it was just as hard for them too!
As Douglas Adams said “for most of the time we found China baffling, and exasperating and perpetually opaque”. This was in 1988. He also said “by the end of our stay in China I had learnt to accept that if you are driving along a two lane road behind another car or truck, and there are two vehicles speeding towards you, one of which is overtaking the other, the immediate response of your driver will be to also pull out and overtake. Somehow, magically it all works out in the end”. It seems that in over 25 years nothing much has changed (including the spitting and dreadful music) except the roads have got wider!
We spent the first couple of weeks in Dong Xiang at a factory that made intricate carved furniture and carved wooden statues. The factory was within an Art Village that was under construction. We stayed at a hotel about 20 minutes drive away – not knowing what to expect we were very pleased to have our own large en suite rooms!
During that time I met and worked with the other members of the international group that had been invited for this particular part of the trip- Jacques Vesery, USA, John Van Der Kolk, Australia, Lyonel Grant, New Zealand, Cillian O’Suilleabhain, Ireland, Zina Burloiu, Romania, Lorenz Demetz, Italy, Emmanuel Vuchi, Cameroon, Yohanna , Tanzania and Terry Martin, Australia (who had invited a number of us) and Adam Doran from Ireland who was spending some time working with Terry and got included as Terry’s ‘assistant’ for the trip, plus the other ten Chinese carvers who would be working with us.
We started by making a jigsaw type piece – the idea of Lyonel – to help break the ice, with each of us carving a section in our own style. However it soon became clear that without any professional interpreters it would be impossible to work closely with the Chinese and discuss ideas for the main project. This was very disappointing as it would have been fascinating to see how their thought processes differed from ours and I thought a large part of why we were there – to collaborate and learn from each other. We compromised by splitting into two groups with the internationals making a massive arch out of camphor for the Chinese to carve, and the Chinese to making us a large gate out of ancient timber to work on. It was a huge task to undertake, particularly as we had ceremonies and communist dinners to attend…and no flexibility with our working hours, unlike in Ireland where we were able to come and go as we wished. Thankfully the workers at the factory were very competent and an incredible help, and despite the language barriers within our own group we were pretty happy and proud of the result!