Making (the daily) paper

The other day I hired a driver to head out to a city about an hour south of Hangzhou called Fuyang. L. had arranged for me to be met by a representative from that city of 620,000 people’s tourism office, Mr. Chang, who tailed me for the rest of the day, paid for lunch, and failed to say more than three or four words the entire time. After lunch, however, which was surprisingly delicious (the best dishes were xihongshi xiaren guoba, crispy rice cakes in a sort of tomato sauce, congyouguiyua large white fish with fresh scallions and no gloopy sauce, shanyao jue, purple Chinese mountain yams wrapped in crispy rolls of something lightly fried, and jiwei xia, steamed shrimp netted from the Fuchun River, gorgeous with bright red and white stripes–I apologize that words have to suffice alone here: I was a bit embarrassed to photograph the lazy susan in front of a number of city officials whom I didn’t know and whom didn’t speak English) he had a reporter from the daily paper, the Fuyang Ribao, intercept us at a park overlooking the river in order to write a story on me. She took photos of me enjoying the scenery, gazing pensively, and taking my own photos of schoolchildren and local women practicing for an upcoming group exercise contest. She asked me a bunch of inane questions about things like my impressions of the city (I had been there for about five minutes), how I thought it compared to other small cities in China, and others of that ilk. I tried to be both obsequious and humorous, quipping (via an interpreter) that if Fuyang were in the States it wouldn’t be such a small city at all. Hysterical, I know. What’s actually hysterical is the fact that my presence as a foreigner in this city of more than half a million people is so unusual as to be newsworthy. It’s not like they thought I was writing a book about Fuyang–I told them it would have a page or two in the book on Hangzhou (which is probably a stretch too). It really just is the boondocks, I guess, even though since it, like Hangzhou, is in Zhejiang Province, China’s wealthiest, it’s a pretty nice second- or third-tier city.

Before lunch, I had the chance to visit an “ancient papermaking village,” which in reality was actually more like a factory in old buildings using manual labor and old-fashioned techniques. I saw the men pulling bamboo frames through a freezing cold suspension of wood pulp and water, crafting perfect sheets of paper with each draw. I saw women printing classic tomes with wooden blocks on loan from a local museum. I got to try both of these things, and they were surprisingly harder than they looked–I guess these skills are actually hard to master. When I asked the man in this photo how long he had worked in the job, I found out that he had studied and apprenticed for three years first, followed by over twenty years of experience at this factory. The site was worth a short visit, especially for someone like me who’s more than mildly interested in/obsessed with paper, notebooks, and the other paraphernalia associated with writing.

Posted by on November 25th, 2005

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