here’s a report from China Greg, hipping you to the haps over there, waaaaaaay over there.
They were giving this program down in Ningbo City at a park famous for being a suicide site for two dim-witted, 10th-Century Confuzed lovers whose parents didn’t.. …okay, well, you know the Drill. Beat Shakespeare out by 600 years.
So I got prodded into this deal by my hotel manager “Mama”, Wu Bi Yan, a warm-hearted-but-starchy, 29-year old relic of the Mao era. The score was that supposedly 10,000 Flowers would be blooming (the Chinese simply love the number 10,000) in the park.. and you were supposed to register in advance and then provide credentials, including Certificate of Being Single upon arrival. (I faked one. Put a big splotchy red-star STAMP on anything here and they’ll swallow it).
After registering by phone initially (Ningbo is about 90 mnutes away), I started getting return phone calls: first from the leaders of the program, telling me that I was the first foreigner to get involved, and would be treated as a VIP; the second from a Ningbo newspaper wanting to follow me around at the digs.
It was a little rainy and gray, but a lot of people had turned out. I was quickly spotted by the manager of the program, who ushered me into a “VIP” room and introduced me to the friend of a reporter who had been roped into playing translator on her day off.
After the perfunctory laughs and giggles and tea and cigarette pleasantries, I was led out into the park where there was a huge number of clotheslines strung up, bearing thousands of pink or blue papers advertising the lonely-hearted. I was soon dragged into “meeting” an odd-assortment of ladies, usually with their mothers, who eyed me suspiciously.
“HOW MUCH MONEY DOES HE MAKE?” spat one brittle-looking, steel-toothed crone, who squinted at me with a disdainful scowl. Her rather plain, 36-year old daughter stood by bashfully, tugging at Mama’s sleeve: let’s go. The Chinese are generally very shy, especially in such “direct” circumstances, and it was amazing that more than HALF of all the people in attendance were mothers and fathers doing all the footwork for their prodgeny, who were unwilling to attend. This is classic in China, and even to this day parents often glumly take on the responsibility of matchmaking for their kids.
“TOO OLD!!” barked another eldery matron at me with a dismissive wave-off. Her even plainer-looking daughter quickly retreated, red-faced. I laughed through the tears. Any countryside Chinese over the venerable age of about 26 is considered as dwindling on the vine; only in the cities are women waiting until their later twenties, or even thirty, to hitch-up. Making a baby is of critical importance here, as there’s no social security net of any kind, and you simply must have a child to support you, (although that scheme is slowly crumbling due to the pressures loaded onto the One-Child families. Sonny Boy has gotta support Mom, Dad, his wife’s parents, his own grandparents, HER grandparents, and a KID. Time for flight, eh?).
The nice lady offered as a translator was very kindly to me; if she hadn’t been married already I might have actually been interested in her, but in lieu of that she was good company and quite helpful. A lot of people would gather around me when I was speaking Chinese, amazed to see a Foreigner at all, much less one dribbling clumsy Mandarin. One hardy soul approached me and chatted me up bravely . She was about 55, and showed every minute of it, but was quite entertaining in her directness, admitting that you probably wouldn’t be interested but here’s my card anyway. Had to give her high marks for her courage and spunk.
As I said, a lot of parents stood around sizing me up… one old worker guy with some kind of heavy face problem due to disease or industrial accident or something.. he was kindly to me, especially after he saw me looking him in the eye and not flinching at his deformity. He, like many others, had been peering at my particular info sheet strung up on the line, which had by then collected four pink-colored, paper badges from potentially interested women (or more likely their parents). All that was included was a first name and a telephone number. I couldn’t reed ANY of them, as they were all in Mandarin characters..
One short, muscular guy approached me and said his boss was interested in me, and before I could tell him I wasnt gay, his “boss” arrived; an extremely homely woman in her late forties, and I thought, GAWD, is this what I’m up to now? I tried hard to be kindly to the gal; she was really uncomfortably unattractive and obviously all too aware of it. She knew the deal already and backed away gracefully.
I’ll have to contact the phone numbers on my “sheet” and see wha’s up. I’m not highly optimistic about the actual program results… However, two newspapers and at least one TV station paid me a lot of attention, and I agreed to do interviews with them ONLY on the condition that they publish my e-mail.
So after a nice VIP-level lunch with the program director out in a cool park restaurant by the river, I wandered around with my translator for a while, before graciously letting her go off to enjoy her own Saturday activities. One of the managers of the project claimed she would leave my sheet up on the line today, and forward me any messages so attached.
It’s a nice day today; maybe they’ll have another ten-thousand flowers, and their mamas.
WATERMELON CARVING TIME
AND THE ARTIST IS:
Don McCormick is an old Oregon hoedadder tree planter now in China. He is taking pics of people and writing about them in a photo journalistic sorta way. I’ll post some of them, give you an idea what he’s all about.
— Capn Skyp
And the young beautiful, sweet, innocent girl emerging into womanhood where her tradatonial duty will be to produce more Chinese. The one kid per family thing you hear about. I gotta tell you. It ain’t true! This girl comes from a family of 3 kids. Across the steeet that family also has 3 kids and in the last 3 years!!
But for now, she is sweet and innocent with a future of undertimed possibilities…
— Don McCormick
And the lonely girl. Somehow a thread of religious conviction remains loosely woven in the remnants of the shredded fabric of pre-communist China. And some people take it to heart. So what is this girl praying for? You can be sure it is first for her family and a way for her to better help them. And then for the normal things, love, money, an easier life.
The next day she caught a ride to the big city with my girlfriend and me. There she will resume her life as a hotel girl and sell the only service she has that is of some value. For now that is the best way she can help her family. There is a catch in my throat as I type. For the disparity between fundamentally moral people compelled by cultural and socio-economic pressure to do fundamentally immoral things is common.
This girl could use the break she is praying for. But, outside of a free ride to the bus station and a gift of a few hundred RMB (Chinese money) she probably will not get it.
— Don McCormick
And then the “older” Chinese couple. Not too cool for school but rather more toward salt of the earth with a new slant. They know the old China where the future held no mystery. They see the new China erupting around them. And they smell a good thing.
So he’s a contractor of sorts and she tends their small store, washes clothes with well water and scrubs them against the concrete sidewalk, watches a half dead TV in between chores (its good enough) grows a little garden and cleans apartments on the side.
How do I know all of this? They are my downstairs neighbors and the apartment she cleans is mine.
— Don McCormick
The traditional mode of transportation. The Beijing Bicycle. Springer front end, hard tail steel frame and a rack that can carry a water buffalo! In this case it is carrying Mom and baby. Real normal stuff. And look at her. There is absolutely no concern that she may be precariously balanced. I have been collecting photos of people riding side saddle on the back of bikes and motorcycles. In the case of the bike; he begins to peddle, holding the baby she steps quickly almost to a run and in one motion hops onto the bike. And away they go! I am always as impressed with their balance as they are unimpressed.
— Don McCormick
I know that this is a strange way to start a picture but story, out of focus and all. But I chased these girls on this motorcycle taxi shooting frames with one hand and steering my scooter with the other. But when I looked at this shot I realized I could not have painted a better picture of contemporary China; which is a blur, filled with color and motion, fair skinned beauties and weather worn mototaxi drivers, stainless steel clean hotels and indelibley stained village cafe’s…transitioning from the opaque tones of the communist regime to the bright colors of free enterprise.
— Don McCormick
Ah… the confidence of youth! You may never meet people more convinced of themselves than young Chinese. But I live here and I know the truth. These kids have been brought up by parents who have never had any tactile relationship with the world outside China, as were their parents before them and their parents before them… going back nearly 50 centuries!
Now, look at these two again. They are actually country hicks all dressed up and come to the live in the city. They don’t know what an electron is, nor what a nebula is or the fall of Rome or what Columbus did in 1492. But they know where their next meal is coming from and how to have fun.
The boy was taught from an early age that he was exceptional (just because he was a boy) and the girl who was taught that she would marry “up”. So he is in control and she is absolutely content about that.
Now, look again. They are pure in their subjective perception of their reality. In fact, there is probably some sympathy behind their eyes. Sympathy for me because I am not them,,, I am not
— Don McCormick
The little boys. Happy to be alive! Lost in the moment with a deepening conviction that to be a little boy is a good thing. They are in their school uniforms. But in China, school is not a right or a compulsory thing. It is a transaction. No money no education. None. So parents scrounge what ever pennies they can and save, save, save to get the money for their kids to have some education. Still, I get a feeling that these guys are going to have a better chance for the good life than their parents. And certainly a much better chance than their grandparents.
— Don McMormick
And the big boys (and girls) equally lost in the moment. They are all yelling “jia yao! jia yao!!” Maybe it means “pull harder!” I am not yet sure. But this is a tug-of-war contest. And, they won!
You know, these folks work in a factory making windsurfing, paragliding, kiteboarding and other real fun stuff. But it doesn’t mean a thing. The thrill they get from this simple sport is as strong as the rope they are tugging on. I am not sure why I like that so much. But this quality endears them to me.
— Don McCormick
This would be a disheartening shot anywhere in the West but not in China. Lookie: this is the People’s Road and open to all comers. This fellow in the foreground is shoving himself down the street. He evokes no sympathy nor expects any. He has all of his stuff piled on his cart and packed in his busted suitcase. His wheels are but bearings and his concentration is focused. He is on his way from point A to point B, neither of which I can imagine.
I have seen a lot of disabled guys pushing themselves around different towns but never down a main street with all their belongings. So I turned around and went back to get a shot. I felt guilty photographing a helpless person, but I did it anyway. He saw me and began laughing. He was grinning and carrying on in Chinese. I pulled out a 10 dollar bill and gave it to him. He liked that and was all thumbs up. Although I towered over him I felt small. His good nature came from within and there was little that I had that he required.
As I drove away, in my rear view mirror I glanced him resuming his trudge as if we had never encountered one another. I think he taught me to more earnestly count my blessings.
— Don McCormick
Ha! I sense a Turf War brewing! Or is it a Tug of War?
Said Mr. D. McCormick is providing SENSITIVE PHOTOS of the Eastern Motherland!
Hmm…. seems to me a SHOWDOWN on the horizon! Who can provide the WEIRDER Cinese photos??
He he he he! Time to fish through the Token Yankee ARCHIVES..
Okay. You tell that INTERLOPER to get his Lenses in order, and meet me in Nanjing Street at High Noon.[cue sound of mournful harmonica music and blowing tumbleweeds]
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