Foshan, you kiln me

My three days in Foshan were definitely more work than play. There are no free lunches, though there may be expensed ones. Nevertheless, I did find a couple of hours here and there to see some of the sights (and the sites).

Nothing makes a trip more rewarding than going halfway around the world to find that the must-sees are under construction, tarp-draped and scaffolded. It happened in Shanghai with the riverwalk that will reinvent the Bund for the 21st century and it happened in Foshan with the temple that helped invent kung fu for the world in the 20th. I am learning that this is an occupational hazard for visitors to the rapidly wealthifying corners of the globe which are trying to simultaneously preserve their heritages and make them more attractive for tourists.

The Foshan Ancestral Temple was about a five minute walk from our hotel. These walks, even the shortest of them, are always adventures in themselves. The streets and sidewalks of China are a game of Frogger, you as frog and the countless motorbikes, scooters, and bicycles are the pixelated tractor trailers. The China version is far more dangerous than the arcade one. For one thing, you can suffer actual bodily harm rather than having to hit 'restart.' The real problem though is that there are no pedestrian-only areas. The bikes, motorized or man-powered, are all terrain vehicles. On top of that, many are electric and perfectly silent. They sneak up on you and you don't see them until it is too late (NK, if you are reading this, there are sidewalks here, but they won't do you much good.)

The temple itself is definitely older than your church or synagogue. It was first built about 900 or so years ago. I wish I could speak to about the enduring splendor of it all, but it was being hogged by the construction folks. In the meantime, you can still wander through some of the court yards, halls, and the museum dedicated to its most globally significant resident, Ip Man. He was the master of Bruce Lee and could have take down you and twenty of your friends all at once.

Ip and Bruce

Kids rehearsing a dance. Note that the one on the left forgot his head at home and had to mime.

I couldn't stay at the temple for long. There were stores to visit. A shopping post may never be written, but I can say that somehow Chinese Wal-Marts are not nearly as offensive as their American kin. It might be scale, or perhaps that the "roll-back" icon is not that damned happy yellow dot.

I took another stroll in the afternoon.

* * * * *

As someone whose pottery skills culminated in successive firings of coin dishes/ash trays back in elementary school, it's a little hard to appreciate the finer points of ceramics. And a casual stroll through the ceramics district of Foshan doesn't help any. Capitalism there prays to a porcelain god. Storefronts feature all manner of "sanitary ceramics," but most especially the gleaming white toilet. I suspect that you all have found relief among Foshan's wares. The hub of this industry that has left Foshan flush, is China Ceramics City, a four-story mall, the top two of which are dedicated to better excretion through industry. Fortunately, in history there is dignity and art.

The couple that craps together...

Walled off from all that commodal commerce is the Nanfeng Kiln Ceramic Park. If you have any love for ceramics, these 6000 acres should be what you dream about. It is a beautiful urban green space dedicated to the nearly two millenia during which this town has served as a ceramics captial. The area that can more traditionally called a park is centered by a huge lake with paths, sign posts, and greenery flecked with sculpture and tiles, some of which were made at a DIY center (they call it "DIY") in the southwest part of the park. That area is where the fun really begins.

The Ancient Nanfeng Kiln has been in business non-stop for about 500 years. It is a 34.4m long and slopes up a hill, given it its name of a dragon kiln. A set of stairs runs alongside it and is also flanked by Nanfeng's sister kiln, also a dragon kiln, only very slightly newer. As you climb the stairs you can peek your way into low-ceilinged entryways and see the people at work moving pieces, to-be-fired and just fired, back and forth. I never approached them to understand how the kiln worked. It was more than enough to wander in an out, discover a stack of pots here, happen upon an ornate glazed planter there.

The base of the Nanfeng Dragon Kiln.

The Kilns

Behind the hill housing the kilns is perhaps the coolest aspect of the Ceramics park, and the one that gives it its vibrancy and continuity. A Ming- and Qing-era village has been preserved as part of the park. The original residents are obviously gone, but the homes now serve as studios for ceramics artisans. You can wander the cramped alleys and find doors that are opened to dark rooms where someone is working alone at ancient wooden tables on pieces. If the doors are open, you are welcome to walk in and watch them work. One man, well into middle age, and a residence of the park for who knows how long, gave me a pointing tour of his shop. Granted, he ultimately wanted me to buy one of the hundreds of ceraminc animals crammed on his shelves, but regardless he never begrudged my glimpse in his process.

On to Nanjing...or rather next up Nanjing, blog-wise, as that is where I am writing from.


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