For today’s post I take inspiration from a weekly column that features in the South China Morning Post, entitled “Six Degrees of Separation”. The author starts with person or place who has featured in the week’s news, and moves through six people/places that are somehow related (and often surprisingly so) to arrive back at his point of departure.
I’m quite sure there’s no such thing as a new idea, so in the spirit of this, I will take his format and run with it. Mainly because I want to recount a hilarious interaction I had with a woman yesterday.
The setting is a design market in a government sanctioned art district in Guangzhou. An outdoor spread of stalls full of young, local artsy types selling things they have made. Something akin to the Glebe markets, minus the political streak. I was inspecting some jewellery at a small stand and struck up a conversation with the stall holder, a young woman who was busy sewing something white. I picked up a pendant necklace with a little cat on it.
“I painted the cat”, she told me, proudly.
“It’s nice”, I replied
“I LOVE cats”, she proclaimed. “I’ve got more cat things if you want to see. Oh and this (pointing to her sewing), I’m making a wedding dress, for my cat”.
I could not refrain from laughing out loud, but she did not seem to mind.
“Are you marrying your cat?” I enquired.
“No, my cat is marrying my friend’s cat. They won’t be able to have children, however, because they are both desexed” For a moment she looked devastated, but she quickly smiled again.
“Thank you very much” I said, and wandered away (I don’t share her enthusiasm for cats). It was the best thing that happened to me that day.
Just up the road from Guangzhou is an area called Conghua, famous for its hot mineral springs and home of the palatial mansion of Chau Chak Wing, an exceedingly Chinese entrepreneur and the donor of the $20 million Frank Gehry-designed building at the University of Technology Sydney. Which is just up the road from the Glebe markets.
Chau Chak Wing’s mansion includes a large museum that holds thousands of rare and expensive Chinese relic. It also has a 1000-seat auditorium and several villas, and has been visited by John Howard, Bob Hawke, Wayne Swan and Kevin Rudd.
Kevin Rudd’s nephew Lachlan, a friend of mine, once took me to a micro-brewery in the hutongs of Beijing’s Gulou district. It was a lively little place and despite the fact I don’t like beer, I was very impressed by their pumpkin brew.
Two weeks ago, a large number of pumpkins were packed in boxes and shipped from Fujian province to Taiwan. The pioneering pumpkin company is the first in the region to export produce directly to Taiwan. This is another step on the way of the already well thawed cross-strait relations. There are certainly still some icicles, however. After 1949, the first direct flight between PRC and Taiwan did not depart until 2009. That was just one year after direct air and sea transport and postal services had begun.
There are now several weekly flights, but it’s not so easy for your average Chinese person to board them. PRC citizens must first obtain a Mainland Residents Taiwan Pass and then apply for an Entry Permit of Mainland Residents to the Taiwan from the Taiwanese authorities. Taiwan generally requires that they travel with a tour group, be invited, and/or provide a significant monetary deposit.
Of course Chau Chak Wing would have no problems, I’m sure were he to travel he would simply use his Australian passport, thereby avoiding both bureaucratic nightmares. Chau Chak Wing is one of the few Chinese people who has officially sanctioned ‘dual citizenship’ (which the Chinese government usually does not allow). A luxury afforded to him for no other apparent reason that he is worth about US$1.5 billion dollars. Which I’m sure is a lot more than the lady at the markets who was sewing the wedding dress for her cat.