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Outside the theatre
Outside the theatre

By 3.00pm the crowds have subsided due the post lunch siesta, apart from a flurry around my pear crumble demonstration. The Stalls are packed away to get ready for Harold’s festival extravaganza.

At 3.30 the children of the village had assembled to put on their costumes for the parade Harold has designed to celebrate the village stakeholder community of farmers, power station workers, foresters, tourists, animals and at 3.45 Xinghai orders the parade to start quarter of an hour early as the crowd is forming a powder keg of kiddy giddiness amongst the old folks houses in the ping fang. So on they march down and round the square and on to the park by the tower blocks where Bryan’s may pole is put to use with a wicker man soundtrack. It’s not quite Pan’s People but the pole is woven and it makes a spectacle that the village flock to see. This is the village doing something for the village and they are clearly pleased that their complex way of life is affirmed for a moment or two.

The parade moves on around the housing blocks, may pole and market stall in tow, through the village streets and on to the theatre steps for the performance and finale.
The school children sing their nature song (all pretty tree hugging twig dance territory, but done with gusto), I give a simple version of a complex problem speech accompanied by the hard nut Chinese harp player, followed by two traditional Chinese dances from the Workers’ Unions Dance Group. The first is a more trad red hanky waving affair but the second is a fantastic swooping 70’s Olympic opening ceremony number with a building and falling orchestral soundtrack. A tough act to follow but Harold in head to toe gold lame shaking his booty to Beyonce, and the Worker Union joining in, does the trick.

Finally the Scottish Country dancing takes us over the line and proves enormously popular. I think if have left anything in the village it will be the legacy of this and we have challenged them to break the world record for the longest strip the willow.

Whilst this is in a way the standard cultural car crash affair and Grizedale Staple (and has many notes of community art, contemporary cross referencing and even welfare state flag waving), the principle is that this instils confidence in the community, an idea that they can do this and more, that what they have is of value and they can control their future. Not over night, but the seed is sewn.

Later that night, after dinner, we are tired out and bit post-festival-down. But we get an invite from the Workers Union for a last supper and head down to the square where they treat us to beer and snails to say thank you for our efforts and to say farewell.

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the crowds start to gather for flap jack and ideas
the crowds start to gather for flap jack and ideas

Saturday 17 May, remember that now.

The final push of the project (Phase 1) results in a marathon of a day starting at 7.00am. We set up our stalls amidst the market, Bryan’s sino-constructivist edifice accompanied by a few more tables laid out with our ideas and samples of the projects we have been working on.

Clearly the arrival of the stall causes a stir. The convention in the market is to lay your things out on the floor or to be as inconspicuous as possible, so a tall table with a bright red modernist pagoda voguing roof is quite a statement amongst the greyness of dried mushroom and eels-in-a-bucket sellers.

There is a danger that we are seen as an invasion (God forbid an art invasion of very worst kind) but as a crowd gather it soon becomes clear that we are here with a purpose. Maria’s flapjacks do the trick from the off, as two Tupperware boxes of them disappear in a frenzied swarm of villagers. This is before we can lay out the stall with our goods, but when we do get the work out there is a serious appetite for the ideas as well.

Jay has been working with local producers to use local craft skills to rethink the packaging of their goods. She shows some of these and some films of the process, getting the stall holders to realise they can enhance and improve their product. Two gleaming Macbooks are obviously a draw, but it is the content and ideas that maintain a crowd for the whole morning and there is much discussion and excitement over the possibilities.

Similarly Bryan shows his designs for a new architectural scheme for the ping fang, or the old ‘flat’ houses district. The designs show a contemporary conversion or re-interpretation of the houses, with roof terraces, walkways and enhanced communal facilities. If you showed this in a village fayre in the UK you’d probably get lynched, but here the villagers gather round and enthuse about the idea that the Agency doesn’t have to destroy the old way of life and could re-think the ping fang. One guy, a local engineer, says he could make it at the fabrication works; in fact they could build this all themselves either in steel or wood. All very can do.

Up in one of the old ping fang we have been renting from Shu a Po (Old Lady Shu) we have dressed it up to demonstrate that you could bring new life to this district, using the houses in new ways, like shops, cafes, studios, silver surfer net station, workshops and so on. Laura has been working with a seamstress in the tower block shops to rework some APC-esque dresses in local fabrics. She has also been designing a Nanling fabric, a toile of local imagery, that can be used to promote and export the community. The ping fang house is made up in the manner of a guerrilla shop with dresses, fabric, crafts, plastic frog watering cans, Vitamin publications and brique a braques. Maria also shows the films she has made for the village – the house restaurant chicken recipe slaughter to plate, tofu making and the tourist motorcade punching through town. Shu a Po loves the Chicken killing film with its blue grass soundtrack.

Back down at the market the taste for more inter-continental cuisine is sated (you have to remember there is nothing other than local food here) as Maria hooks up with Uncle Joe’s restaurant and whips up a curry and endless chapattis – Britain’s favourite food and seemingly now Nanling’s. One of the hotel staff has to help make the flatbreads and there is now a queue stretching across the market square.

From 7.00 to 12.00 (which is strict lunchtime here) there is a sizeable crowd around us, all talking, all connecting with the ideas we are putting across.

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Now back in their studio in the UK Bryan and Laura inaugurate their electric rice cooker bought in the Five finger mountain hardware shop.

Topics: [Rice cookers]

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Back to Guangzhou for a few days.
Earthquakes are going on, more and more people are confirmed dead.
My boss, a documentary film maker, has rushed to Chengdu on 15th, hope he would be ok...hope everyone would be safe...
No Karaok, no music, no entertainment from 19th to 21th, because these 3 days are set as "National Tributes Day(?)", we are lucky enough that our "Happy Stacking " is held one day before...

Well...

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Greetings Happy Stackers. I've finally got round to posting my final blog, i shot this on our last day (18th May). Its great being here in Hong Kong, i think a stopover here should have been build into the schedule, hint for next Alistair, team building and all that. Saw Elton John last night, going to happy valley races tonight and karaoke blow out on friday,(are you up for it Jay?)

All of which gives a very different perspective on our Nanling experience. Upon my return to blighty next week i'll be posting more photos and footage from the parade. Ok, must dash got a date with some Panda's.

lots of Love
Harold

Topics: [Harold's Video Blog]

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Topics: [Harold's Video Blog]

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Kids making chapatis on Happy Stacking Day
Kids making chapatis on Happy Stacking Day

Happy to be home after an intense 3 weeks barely moving outside a 200m diameter (from the hotel to the ping fang to the market).
Won't miss: the difficulty communicating with people in the village, even with a translator, as it never feels like a natural conversation.
Will miss: the very present vegetable growth in every spare pocket of soil. Those that go for walks, shopping etc in their pyjamas. The generosity and good nature of everyone we met there from the woman who offered us her ping fang house to work in, to the organic farmers who let us make a mess of their raised beds (allowing us to hack away happily at the weeds as a simple way for us to feel useful).
Happy Stacking Day was great, tiring, fun. Having stalls on the market was a good plan as people were enticed by the laptops and smell of cooking so once we were set up, the stalls were swamped till lunch and nap time. I hadn't realised how grey/brown the village was until the kids in their animal masks and flags paraded the streets spreading a bit of colour and family fun. Alistair's non-political/non-religious speech lightly explained why we were wandering around the village, looking like tourists, but not acting like them and this was followed by dancing, which never fails to get everyone going. It was a happy day followed by drinking, eating, singing and laughing with the dancing ladies (who have added Strip the Willow to their repertoire).

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If there is any future possibility of bringing Nanling to Grizedale:

Along the way I've meet some possible candidates that could benefit tremendously from time in the UK chez Grizedale and equally bring some indispensable knowledge and skills to us...
Suggestions:

Chen Yan Ping, a feisty, super smart Chinese teacher without any arsey self-important arrogance. Can crochet and gujun at the same time, seems to have fingers in pies and learns fast. Can join Grizedale local Chinese orchestra.
You Ying Qi (aka Maggie)- English teacher- improve her English because the school needs it, poss translator. Can make Chinese knots and knows dried food process. Young and desperate to see outside of Five Fingers.
Zhang Wei Jun- peanut oil producer, extremely resourceful and open minded, a really nice bloke who would instill confidence in the others
Uncle Joe..... war wound cooking, would be in his element learning and imparting knowledge, English chips for Chinese chips 50-50
Li Gui E- know how on food production, run an (honesty?) stall with her crochet skills, gain confidence to spread round others on her return
Zhang Mao Guang- a must pack traditional artist- calligrapher plus ink and brush landscape artist. Can also carve wooden stamps. Holds true to his word, brainy and helpful.
Lay Tin Yan, farmer and tea planting addict, (non PG) tips for Grizedale and paddies?

.... Xinghai/Worker's Union/the farm/family restaurant?

Topics: [Profile people]

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Post written on Sunday 18 May but didn't get a chance to post it so here it is. Now in Hong Kong and Nanling seems another world and time with earthquake coverage extensive and consumer goods in abundance.

Update: I was told on Monday by Chen that following Saturday's event and seeing the crochet works on my stall, a Scandinavian business woman based in Guanzghou has placed an order with her for a crochet style necklace and branded goods for July. They will design items together with future visits from the buyer accompanied by a translator... Zhang was present when she told me and I think it made them realise that this outcome is a promising step signalling it can all really happen.

............................................................>>>>>

Wow, yesterday was the last day and it has been whipped away in a flurry of setting up, maypoling, being mobbed by kids and speaking to a myriad of locals about the bags and videos I showed and eating a fourth supper in the evening. The stalls were bustling at many points of the day and the event from the parade and pear crumble to booty shaking was a good way to see the culmination of everyone's projects pursued here.

I spent the last week in and out of different backdrops, speaking and hands on doing with both Li Gui E (dried foodstuffs) and Zhang Wei Jun (Peanut oil) as well as niece Maggie, the calligrapher Zheng and Chen- who also played the gujun beautifully during Alistair's speech (also Chinese attempted, er, beautifully).

It's been a pretty much seamless natural progression of ideas and finishing this stage of product with Li and Zhang. Both parties were really into taking on the task of trying to to see where my proposal might help and them see their products marketed and sold differently. Each meeting has seen them taking on their own initiative on prompt of my suggestions and family and friends have joined in the sewing, carving and designing of the packaging too in quite a resourceful way. It's not that family run business owners like Li and Zhang have not thought about how to sell more before but rather about knowing how, what and where to begin.

With Li, we now have some delightful, colourful, characterful alternatives to her non-descript transparent jars and food bags for her vast range of self processed organic dried foodstuffs, which range rom kumquats to musherooms and fish. A lot of interest was generated yesterday and it resulted in the sale of three of her custom crochet bags. An impressive feat for someone who was not linking the ideas of pick n mix of products and only stuck in making circular patterns. The teacher from Guangzhou also came along and was quite surprised. We sold three bags yesterday and this I could tell from her beaming smile that Li will hold true to carrying this on in someway. Vitamin's Sue arrived yesterday and I agree with her point about some sort of exchange with locals as a system too; outlets and further development is the next step. For peanut guy Zheng, packaging for both oil and husk extract (good fodder for pigs, humans and plant growth) has incited a lot of questions from especially the older locals. He even asked me more about how his family may take on ideas such as possibility to develop tours around their small factory to inform tourists, city folk etc a little about the production process. I am not a product developer but its been pretty amazing to get this thinking triggered and I know that here people talk to each other a lot.
The two documentary style videos I have created were also attentively watched yesterday by all ages, it charts the progress of both stories from beginning to end point. It must be said that my time spent here has been linguistic gymnastics since I've tried to get by without a translator, half understanding has been supplemented by Marceau actions, but we got there.
It's quite nice to see how both projects parallel in development stages, from initial hesitation to pride in family produce to how their own witness of customer responses and what might be possible.

So, we're about to set off for Guangzhou, I am going to hunt for bizarrities in the antiques shop and say a few farewells.Not leaving China quite so fast thought, looking forward to spending time with the rels in Hong Kong and who knows maybe I learnt a thing or two from microcosmic Nanling about my gran and why she still says to eat every grain of rice in the bowl. Onwards....

Topics: [jay produce]

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