Spend a penny and see everyone else's loose change
Spend a penny and see everyone else's loose change

There is an idea that Nanling Forest Park should have a sculpture trail, but I think it might already have one. We found the market’s public toilet to be an ingenious re-interpretation of Donald Judd, with the addition of trough and sluice. If something needs regenerating for the middle class tourists they should do well to start here.

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Probably the largest camellia in the world
Probably the largest camellia in the world

In contrast to the rough and ready aesthetic of the market place and narrow streets, the landscaping around the housing blocks next to the river is pleasant taste of urbania. The parkland has been lawned, a shocking contrast to the vegetable plot domination of every patch of earth elsewhere, and contains some clever tables and chairs made from river boulders and a decent childrens’ park with all-weather ping pong and badminton.

Best of all though is what must be the biggest camellia in the world, as good as 12 metres high. It is supported by bamboo scaffolding and sits within a high brick-walled bed. This is a familiar site for those accustomed to seeing cherished trees supported into old age, until you find out that someone stole this brute from the village to sell to landscape developers in Guangzhou for a fortune. Luckily the tree was retrieved and now stands well fortified (in both senses of the word) in the centre of the park. There is also now a barrier at the road entrance to the village to protect further tree theft – a sizeable criminal industry here.

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The Green Man sending pictures home to base
The Green Man sending pictures home to base

Nanling is also being visited by a tall man from the Green Commune in another province I can’t remember the name of. He is researching Nanling in order to develop a similar model back home which will incorporate a yoga retreat, organic farming, volunteer labour and wildlife conservation. We’ve made good friends with him and he comes by every night to use our email to send his pictures back to his colleagues.

It all sounds very interesting and similar then we get to the website. It’s worthwhile looking at the blog for the entertainment the poetry provides and to lay down a marker that this is clearly Aztec track-pant territory. The other night he declined to watch The Wicker Man with us in the hotel lounge. “It doesn’t interest me” he says in his semi-English. I think it might.

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Joe runs a restaurant in the market square which to an untrained or unbespectacled eye could resemble a mechanics garage. Joe however is the Heston Blumenthal of Wuzhishen and talks with great passion about food and that were it not for his culinary training he would be on the street. Jo has become a great friend to us and regularly cooks up for us an impressive array of dishes with beer for a tenner or less.

He is fascinated to hear of the tales of Chinese takeaways in the UK like Jay’s parents run. It’s the established route of employment for 1st generation émigrés, maybe less so these days, but traditionally if you were a brain surgeon all you could do was get the wok on as soon as you arrived in Britain. Imagine how depressing it would be to move the other side of the world with six phds and be serving chips to tanked up scally being sick on your floor. My wife’s parents ran a restaurant when they first came to the UK from Shanghai via Hong Kong (the first in Manchester as it happens) and we hear that the chef from the Orange House Hotel has gone to the UK too to set up a restaurant business.

Maria too has done bird in a Glasgow chippy, and so we offer to make fish and chips at Joes on Friday lunchtime. Maria makes the batter and I peel the spuds from the market and Joe supplies some minnows from the river, in the absence of any cod. The chips are double fried and it takes a while to get the right oil temp for in the wok for the fish, but the crispy battered cartoon-of-a-fish-shaped mini-fish look pretty special. The restaurant next door comes out with a bottle of tomato ketchup.

Quite a crowd is gathered and we share the fish and chips around the market. A little too little salt they say but otherwise not bad. It seems the main problem with our efforts to appease the taste buds of the village is that flour + fry = bad chi, makes the blood to hot as they say. In the absence of an oven we may struggle to really make our mark. My wife’s family go crazy for Yorkshire puddings, making literally hundreds of them with their Christmas dinner. So the hunt for an oven continues.

After Marias gallant efforts Joe pulls out a bowl of his recipe chips he’s bend working on earlier, infact marinading in fruit scented stock since ten that morning. Dusted in a secret flour receipe he pan fries them up to produce what may come to be known as the Wuzhishen Aramotic Chip TM. By 3pm we are surrounded by banana fritters and sweet fried nam fan and it has turned into a full blown fry off. Joe wins hands down.

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After working several days with the ever helpful Xinghai from the development company we finally get it:

Nanling is the name of the forest park

Nanling is not a village it’s a town and Nanling is not called Nanling its called Wuzhishen.

Wuzhishen means five fingers, on account of the fact that from the air the five mountains that surround the village look like a cupped hand, with fingers pointing up skyward.

NB Our director may point to the unfortunate referral to the act of cupping, but this may have it’s relevance.

Wuzhishen is located in the area known as Ruyuan.

Our rented house in the old town is not a Hutong, the traditional narrow street of courtyard based dwelling houses found in old Beijing etc but is in fact a Pingfang (sic) which is a terraced house with living and cooking/washing rooms separated by a narrow communal street.

This much we now know. But if it changes again you’ll be the first to know.

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Ah yes
Ah yes

Pack your bag and go get your Mamiya Maria, we’re going to shoot some farm porn and sure enough we do. Adam emails that he wants some juicy hi-def large format shots of rural life, real rural life. Filthy. Down the road at the organic farm we get stuck in with the farmers who welcome our suggestion with open arms. They are really keen on our suggestion to let out their spare rooms for Green Gym tourism or at least guests who might do more than gawp at the landscape and might get involved, take an interest and have a decent, civilised relationship with the place.

The farm is a Hugh Fearnley Oliver wet dream, immaculate rows of organic veg, happy chickens and a completely efficient, self sufficient system even down the gas from the human compost being used to power the wok burner. Prince Charles would love this. Duchy Originals Methane?

They give us tea and feed us nuts and then move on to Mie Ju or winey sweet rice with a fried egg. Which is rather nice. Having plied us with booze-rice, they offer us dinner, which we don’t have time for and instead agree for us to return for dinner next week on the condition that we work on the farm for the day. Additionally we offer to dress one of their spare rooms in a way that will attract Sino-Jamie Oliver fans or the like, which she is delighted about.

But the purpose of the farm shots will to help sell this idea, but there is a tinge of panic that we may be sending them down the road of Lakeland Tourist Misery. I try to explain this one through which is hard in the face of such enthusiasm for new ideas, but hopefully we’ll be able steer them more towards Ruskinian mind gym than shit farmhouse b&b. Let’s take them to Cumbria as a warning.

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Tomorrow I will go and see the market stall in process and talk to the carpenter. Today Alistair and I discussed the old village houses where we have our outpost with the companies community development officer, he seems to be on the same page as us about the need to locate our activities on the other side of the river to the hotel (the locals call the hotel side Hong Kong as it is posher).
The old peoples houses we are interested in, and working in, are being demolished soon it seems, or at least partially demolished, so i hope to output a suggestion for their realistic reinvention (with some fancy more eye catching bits) rather than destruction. I guess it will boil down to a proposal for one house, rather than a whole street or section. One small step at a time. On one level we have a lack of resources like printers, materials, making us have to work in certain slower ways, on the other to create effective change and sustainable development involving real people will take ages.

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Sad to say goodbye to everyone and just as things seem to be coming together. I have to be back in the UK to look at the pile of stones that was Lawson Park and to fight about access to the Love Shack, a build about to go on site that suddenly has ‘access issues’. But most importantly I have to plant, the spring was delayed in Britain so we did ‘nt get so much in before leaving for China, seeing all the planting and growth in Nanling made me eager to get going with the new paddy fields – all ready and waiting for planting.

As I drive out of Nanling I am struck by all the things I didn’t notice on the way in – mostly to do with the farms and villages. Through the village all the front gardens have been given over to vegetable gardens, I love that about the village, that all the plants are productive, so the elegant avenue of trees leading up to No 37 the Hutong (our house) is in fact lined with fruitful figs and persimmons (dried these taste amazing, like sweet and sour chocolate). I think I understood that a previous art project and had rather unfortunately galvanized the children of the village to plant the most revolting red lilies throughout the village, they are quite interesting as they show you which people are popular with the children – our landlady’s house is surrounded by them. They are the same lilys which are formally planted in the hotel (not so bad when formal). These are almost the only purely decorative plants in the village, not sure what the artist idea was. It does make you think a bit about meddling, upsetting the balance and irresponsible intervention, a warning to us - the Cane Toad syndrome. I recall a similar intervention on the remote Western Isles of Scotland where a doctor mobilsed the unemployed to plant daffodils - some government employment scheme rather than art – it may not have caused any damage but it sure puts anyone off visiting the island in the spring unless you require the weird site of avenues of multi form daffodils cutting through the utterly flat and arguably dismal landscape of North Uist. Bar the houses they are the tallest things on the island and that includes the people.

The further down the Nanling valley you get the more developed the farming becomes, tabbaco becomes a significant crop, taking over from the rather more useful peanuts and soya beans. Plastic membrane/mulch starts to dominate and the crops are clearly benefiting from chemical fertilisers, as evidenced by the uniformity and density of planting and that they are way ahead of the plants further up the valley.

On the drive to Guangzhou I again marvel at the motorways lined with hand clipped single trees, this really is a rod to beat yourself with. The labour expended must be astronomical, and not a productive tree in there, although not sure who would want to buy motorway fruit. I suspect in a few years all this topiary will be removed, maybe it's market gardening and they will sell the individual plants to ornamental gardens, boy would that make some money.

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guestroom artists books and fanzine collection
guestroom artists books and fanzine collection
coniston museum
coniston museum
coniston museum
coniston museum
grizedale collection
grizedale collection
grizedale collection
grizedale collection
ruskin archive, coniston
ruskin archive, coniston
ruskin archive, coniston
ruskin archive, coniston
grizedale collection
grizedale collection

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Say no more
Say no more

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