I find it impossible to resist anything that has been made by hand, particularly if it involves an unusual skill, like shoemaking, or constructing wooden birdcages; or if I can sit and watch someone at work, seeing something unfold piece by piece before my eyes.
Every time I visit Tongli I stand and watch this clever basket-maker. He is about sixty years old, with a little grey hair coming in, but with the hands of a much younger man – fast, deft, and unwavering. He takes a long quiver of split bamboo, and starting at the base he folds and weaves a hexagonal pattern that brings each basket into existence. They are simple household objects, yet true things of beauty – all over Tongli I see his handiwork, holding goose eggs, filled to the brim with vegetables straight from the garden, or overflowing with washing.
Of course I buy several. I take two flat woven bamboo mats, for placing in the tray of my steamer, a basket in which to keep my collection of small Chinese hand-made shoes, and two large, flat woven six-sided trays about a metre across. These are used for drying and preserving vegetables, or drying tea, and they have a 6-pointed bamboo star on their underside as reinforcing. There won’t be a lot of vegetable drying going on in my house in Shanghai, but I buy them anyway. Too beautiful to pass up, the locals think it hilarious that a foreigner has burdened herself with these large unwieldy bamboo trays, as I struggle with them back to the car. I wonder I could make my own dried vegetable pickles….?
This is one of many posts about the water town of Tongli outside Shanghai.
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