Jingdezhen Weekend: Saturday

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Note: This is part one of two awesome* posts on my weekend trip to Jingdezhen (Read part 2 here). It contains a lot of photos(70) and writing about pottery. If neither photos nor pottery analogies interest you, maybe you should make like a potter and slip.

Last weekend, J. and I took a trip to Jingdezhen. Our flight left from the smaller domestic airport in Shanghai (Hongqiao) and was delayed by about half an hour for no known reason. We were served a spicy tuna sandwich and sweet roll on our hour-long flight. Flooded farmland and swollen, brown rivers passed below the plane.
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Little luggage trucks at Shanghai Hongqiao Airport.
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Sitting in the plane, looking at the tarmac, waiting to fly.
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Farmland seen from above.

Jingdezhen airport is small with only two flights daily. Our plane parked and we walked across a considerable distance of open tarmac, through the weathered baggage claim, and into the parking lot. There were a few crooked taxi drivers trying to lure us to overpriced prepaid fares. No thanks. We found a metered cab, handed the driver our hotel card, and started heading south.

Jingdezhen town has a ceramic-making history of over a thousand years. The town itself doesn’t feel ancient though. Most of the buildings are in odd, cheap-looking and boxy modern style. Development was and continues to be wildly optimistic. The shells of abandoned buildings are everywhere. Massive apartment complexes have empty storefronts at street level. Driving in from the airport, we passed a lot of failing real estate with obvious causes of failure: bad location and bad architecture. Other than a few enormous ceramic sculptures in the traffic circles, the ceramic-making nature of the place was hidden.

We arrived at the hotel around 11:15, checked into our musty 216RMB($32) a night room, and hopped in another cab to make it to a student ceramics market that was closing at noon. The Pottery Workshop functioned as a school, pottery retreat/workspace, and small run factory for commissioned pieces. The midday heat was oppressive as we wandered around looking at student work laid out under bright yellow canopies. Eventually, we met one of the foreigners working there that J. had been in contact with. This kind fellow will be referred to as P. We chatted a bit in an air-con cafe. P. said that we could come back after lunch to get a tour.
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The grand, tacky lobby of the Cidu Hotel.
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Storefront in The Sculpture Factory zone.
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Wandering around the Pottery Workshop “campus.”
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Little cute dog, panting on a cage.
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Walkway through pottery workshops.
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Freshly cast urinals.
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Cards were scattered all over town.
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Door to home and tower in background.

From there, J. and I wandered around the grounds, popping into all sorts of dusty factories making ceramic sculptures. According to the map, there were all sorts of informally grouped areas of pottery enterprises around town. The Pottery Workshop was one small part of what the map called “The Sculpture Factory” zone.
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Statue talking to statues in the sun.
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Colorful wooden door.
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Ducks in the pottery dust.
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Warehouse windows.
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Girls playing at a window.
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Maos on a cart.
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Un-cracked firecrackers on the sidewalk.
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The firecrackers cracking.
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Firecrackers cracklings.
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Umbrellas at the market.

The mood of the place was wonderful. Lots of old warehouses and brick smokestacks were surrounded by overgrown trees and residential dwellings. Freshly cast pots dried outsides. People were eating watermelon. Kids ran around. Inside, pots were poured, spun, fired. Clay was extruded. Broken pots littered the ground.

It was then, that I leaned casually against my van and turned to my dog.

“You’ve been a good friend to me Scoob,” I told him.

Scoob giggled.

After my non-sequitur, J. and I walked out the north gate of the compound and found a new looking and empty restaurant to get lunch. The waitstaff spoke no English, so the ordering process was incredibly embarrassing. We ended up with a dish of seaweed, a garlicky soup made with a beefcake that looked like canned dog food, some stir-fried greens, a bowl of spicy pork, two herbal teas, and sliced watermelon. Our nubile waitstaff waited on us with smiles and enthusiasm. Everything tasted good, but the soup looked gross. Our bill for all the food was around $10.
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Spicy pork.

After lunch, P. gave a quick tour of the property. We got to see some top secret commissioned salad bowls, kilns, and the nice private workspaces. Then J. and I began a hot, though umbrella shaded, walk to another ceramics-focused neighborhood down the road.
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Stacks of wood for the wood kiln.
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Not much of toggle.
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Barracks for a helicopter factory near The Pottery Workshop.
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Power lines.
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Stairwell inside an old building.
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Awesome railing.
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View from the hot roof.
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Looking to the smokestacks and water tower.
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Large, recently remodeled workspace inside an old factory.

The Lao Chang Ceramics zone was comprised of numerous homes/workshops in a old-feeling neighborhood. One narrow street winded up the hill. Smaller alleys and side streets branched off. A train track split the area in half at the base of the hill. It was a great place to sit, re-hydrate and people watch. The area above the tracks was called the “big pot throwing area.” P. said that we would likely see people working on human-height pots, but we must of gone down the wrong alleys. The largest pot we saw was the size of small wading pool.
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Porcelain lamp post. Each street had a different style.
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Haircut on the street.
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Salon.
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Post all bills.
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Fun rides.
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Train tacks running through Lao Chang Ceramics zone.
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Train tracks surrounded by drying pottery.
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The view from further down the tracks.
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J. amongst the train track ceramics.
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Building and tracks.
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New fan, greasy wok vent.
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Pigment coated exhaust fans.
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Down an alley.
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Rusty door.
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Pigment outside a workshop.
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Looking down the main road in the big pot throwers neighborhood.
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Unfinished homes along the frontier.
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Undeveloped land.
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Dump.
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Pots drying in the sun.
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Coal delivery.
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J.
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Homes and bulldozed red earth.
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Eggplant.
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Squash plant and backdoor.
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The verdant pit.
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Yellow mansion of the pottery barons.
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Small door and shingles.
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Train passes feet from a little girl taking a dump near the garbage bin.
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Courtyard.
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Chickens.
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Gas tanks.

J. and I stopped twice and watched the traffic at the intersection. Trains, cars, carts loaded with pottery, people, bikes, motorcycles all dodged and weaved. A train recently loaded with cargo, stopped traffic as passed. We watched it rumble from a few feet away. Nearby, a little girl was taking a dump in a pile of garabge.

The heat of the day was getting to us, so we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel to shower and nap.
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Garbage collection.
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The traffic circle outside our hotel. All day and all night: honk, honk, honk!

In the evening, we met P. at the Pottery Workshop and caught a taxi. The drive led us through a huge failed housing development (The contractor apparently killed himself before any of the homes were finished.) and the neighboring village of Sanbao. Our destination: a pottery workshop/lodge/restaurant. The compound was wooden and old. Surrounded by crops and a stream, the property hugged the valley floor like a young child hugs a cherished teddy.
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Restaurant and pottery workshop out in the rural village of Sanbao.
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Courtyard with pond outside the restaurant.
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Braised eggplant and steamed pumpkin.
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Chicken, chilies, and peanuts alongside spicy potatoes and a glass of homemade plum wine.
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A taxi van heads back down the hill and into town.

Dinner was delicious, especially the homemade plum wine growing rancid on the windowsill. Plus, P. made good dinner company. There were tough mosquitoes that managed to bite me through my jeans.

J. and I headed home for an early sleep, but discovered that the traffic circle outside our window was an endless source of noise. Our sleepless night was spent listening to cars honking, firecrackers cracking, and the random loud bursts of pop music from a nearby building.

Up next, Sunday…

*Awesomeness certified by a diverse team of specialists. One of them is named Chip. He’s hip. Catch my drift?
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