Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Bus

My favorite activity was to walk to the village and hang out at the market. I would savor these trips and use them as a reward after a few productive days in the studio. If I had my druthers, I would have spent all my time wandering around with the locals. 

One always witnessed something special on these walks. This particular morning I met four women on their way to market carrying mallard ducks and chickens. I heard them before I saw them because the ducks were very vocal and not too happy about their situation.

On one of these days I was waiting for a bus to go to the neighboring village Wutongshan alongside a young man with long hair who seemed quite agitated. He was probably impatient because the buses weren't running as frequently as they usually do and we were waiting quite some time.

The village with the bus stop to the left. Bicycles are still viable modes of transport. We experienced every
sort of item strapped to the back, including a large purple couch when we were in Beijing.
They call them totems. Click here for more examples. 

The procedure for buses is surprisingly orderly considering all the chaos everywhere else. One enters in the front and exits out the back. You pay the driver as you enter in the front. This day, the bus was full so the young man hopped into the back door instead. Since it was my policy to copy everything, and for lack of knowing any better, I followed his lead and hopped in the back too.

The tight squeeze caused my foot to jam in the door and I couldn't move to let people out. This young man who earlier seemed a bit standoffish, quickly helped and insisted I move to his position higher on the stair and away from the door.

I was very moved by what I saw next. While the bus was barreling up the mountain, he took out his metro card and with both hands handed it to the person next to him who accepted it with both hands. This person handed it off to the person next to them with both hands and the third person again accepted it with both hands. This chain continued all the way to the front of the bus where the driver acknowledged it and sent it on its journey back, one by one, until it reached its owner.  

So, once again I follow his lead and handed my fare (two yuan) with both hands to the person next to me and started the brigade. It made it to the front and into the stile without a hitch and with lots of amusement among the Chinese. I clearly stood out in the crowd and was very different, but they treated me like one of them and had good humor and patience with all my foibles.

Once in Wutongshan I met up with a new chinese friend Tracy for tea. She brought me on an informal tour the neighboring studios within winding alleys full of character and inspiration. We ended up in one of a friend of hers and guess who it was? My crazy, chivalrous bus companion! We had a very good laugh together. This time we totally understood each other. Laughing doesn't require translation.

An alley of studio spaces of the main drag in Wutong Artist Village.

My bus rider friend with some of his masterpieces. He spent his formative years working in Dafen painting Van Gogh knockoffs. You can see the influence in the energy and color present in his current work.

More of my friend's outdoor studio.
Another outdoor ceramic studio. One of many along the river.

Wutongshan had a spiritual vibe. Here artists are building totems in the river where
they stayed up for weeks for everyone to enjoy.

This post is part of a series documenting my experiences in China. 
Please follow previous entries by using the blog archive in the sidebar to the right. Or click here for the beginning. 


  1. Wow! What richness you are getting from this experience. I love the totems. Are you going to build one? Maybe I'll try it too.

  2. Totem is such a powerful concept in folk art... you can do so much with it!