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Wood carving workshop

Time to get hands-on! In Bali, the girls had had lots of fun learning how to make batik, so we were really looking forward to our side-trip to Yunnan's famous wood carving village. As it turned out, though, we had to cancel the trip, since Sharon's stomach turned out to be less-than-happy about her culinary adventures in the day before. Instead of a day in the village, we therefore decided to stay in Dali a bit longer, and then drive to Lijiang on the new superhighway later in the day.

What to do?! We had seen all there was to see in Dali, and the girls were itching for a hands-on experience. Huang jumped into action, and arranged for us to learn how to carve wood at a local store in Dali. He didn't know the shopkeeper, but simply went from shop to shop until he found someone excited about hosting two foreign kids for the morning. Talk about hustle!

The shop was located on Dali's main shopping street, and featured avant-garde carvings from a famous artist (who wasn't in the store that day). The carvings looked like something you'd see in a beachfront store in Santa Cruz -- bright colors, simple abstract shapes, very New Age. In other words, perfect models for our first wood-carving experience!

After picking pieces they wanted to copy (since we were told that copying is the first step in learning how to carve), the girls hunkered down on little stools and started drawing the patterns on blank pieces of wood.

They had plenty of help: the shopkeeper was the famous painter's cousin, and in between helping the occasional customer, she was delighted to teach two enthusiastic foreign kids who could speak Chinese. Huang lent a hand -- turns out that among his other talents, he is a great wood carver!

W ood carving looks easy, but is actually pretty challenging. At first glance, the steps are straightforward:

After sketching the pattern, you start carving with a wood chisel. You place the chisel on the line you drew, and whack it with a hammer. Then you do that again. And again.

When the outline is completed, you use the chisel to pry out all the wood inbetween the lines, leaving a cavity. And then do that again. And again. If you're good, the cavity is filled with little straight cuts. If you're learning, it's nice to have a friendly teacher!

When the carving is complete, it's time to start painting. This was straightforward, except that even the simplest pieces required many layers of paint, each applied with a different technique.
Fortunately, the shopkeeper was a great teacher, and the girls were fast learners. In between each coat we put the carvings outside in the sun to dry.
We suddenly realized that it was getting late. Time to switch into turbo mode! Out came a hair dryer, which speeded up the drying process.

Since Miranda's piece was simpler, she finished first:

Miranda's piece was an abtract moon, one of four symbols used extensively in Yunnan art. Sami chose to start with another symbol (a flower), which turned out just as nicely. Both are hanging on the wall in our living room - when you visit us, you'll see!

Next: A Trip Across Erhai Lake

Dali chapters: Intro Shopping Batik Tacky Tea Bai Dinner Rice Paddy Food Cheese Carving Village

Yunnan chapter shortcuts: Intro Dali Lijiang Tiger Leaping Gorge Zhongdian

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