I’ve returned to China sooner than I thought. I didn’t think I’d have the means or impetus to get back before fall, but of course – things rarely go as planned. I find myself in Hong Kong after an uneventful 28-hour journey from the middle of America. And, while my jetlag isn’t nearly as bad as it should be, I still feel like I’m swimming in some sort of molasses soup. Perhaps it’s the humidity or the change of pace from a dawdling Minneapolis summer or probably it’s the fact that I’m in China limbo.
On the spectrum of China to everywhere else, Hong Kong hovers somewhere in the middle for me. There are certainly a lot of Chinese people here, but there’s a lot of everyone else too. On a rainy night, it looks like a scene from Blade Runner – late night noodle stand and all. You can get anything you want from anywhere you want it from and there’s no big brother censorship lurking behind your firewall. Weirder still, is that I have to rely on English to get me around because I don’t speak the Cantonese dialect and they don’t speak Mandarin Chinese. It’s such a hardwired default that I’m constantly making the mistake. Oh, and there’s no traditional shadow puppetry.
So why am I here? A few months back, as I was trying to settle back into life in the US, Larry Reed made contact. Larry is the much-respected artistic director of the Shadowlight Company out of San Francisco. He’s a lifelong student of the Balinese shadow puppet tradition and has collaborated all over the world with his innovative shadow theatre techniques. He’s been looking to start a project in China and asked me to come along for the ride. Plus, it all coincided with China’s first ever hosting of the annual UNIMA International Puppet Festival. How could I say no?
We planned to attend the UNIMA Festival in Chengdu and were happy to tack on the Mingri Puppetry in Education conference in Hong Kong as it’s run by the infallible Simon Wong (who you may remember was my first meeting upon arriving for my Fulbright last year) and he had a few meetings in mind for us.
So here we are in Hong Kong, my China limbo. It all seemed surreal and odd until we stepped foot into the conference. A gaggle of student volunteers and dedicated staff had turned an unsuspecting primary school into a honest-to-goodness center of workshops, performances and case-sharings from local and international artists.
I was giddy with delight attending a modern shadow puppet-making workshop by Mr. Li – who has just moved to Hong Kong a few years ago after decades of leadership with the Hunan Puppet Troupe. Afterwards, I caught shows, lectures on puppetry in therapy practice, vegetable puppet making and much more. I realized how happy I was to be surrounded by like-minded folk who view the puppet with the same sort of reverence.
This puppet homecoming cured any trace of my queasy limbo and made for a most pleasant trip. The few bowls of homemade brisket noodle soup I inhaled didn’t hurt either.
Thanks for reading~
Droom Theater from Holland performs for the local children. Even with the metered pace of translating from Dutch to English to Cantonese, these kids dug it.