Getting Wood

The carpenter is not available until 6pm, so Mack the Fixer and I entertain ourselves by challenging six of the village children to basketball in the schoolyard. I say we entertain ourselves; Mack entertains himself and the director makes me join in because the director of photography was on the balcony with his camera. The kids are a bit like Imperial Stormtroopers – they run around a lot but can’t shoot straight to save their lives. I haven’t seen the footage, but if we were shooting on 50fps, the opening credits sequence should include a slow-motion picture of me slam-dunking a basketball while half a dozen Chinese boys try to wrestle me to the ground, in the well-known tradition of Clements sporting achievements.

Finally, we get to Mr Wu, yes, another Wu – it’s complicated.

In the 18th century, the Kam tribal areas were conquered by a general called Wu, and everybody adopted his surname. They only diversified a little bit a few decades later when Chinese prefects were shocked that people with the surname were marrying each other among the Kam. So they split the names again, although there do seem to be a hell of a lot of Wus around. And this one is going to teach me how to make a little stool that looks a bit like a chunk of Stonehenge.

It is quite boring for everybody involved, since making a stool hardly constitutes amazing television. Mr Wu is also preoccupied with another appointment, possibly discombobulated by the camera crew, and has somehow misjudged his sawing lines, so that the stool we are making has uneven legs that not even a lopsided contortionist could sit on. After an hour, we have lost the light and are shooting in the street with the LED lamps to bump up the luminance. Mr Wu’s stool looks like it’s been designed by MC Escher, and I can’t help but notice that he only has nine fingers, having presumably sliced one of his off at some point while making a stool that looked almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Stonehenge.

Eventually, he pleads that we should come back later when he can sneak away and re-measure his planks. I do a piece to camera claiming that I have built the terrible, mis-shapen two-legged stool, and we pack up for dinner. Mack slips Mr Wu 100 kuai (£10), at which point Mr Wu suddenly realises that he doesn’t have another appointment after all, and he is happy to stand around sawing all night if necessary.

No, that’s all right, we’ve got what we need, insofar as what we needed was three minutes of footage of me smacking stuff with a hammer while making lewd double-entendres that will hopefully slip past National Geographic and make the show vaguely more entertaining.

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of China. These events featured in Route Awakening S03E02 (2017).

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