Monday, November 30, 2009


I have just noticed that I have never, to my knowledge, used the word 'limpid'. Looking it up in the dictionary I notice it is quite an attractive one meaning 'clear' and is mostly used in connection with an eye or a piece of prose.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon: The Dynasties of China by Bamber Gascoigne

Bamber Gascoigne is well known in the UK as the refined and educated quiz master in University Challenge. Sometimes when such celebrities write a book it makes disappointing reading; the book is perhaps published on the strength of the author's fame rather than talent. This is not the case here.

This is a fascinating book. It is short: 'a brief history', and because of this the information has to be selected, but despite this it gives an excellent feel of not only the character of the dynasties but the staggering age of the Chinese dynasty as a whole - an almost continuous record lasting more than two thousand years. It makes the history all other civilisations seemed slightly puny in comparison. As Bamber Gascoigne says: 'The Roman Empire was founded during the Han empire and came to an end in the gap between the Han and the Tang. The British Empire began early in the Qing dynasty and barely survived it.'

First comes the Shang 1600BC, which is semi-mythical, and their barbaric rites; new buildings had to be consecrated by burying huge numbers of captured slaves in set positions - on their knees facing the threshold, for instance. Shang towns were square and viewed the rest of the world as a series of squares within squares with the dynasty capital at the centre - and this layout and outlook has persisted throughout the subsequent millennia.

The Zhou dynasty began 1100BC, and was also the time of Confucius (Kong Fuzi) with his reverence for family and adherence to the social order, and also his recommendation for a meritocracy which was taken up enthusiastically later. A little later Mozi laid down his rules for living and these developed into Mohism. He envisioned a more egalitarian utopia. Daoism originates at a similar time and advocated surrendering self to nature; and Gascoigne points out that the philosopies of Confucianism and Daoism are opposite and complementary; town and country, practical and spiritual, rational and romantic. Another philosophy of the time was legalism and recognised that man is weak and advocated more and better enforced laws. This idea was embraced enthusiastically by later emperors.

The Han empire skirted 200 years either side of the birth of Christ, and developed after a widespread rebellion of peasants. Qin, the first emperor, had unified several warring states but had been a ruthless Legalist. Peasants were required to report for wall building duty, and when (shortly after the end of Qin's reign) a group were delayed due to bad weather, they decided to abscond rather than report for (capital) punishment. One of the leaders, Chen She, established his credentials by writing 'Chen She shall be king' on a piece of silk and then putting it in a fish. When the fish was cooked the prophecy was impressively revealed.

The Han dynasty was established a little later by Gaozu who had 'a prominent nose', 'beautiful whiskers on chin and cheeks' and had 72 black moles on his left thigh (a lucky sign). He, and his descendants, expanded the Chinese empire into Vietnam, Korea and, mostly importantly, to as small area above Tibet and the Himalayas (which was soon of importance to the development of the Silk Road).

In 138BC Wudi, one of the Han emperors, heard of potential allies against the troublesome Xiongnu (may have been also known as the Hun). He sent a man called Zhang Qian to negotiate together with 100 people including a Xiongnu slave. The party disappeared for 13 years with Zhang Qian returning eventually with just the slave and a wife given to him by the Xiongnu (given to him during his 10 years as their captive). Eventually he had escaped and completed his mission, but after all that the potential allies had been uninterested. However, Zhang Qian had reached northern Afghanistan, close to where Alexander had arrived from the Mediterranean just 100 years before, thus almost bridging west and east. He was also able to report that in this westerl point he had seen Chinese goods - bamboo and cloth (presumably silk) - brought via a place called Shendu. Shendu (India) was reportedly hot and damp and was already trading with China.

In 106 BC the first caravan worked its way from China to Persia, and after that the development of the Silk Road was rapid. By 50BC there was silk market in Rome (Vicus Tuscus) and in 33AD Tiberius was prohibiting silk because too much gold was being drained from the country. Since 10AD the Chinese had been confiscating all gold, and the effect of this was now being felt in the Mediterranean.

The silk road led to the introduction of Buddhism, and Bamber Gascoigne deals with this in the chapter on the Tang dynasty (618-907). He also describes the first of two British ignoble acts (viz the theft of the Dunhuang manuscripts by Aurel Stein in 1907), and also the famous friendship of two poets. Bai Juyi and Yuan Zhen were scholars, poets and government officials - and who owed their positions due to their success in examinations. China was a meritocracy and even people of humble birth could rise to prominent positions if successful.

The Song dynasty (960-1279) is divided into the (earlier) northern Song and the southern Song, when the Chinese were forced to establish a new capital in Hangzhou due to inroads by barbarians, and Bamber Gascoigne tells an appealing story about Li Qingzhao. Her husband was an official and also a lover of old manuscripts and used to spend all his spare money on them. His ambition was to compile an account of all the surviving ancient inscriptions on stone and bronze. It was a passion his wife shared and they spent many evenings staying up late discussing pictures and bronzes, and challenging each other to find a passage in their collection of manuscripts. The winner was allowed to drink their tea first and sometimes she would laugh so much she would spill all her tea and there would be nothing left to drink. However, due to the unrest, they were forced to pack their belongings and move south, then, when her husband was given a more dangerous post, he decided to send his wife and belongings somewhere safer. There is an affecting passage describing how they take leave of each other on a river and she asks what she should do with what they have left. She never saw him again, but was forced to gradually sell everything in order to survive. However she managed to keep his work together and prepared it for publication. In the postscript she gave an account of their life together.

The Yuan dynasty began in 1279 with Genghis Kahn, who started with nothing and was, incidentally, a late starter with very little to show for his despotism before the age of forty. By 60 he had a vast empire including China. However this foreign occupation of China had little lasting effect - by 1368 the Mongolians were driven out and the Ming dynasty began.

During the Ming dynasty there was a brief period when China made overtures to the rest of the world by travelling forth, but mainly the outside world was far more interested in coming to them. A notable visitor, in 1582, was a Portuguese missionary called Matto Ricci. He tried to bring science to the Chinese, but unfortunately his knwledge was being outmoded in Europe and inluded Ptolemy's geocentric idea of the heavens.

In 1644 the Manchus, a tribe from the north, were invited by the Ming emperor to help him put down rebels, but in return for the favour seized the dragon throne for themselves. This was the start of the Qing empire which lasted until 1912. During this period Europe continued to be fascinated by China and followed the Arabs (who traded peacefully) in trying to establish trading posts there. The way in which the British gained access was particularly shameful. When China showed little interest in trade (in 1793 the Chinese emperor, Qianlong, declared to George III via Lord Macartney, the aspiring ambassador, that 'nor do we need any more of your country's manufactures...') they deliberately introduced an illegal commodity almost guaranteed to take hold: opium. Many Chinese swiftly became addicted. When Emperor Lin forced English merchants to dispose of their opium overboard in 1840, Great Britain declared war. This resulted in China making concessions: Hong Kong was ceded to the British and 5 other ports opened. France and America exacted similar concessions later.

After dealing briefly with foot-binding (its origins in dancers, its spread through the ethnic Chinese but not the Manchus (who were not allowed to bind but admired it so much developed shoes that forced the wearer to mimic the walk), and the weird fact that Chinese men found the bound foot erotic (including its smell of fungus infected flesh), and eunuchs, Bamber Gascoigne gives a short account of the child emperor's abdication. He then asks an interesting question: if the interval between 1912 and 1949 just that - an interval - will historians of the future view what next as a resumption of the old system and traditions: a dynasty in the modern sense?

Since finishing that this morning I have been reading The Passport by Herta Müller ( kindly sent to me for review by Serpent's Tail). Herta Müller won this year's Nobel Prize for literature.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Quick Tour Around Shanghai

Having been told that my guide would meet me at the station it was disconcerting to find that Shanghai train station has, in fact, at least two exits. At first I made for the nearest one, but then noticed this one wasn't very popular so changed directions. Then, at the bottom of a set of stairs, there was yet another choice, and by the time I had slowly manoeuvred my case to the bottom there were few people around to follow. One exit was quite close, while the other was at the end of a long corridor. After a few moments dithering I decided to take the easier option - and was much relieved to see a small young woman holding up my name outside. She called herself Pink.

Pink's English wasn't terribly good and she explained to me quickly what we would be doing then went back to chatting to the driver. Outside the scenery rapidly turned into something ressembling a film set of 'The Future'. Every building seemed to have at least 50 floors (I counted them - this was easy because by now the traffic had come to a stand-still) and seemed to be entries in a 'most weird' competition. There were roundels, holes, crowns, asymmetric sides in an assortment of glass, steel and concrete, and some of them seemed so closely packed that I am sure anyone leaning out of the windows could link hands with their nearest neighbour's.

'You hungry?' asked Pink. I wasn't but I said yes because that seemed to be the expected answer. We were clearly going to a restaurant anyway. It was a restaurant which clearly catered for tourists with an entrance selling postcards and fake Chinese hats. The ceiling was low, and the place crowded with westerners.

'Dancers,' Pink said, and waved vaguely in the distance. Then she exchanged a few words with a waitress and I was shown to a table. The waitress set the table for two and I went to wash my hands. Toilet paper was dispensed communally, from a roll outside the cubicles, and the basins too were outside for use by both both genders. Judging by the sounds, someone appeared to be violently regurgitating a recent meal, but I later decided that maybe this was just someone thoroughly clearing out their nasal passages. Either way it did not increase my appetite.

When I came back three dishes of food were waiting for me. 'Traditional Chinese food.' Pink said, and gestured for me to sit.
'What you like to drink? Cola? Sprite?'
'Cola please,' I said then thought about the noises by the wash hand basins. 'And please could I have a can?' Some of the drinks I'd been offered had been spirited from nowhere and I wanted to avoid the water.
The waitress looked puzzled, but then Pink sorted her out. 'Ee bay!' She said.
It was a term I recognised. 'Did you just ask for a cup?' I asked.
She looked a little startled. 'You know mandarin?'
Just one word, but just at that moment that Michel Thomas course seemed worth all those hours of effort.

The cup of cola was duly brought, though it was poured from a bottle in front of me, and, since it did hiss when the top was opened I guessed it would be okay.

When I looked around, Pink had disappeared. For a short while I waited, and when she didn't reappear, started to eat. Unlike the food in Hangzhou, the food in Shanghai seemed to be of famine quality: and was composed of gristle fried in batter, vegetables in a suspiciously hot black sauce, and rice.

Above the hubbub of conversation I noticed music, and when I looked in the direction Pink had pointed I saw there were indeed dancers. It seemed a strange sight at lunchtime, and although they were not particularly erotic-looking, it somehow managed to convey a sort of low-level seediness, which for me now symbolises Shanghai.

I picked at the food, decided to settle mainly on the rice, and finished quickly.
'You not eat much!' Pink said accusingly when she at last returned.
'Large breakfast.' I said, then pointed at the second place stting: ' I was expecting you to join me.'
'I just guide. I sit with driver, over there.'

In the evening I asked her and the driver if they would like to join me, but her answer was a brief 'No!'
It made me wistful for Hangzhou - there the guide, the driver and I had sat together and shared our meal, the guide explaining the foods and the traditions, and we all seemed to enjoy ourselves very much.

We moved swiftly on to the rest of Shanghai: to a high tower

where escalators, and then a lift, moved with ear-popping speed

up through many levels

to an enclosed platform with a tree festooned with wishes

to see Shanghai

in all directions.

And then down amongst it all

where Pink opened the car door and pointed out a street

'for shopping', and so I duly wandered shops full of clothes with western labels, and felt conspicuously alone.

Then, after that, the museum with embellished thrones

and screens

and lacquered chairs.

It was a short tour and just a single floor, because immediately afterwards Pink, without a word, walked towards the door. The driver, she said, was waiting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Soft Seater.

In China there is a check-in for trains as well as flights. The luggage goes through an X-ray machine and then it and the passenger goes through the gate to the waiting room. In some places the waiting rooms are segregated, and there are four grades: soft sleeper, hard sleeper, soft seater and hard seater. However, neither the hard sleeper nor the hard seater are particularly hard - they just pack their passengers more tightly.

At the appointed hour, about 15 minutes before the train is due to leave, the door to the platform is opened and everyone is allowed out. It all seemed very civilised and, until I saw the flight of steps leading down to the platform, felt quite confident. Although there was a slope at the sides of the steps for me to wheel my case it seemed so precipitously steep I didn't dare risk it. I glanced around but there didn't seem to be any lifts or escalators, so regretting (again) the 20kg in my case and the 12kg on my back, I moved slowly downwards, a few steps at a time, and eventually made it to the bottom.

Just as in England there were guards helping people onto the trains - however in China there were more of them and tended to be female and were called stewardesses. When I showed one stewardess my ticket she indicated with a small nod of her head that I should continue to the last carriage. This was clean, air-conditioned and modern and there was room for my case and bag at the entrance. The train would stop only once - at Shanghai. So I settled back to enjoy the ride.

Outside the countryside of one of the most affluent regions of China passed by. It was flat and intensely farmed - the crops yellowing in the heat of the start of the Chinese Autumn. The villages were frequent and the buildings small and rendered, with tiled roofs and balconies. For a time I tried to think how they differed from villages I'd see in England, and then I realised: in England each collection of houses is usually surrounding a steepled church which generally occupies high land and is therefore obvious. In China the only focus seemed to be new factory blocks with signs had not yet acquired a look of permanence.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Salon: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

While I was in China I could only take a couple of books besides the guides: these were China A-Z (which I've talked about before) and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I read David Mitchell's Ghostwritten several years ago, and was so impressed I immediately bought Cloud Atlas and Number 9 Dream to go alongside it (I also bought Black Swan Green when that came out in paperback too). I've been longing to read them, but in the haphazard way I tend to select the books I want to read next its moment had never come.

But when I was searching for a novel to take with me to China I came across it on my shelf and thought it would be a very good bet. It also turned out to be a very apt one: parts of Cloud Atlas have an eastern feel, and I realised toward the end of the book that one segment is based on the life of a waitress in a futuristic Korean restaurant. It happened to chime with one of my experiences in China.

In Chongqing I arrived at a restaurant early, before they had officially opened, but they kindly let me eat there anyway. I'm glad they did because while I was eating I saw something that I don't think many people see: the way a Chinese restaurant prepares itself for its customers. The many young waitresses stood together in row in front of the head waitress, who was a slightly older woman. She then asked them a question and they replied enthusiastically in unison, some of them glancing at me with delighted faces, but all of them smiling. After several exchanges, which were clearly rote-learnt, they clapped and dispersed. When I asked what they were saying I was told it was something about how they did their job. I guess it was something like the company edicts I saw on the wall - the things I sometimes see on company websites and can be summarised as: 'We aim to please.'

A couple of hours later I settled myself down on one of China's older trains, a 'soft sleeper' for a small place called Yizhou, and eased out Cloud Atlas from the top of my case. I was on the chapter called 'An Orison of Somni' and it seemed like I was reading about what I'd just seen - but some time in the future.

Here the waitresses were all clones, bred to serve for about 12 years until they gained enlightenment, thereby earning their passage to a paradise named Hawaii. I loved the way this story unfolded, and it reminded me strongly of Margaret Atwood's writing in the Handmaid's Tale. Words were slightly corrupted and I liked the way some of the commercial elements of our modern world had persisted, for example 'Starbucks' and 'Sony'; it made the society seem shallow and materialistic.

The Somni chapter was followed by an even more futuristic segment called 'Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After'. This account was written in an even more corrupted English, set in a post-cataclysmic world. It reminded me a little of the amazing 'Riddley Walker' by Russell Hoban, but the words in Sloosha's Crossin' were easier to understand and not such hard work.

The earlier stories in Cloud Atlas were set in the past: a nineteenth century voyager, then an early twentieth century wangler, a small-time publisher and, finally, a reporter on the trail of an exposé. David Mitchell is an expert in the art of literary ventriloquism, each segment is written in a different style evoking a certain era and is appropriately exciting, funny or interesting and always convincing.

Reading Cloud Atlas was rather like examining the section of a tree under a microscope. At either end the rings are old but the become younger until, at the middle there is the newest growth before passing back to old growth again. Each ring was excellent, but I preferred the new growth, particularly the section set in Korea.

In Ghostwritten the theme seemed to be chance - a small event in one place and time nudged what happened in another place and time - a concept that reminded me of the time-travelling game hunter treading on the butterfly in Ray Bradbury's 'A Sound of Thunder'. I took a creative writing class once and I chose Ghostwritten as the set text. We noted what affected what - and developed a beautifully complicated spider diagram. In Cloud Atlas the same idea applied but this time the transmission of effects was vertical rather than horizontal - how the life of one person affects the ones that follow.

Anyway, it turned out that Cloud Atlas was an excellent choice for my trip in several ways and I'm looking forward to reading my other Mitchells now, especially Number 9 Dream, because I've heard he has another book coming out like this next year so I think I need to get myself ready.

In the meantime my bookpile has increased by two others I'm dying to read: Vladimir Nabakov's Pale Fire - highly recommended to me by several people - and The Passport by Herta Muller, kindly sent to me by Serpent's Tail, following the author's winning of the Nobel Prize. But today, for my research, I am reading A Brief History of the Dynasties of China by Bamber Gascoigne - which contains some fascinating information and I am learning a lot about how the lives and civilisation of the early Chinese.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Traditional Banquets and Traditional Music

Hangzhou, I was assured, is a small town. It is where the citizens of Shanghai come to chill out. Hearing that you might expect something peaceful, small, a lot of countryside perhaps - and certainly there is the lake, and pleasant walks and parklands alongside. However, through the coach window that night it looked like this

a huge city.

Night seemed to come quickly in China: a blink, it seemed, and it was there. After the day of shop-opening and factory visiting we were due to have another banquet and the another fashion show but I was flagging. I asked Lisa if it would be possible for me to forgo the fashion show. It is perfectly possible to have too much of a good thing, and anyway I was catching an early train for Shanghai the next morning and I wanted to make sure I was packed and ready. In truth I could have done without another banquet. In fact what I would have liked just then was a cheese sandwich on my own in an empty quiet room and the chance to sleep, but instead we went here:

The People's Hall - a splendid newly built place with marble floors and beautiful girl lift guards

and a brightly-lit banqueting hall.

At the end another traditional band was playing, and I went over to take a closer look:

According to Wikipedia there are eight 'sounds' in traditional Chinese music: silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and hide depending on what they were originally made from. The silk instruments have strings which were originally made from silk, and so of special interest. These in turn can be either bowed

(I think these may be a variety of huqin - of which there are thirty different sorts), or struck

(I think the instrument on the left, a sort of dulcimer, is a Yangqin which may have been introduced to China by way of the silk road from Iran) or plucked (these on the right are Pipas, ancient hand held zithers).

Also in this ensemble were a couple of flutes and another zither, though I can't really tell which sort, maybe a Guzheng. I like traditional Chinese music - it has a haunting wistful feel.

I shared my table with the sericulturists from Bangalore - India's biggest silk region - and a few of Lisa's fellow students who unfortunately couldn't understand each other. Although the Indians could speak English well they also had a very strong accent. I had to listen carefully before I understood enough to reply at which point one of the students asked me incredulously 'You can understand him?' Then shook her head and said she couldn't understand him at all. At this point they must have spent at least two days in each other's company - it must have been hard going for them both.

The brown things in the front dish on the rotating glass table were tongues of duck. Later a whole duck appeared curled up on the plate complete with bill. The Chinese tend to eat all of the animal, and if I could override my western sensibilities I am sure I would too because I can see this is a good idea. According to my guide book this is the result of a 'famine diet' - one in which no part of the animal is wasted, and one maybe the whole world could do with adopting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Silk Manufactories.

Like much of China, Hangzhou has a traffic problem. On a week day it seems to take an inordinate time to reach anywhere, and by the afternoon of the third day exhaustion was setting in. My eye-lids kept shutting without my meaning them to, and I had to keep willing them open again. I suppose I missed a lot. I probably missed houses with tiny balconies strewn with washing, small shops with canopies selling food, and people carrying impossibly large loads on bicycles, but eventually, when the coach stopped, I did see this:

one of China's biggest silk-mills run by a Hong-Kong-based company called 'High Fashion'.

High Fashion is proud of many things: its modernity, its output, but what interested me the most was its use of solar power. I asked the spokewoman if they'd had much help from the government for this, and she said yes, then laughed and said, 'Not much, though...'

We had a talk, one of those company pep-talks, and most of which I can't remember now, but I remember the room and the shuttered windows, and stuffy warmth as we walked in, and the large rectangular table and the dark blue carpet with a pile so deep it was like walking on snow, and on the table were little bottles of water and I kept looking at them wondering if it was safe to drink, and in the end I did, then noticed no one else did.

The show room was a vast place

with displays of cocoons, partially stretched ready for making into quilts, hung up along the ceiling, reminding me of fish I once saw strung out of reach of the dogs.

There was this too - the life-cycle of the silkworm preserved in glass

and then upstairs more clothes:

a display of ties like colours in a paint palette

and a quilt already touched by Midas.

High Fashion is at the high quality end of the market - and it showed. But this is not what we'd come to see. As an Indian salesman pointed out we all knew what silk looked like - what we had come to see were the feted machines, and the advanced looms, and the process of silk being made but instead, after we had been allowed to dawdle around this vast display we were taken out. 'No time!' the representative said. 'There's too may of you. Next time you're passing Hangzhou please tell us and call by.'

Then, we were in another part of town, and once again there were talks and brochures - this time of a factory producing machines for the silk industry. Once again my eye-lids drooped. The nights without sleep were beginning to catch up with me and that odd sense of everything being unreal and distant was beginning to overwhelm me. 'But we won't be able to show you that today,' I dimly heard, and scribbled in the letters on the brochure in front of me in an effort to keep awake. 9000 miles, I thought. I had so much wanted to see the weaving machines and the workers, but all I'd seen so far were tea gardens, a temple and a fashion show.

But then I heard this: '...and he wants to apologise because he didn't know until two days ago that you were coming round, and hasn't had much time to prepare, so he's afraid that you might not think he factory is very good...' and we were all getting up, and being led in between low buildings, past stray dogs loitering in the streets, and the distant sound of machinery and into this

a hanger-like building looking like many a UK factory I've seen, and one loom weaving silk

and then another

and another;

and workers on lathes, but no safety glasses or yellow track-line along the floor, or safety screens

and smoking obviously permitted... and this girl which makes me pause even now and wonder what her life must be like...

how she goes home and eats noodles and feeds her dog, and maybe sends money back home to her parents...and as I stood there taking photographs it all seemed surreal, but also familiar. I remembered a factory unit in Stoke-on-Trent not so long ago and the only safety concession there had been to leave the building when the high pressure valve was turned on. There had been oil drenched rags on the floor, and the whole place had been a lot more squalid than this one. When I closed my eyes in Hangzhou I felt as though I could have still been there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Store Opening - Chinese Style

I shall start with dragons. The Chinese sort. Red, furry. The sort that dance to drums. The sort that snake through shopping malls and street and breathe out nothing but air, and seem to be sizing you up: how much are you worth? After all, the dragon's youngest son is the god of merchants. In particular his constipation was revered - everything went in but nothing came out.

It was a slightly bossy sort of entertainment; an ushering from the hotel to air-conditioned coach, from coach to a shopping mall, then through crowds to a partitioned area 'for VIPs' in front of the building. The drumming grew louder and the sun grew hotter. The dragons shook with excitement. We were shown to chairs, each one decorated with a flower.

Again, there were lots of flowers.

Flowers in the lapels of the donors and supporters (who had to step forward, on cue, to acknowledge their part)

and flowers festooning the stage, the walkways, the walls, the spaces besides the lifts. To the human flowers it was a tedious business.

Maybe she wanted to hear the music played on lyres and flutes

or hold the young children with awed, tired faces.

Or maybe she was longing for the moment when she could spend, spend, spend. There was enough to tempt anyone. Each small cube was filled with scarves

dresses, suits, jackets, cloths. While on chairs the shopkeepers unpacked, ironed or looked after their babies that this day had come along too.

Then, after that opening, another. This time in a bigger, more expensive-looking place.

Once again there were crowds kept back from our special area of privilege,

and then the same line of officials waiting to step forward

and the same barked-out speech from the local politician

but this time there was something waiting to be uncovered - something tall and and red, something maybe that symbolised the modern Hangzhou

to the accompaniment of pink smoke, fire-crackers

and giant party-poppers. A statue that looks to me to be inspired by the dollar.

Then inside a western-style mall with glass and more flowers

and a banquet with a clutch of models - who poised, preened and strutted like quiet, ill-humoured birds

although one smiled...

After all - capitalism, even communist-style, is allowed to be fun - sometimes.