One of the things I feel enrich life most is experiencing contrasts ... Let me tell you about such an experience that recently occurred .. One day I was sitting together with my wife and colleague Sara in the workshop of our modest home in southern Sweden and looking out at the grim winter weather ... Fast forward 25 hours we sat in 24 Celsius degree heat on an Island off China's coast and the palm trees swayed softly in the wind .
This change of environment was nothing that came upon us like Dorothy in the wizard of Oz, but something that we had for some time planned. A few months earlier we'd been told that the first international pipe-show in China would be held in early December and first we decided to decline the invitation ... As a full-time pipemaker with small children, time is limited and we must dispose of it well to get all ends to meet .. Better to stay home and work, we thought. But as the Scania winter made itself felt with its rain and mud the thought of like-minded people among the sea and sun became more and more alluring, so with only a few weeks of preparation, we managed to get together a voluminous collection of 6 pipes + towels and baby-sitting for our two little girls, which in itself is an impressive achievement.
So an early afternoon on the first day of December, we left Olseröd to begin our journey to the other side of the globe.
In Copenhagen we met up with the two Danish pipemakers Anne Julie and Manduela so one can say that I traveled with the majority of the world's female makers, and good company was needed on the 22 hours-long journey. After three stopovers, Chinese airplane food and hardly any sleep, we had finally arrived.
Hainan Island, which is usually referred to as the oriental Hawaii, lies outside China's southern coast near the border to Vietnam and is divided in half in zones of subtropical and tropical climate and has a size of 34 000 km2. In 2004 the estimated population was just over 8 million, or in other words an island three times as large as Scania with almost the entire Swedish population.
We a booked room at the Sheraton resort on the outskirts of Haikou, which is the island's largest city and that at the same price as a Swedish hostel. After a night's sleep, we met up with Tom and Pia Eltang, Per Billhäll and Former and enjoyed a day of luxury at the spacious hotel and got a well deserved rest after our long journey.
Towards the evening we were invited to dinner together with our European fellow travelers, which at that time amounted to around 10 pipemakers, at a traditional Chinese restaurant downtown Haikou, and an experience for both the eye and palate! dish after dish was served and it really offered new and exciting taste experiences for the adventurous, or how about some fried chicken paws! After a while I stopped asking what I ate, let my mouth guide me and struggled with the chopsticks. After dinner we ended the evening with a stroll along the streets of Haikou together with Tom, Pia and Former before we took a taxi back to the hotel.
The next day we were invited to lunch at the same restaurant with Chinese collectors and retailers and we where treated with both interesting conversations and lots of beer as after each toast one was expected to down the rest of the glass! which was then filled again by the waitresses so we could repeat the procedure.
Next we hurried on to the opening of the show and meeting with the press. Andy who organized the exhibition had put a lot of work and money to make it a successful event and that we should really give him credit for.
During the show, which lasted three days, we were treated like celebrities and I've probably never felt so welcome. Yet we where only b actors in the light of the Former and Tom which of course where the show's real stars, and rightly so.
Overall, around 20 pipemakers where
present from the following countries. Denmark, Sweden, Germany,
Austria, Czech, Italy, Russia and China. We met Sergey Ailarov for
the fist time, what a nice guy it feels like we made a new friend,
and enjoyed having a few beers with Joao Reis again.
During the opening of the show Tom and the rest of us where gladly surprised to see a magnificent bronze statue of an Eltang pipe that Andy had gotten made and you can see on Tom's expression how proud he is. Luckily it was made on a stand because it was just a tad to heavy to Clench.
One of the biggest reasons for our trip was of course to meet our dealers and customers and there is nothing so valuable as to meet in real life when most of our contact with the pipe world today is via the Internet or over the phone. To get to interact with other pipe nerds a couple times a year is for me highly inspirational and something that keeps the flame burning during lonely workshop hours.
The days of the show where intense with a lot of new meetings and impressions and there seemed to be a constant stream of visitors who who had made it all the way to Haikou. Unlike the West, China has a large proportion of young collectors and retailers, which for us as the two "youths" in Swedish pipemaking was a fun experience.
On Saturday evening it was time for formers surprice in the form of an elegant cake to celebrate his 50 years anniversary as a pipemaker and he was truly moved.
Then it was time for the smoking competition which I declined to partake in as my tongue was already hurting bitterly from smoking way too much. The young Chinese who won with just over 2 hours of true meditation had never previously partisipated in long-term smoking contest.
Sunday afternoon the show was over and we traveled with our retailers to a small island close to the border of Vietnam to spend some days together. This however, is an adventure in itself and the story I will save for another occasion.
There are more photos from our trip that can be seen on Flickr by clicking Here.