Hairy monkeys of old Beijing

Beijing handicraftBEIJING- Eric once told me that he liked hanging around his artist friend, Patti Smithsonian, because she saw creative potential in nearly everything. He’d see a stack of old paper and head for the garbage can. She’d stop him. “Don’t throw that away! Let’s tear it into strips and make a papier-mâché hat!” That kind of thing.

I’ve since experienced the same thing with my project-princess daughter. Packing materials, raffia, old lightbulbs, used ribbon — nothing gets tossed until I’ve run it by my little artist’s eye.

Winding my way through the hutongs of central Beijing yesterday, I came across something that will give Devon and Patti a year’s worth of new ideas. Hairy monkeys. An old folk handicraft started in the late Qing dynasty, hairy monkeys are made from the furry magnolia bud and the shed skin of the ever-present and super-screechy cicada. Resembling human beings in action — fortune tellers, barbers, fruit sellers, street hawkers — the hairy monkeys recall the urban life and customs of old Beijingers. Treasures from childhood, the monkeys are still loved by the elderly hutong-dwellers.

I found them completely hilarious and charming. I know Devon will, too. The already-long list of things I can’t pitch out will get even longer as it grows to encompass the entire outdoors.

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