Paper-Making in Houhai

There is probably nothing more study abroad-like than participating in unfamiliar traditional activities. In only our second day of our one-week stay in Beijing, our next stop after lunch was at a traditional-style residence in Houhai where we learned how to make Chinese paper cuts! Before the activity began, I was personally a little fatigued after quite the busy morning in Tiananmen Square and Jingshan Park. However, a nice surprise welcomed me on our way to the residence: we got to ride a carriage! Here’s a POV clip below:

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He biked at the perfect pace, giving me enough time to enjoy the autumn breeze and a more traditional-looking part of China. It was a much-needed pleasant ride since I didn’t think my legs could support me any longer. Anyways, when we got there, we were greeted by a man named Mike, who spoke very fluent English with minimal accent. But because the residence was small and we came in a big group, we all split up into three groups, placed in three different rooms where Mike would spend time with each group one-by-one. My group went first while the other groups waited.

After we sat down at a felt-covered table, he first thing he told us was “these are very sharp scissors.” I didn’t think he was being serious, but he was. I poked myself, and it hurt. After sharing a few laughs with my fellow friend Mike, he taught us a brief history of paper-cutting (including its importance during the New Year: 窗花), common patterns of paper-cutting, and how to make one of the patterns, of which the name I sadly forgot.

I’m sure of one thing: paper-cutting is a very precise art. It not only requires cutting paper, but also requires folding paper. If you cut too much paper, you had to start over again. Making the wrong folds, meaning an inch off from what Mike demonstrated, frustrated me a lot more than I originally anticipated. However, Mike was very helpful and even satisfied that we were doing really well on our first ever try.

The end result? The most beautiful paper creation I made in my life, mostly because I haven’t done any paper work since my elementary school arts and crafts days. Let’s just say I made some pretty interesting things back in the day.

I really like these kinds of activities because I can study all the traditions of China I want on the Internet or in a textbook, but doing an actual activity in real life really adds a different depth to my overall personal impression. I find my mind to be a lot more engaged and excited when doing hands-on activities. Just like cooking Chinese food at the Linden Center in Dali, paper-cutting again made me more personally connected with Chinese culture simply because I actually participated in the activity. These kinds of activities aren’t easy, but the work is definitely worth the learning experience.

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