Archive for March 2010
(Reuters) – Sitting in a valley in southwest China sits an unlikely and controversial theme park — the Little People’s Kingdom of dwarfs.
Here, dwarfs perform in fairytale costumes for tourists, drawing both curious crowds and a fair share of criticism.
For many of the employees, the park is a rare opportunity to find work, and, as unlikely as it seems for men and women doing daily spoof performances of Swan Lake in tutus, respect.
The park, near Kunming city in Yunnan province, employs 108 dwarfs from across the country, who twice daily gather on an artificial hillside to dance and sing for tourists.
As well as a host of dwarf guardian angels, the fantasy world has a king, an army, a health department and even its own foreign ministry, and all must pretend to live in a miniature hilltop village of crooked little houses.
For 80 yuan ($11.72) — not a small sum in China — tourists can watch skits, sentimental group dances and acrobatics some may view as more than a little reminiscent of medieval freak shows now deemed politically incorrect in many parts of the world.
The show’s centerpiece, a farcical rendition of Swan Lake, sees performers both male and female dressed in pink tutus and pretending to be little swans.
“When I did it for the very first time, I felt a bit embarrassed. I had never worn a skirt like that before,” said 21-year-old Chen Ruan, who left his native Hunan province to join the park when it opened last July.
“But later, once I got used to it, performing it felt very natural,” he added.
Chen Ming, a flamboyant Sichuanese businessman who single-handedly conceived and funded the park, made his fortune manufacturing electronics and investing in property, but said he had always wanted to do good for society.
And Chen now has bigger plans for his little kingdom.
Having already invested around 100 million yuan in the site, which nestles among nine forested peaks, he is looking for a further 700 million to expand it.
While the venture is yet to make a profit, Chen hopes the number of performers employed will grow to around 1,000 within a few years. One day, Chen beams, the navy will have its own reservoir, the infantry a railroad, the air force a cable car, and the foreign ministry employees will serve as tour guides.
“I’m very happy with it,” he told Reuters. “What I need now is for some people, especially Europeans and Americans, to understand us. Because some people don’t get it, they think we are using the dwarfs.
“But what we are actually doing is giving them a platform to live, giving them worth and the ability to work freely, to exist freely,” he added.
Not everyone is convinced. Disabled rights groups and members of China’s increasingly vocal online community have suggested the park may only serve to increase stigma.
“We need to go and tell him how to respect disabled people’s rights, how to help disabled people to develop in their own lives, and not to exploit people’s curiosity for commercial success,” said Xie Yan, director of Beijing’s One Plus One Cultural Exchange Center, an NGO which advocates more equality for China’s disabled.
The situation for China’s estimated 83 million people with a disability has improved in recent years, with enrolment figures for schools and universities increasing dramatically. Beijing’s hosting of the Paralympics in 2008 also focused government and public attention on the rights of China’s disabled.
Yet traditional prejudices against anyone who’s not considered “normal,” and a lack of specialized infrastructure such as wheelchair ramps, means many people with disabilities, or medical conditions such as dwarfism, still avoid venturing out.
Li Caixia said it had been near impossible to find well-paid work after graduating from high school, and was tempted to the park by the prospect of up to 2,000 yuan a month, double what she might get working anywhere else.
“As soon as employers see us, they know they definitely wouldn’t want a small person like us. They have to pay the same salary, so they all want to find someone more normal,” she said. “But here, staff aren’t prejudiced like the people outside.”
The only qualification for employees, whose ages range from 18 to 48, is to be shorter than 130 cms (51 inches) and be fundamentally self sufficient.
Living together in a dormitory designed to look like a cave, some residents say life in the park is a welcome opportunity to be around others with similar experiences.
Facilities from sinks to light switches are installed for people with a short stature in mind, offering greater independence for people many of whom were once heavily reliant on parents or charitable institutions.
Kunming primary school teacher Deng Li, whose students were among hundreds enjoying the show on a recent weekday morning, said it was a positive experience for both sides.
“You can see the children have accepted them,” she said. “I think this will be of great help to the children as they grow up and come into contact with people like them.”
A mysterious predator which devours adult ducks by pulling them beneath the water at a popular beauty spot has been nicknamed the “Lough Ness Monster” by locals.
The creature is believed to have killed at least three fully-grown birds at the lake, leaving only a smattering of feathers as evidence of the crimes.
Witnesses have so far been unable to identify the perpetrator, although pike, catfish and even mink have been suggested as possible culprits.
Local councillors are now warning schoolchildren not to go paddling at the site, and dog owners have been being asked not to let smaller animals swim in the waters.
One dog walker described her horror at seeing a mallard disappear into the water at Stonebow Washlands in Loughborough, Leicestershire, never to be seen again.
She said: “I saw two mallards and the female was flapping her wings. I thought she may be cleaning herself, but she was quite frantic and was going up and down. Next thing I knew she was gone.
“I went over to have a closer look. The male was still there and I was about 30 feet away watching him intently. I stood there for two or three minutes and then in a flash all that was left on the water was a few feathers.”
The number of ducks on the lake have dwindled since the killer creature started terrorising the area.
Now users of the lagoons are being warned not to go into the water and local schoolchildren have been told not to go pond-dipping at the site. Dog owners are also being asked not to let smaller animals swim in the waters.
Rachel Lee, 39, of nearby Woodhouse, said: “Whatever is in there must be pretty big if it is having ducks for lunch though – it’s got to be one hell of a beast.
“Its like something out of Lake Placid, or Jaws or something like that. Its exciting but joking aside, it’s a little bit concerning too. If its big enough to take out ducks, then a child could get hurt too.”
Roy Campsall, chairman of the Charnwood Wildlife Protection Group and a local borough councillor, said: “The number of ducks at Stonebow Washlands has been going down, and now we know why.
“It’s pretty scary actually. Whatever it is, it’s got to be a monster to take a fully grown duck.”
Mark Graham, wildlife development officer at Charnwood Borough Council, said there were no plans to hunt down the mystery predator. He suggested that someone may recently have dumped a large pike in the lake, which is popular with anglers.
He said: “Pike are a natural part of the ecology of our lakes. a native fish that have lived alongside wildfowl for thousands of years.”
A South African woman was so moved by the plight of the local white lion population that she has decided to live with two of them for a fortnight.
Jenny Schmidt entered the Lion’s den on March 25 in her native Limpopo, and will only leave to take the occasional shower.
During the next two weeks, Jenny will eat, sleep and spend her days with 18 month old male, Zuba and seven month old Cobra, two white Lions at the Mystic Monkeys and feathers Wildlife Park.
She made the brave decision to join the cats after discovering that hunters can legitimately shoot the lions, providing they can afford the £109,000 permit.
The white Lion is a significant animal to the local tribe, the Shangaan, who believe the cats are stars descended from heaven.
Although Jenny will be monitored and allowed out for a wash, she will keep wearing the same clothes so the Lions won’t think of her as a new arrival and potentially attack her.
She will live on ice cream and toasted sandwiches for the time being.
Speaking of her hairy encounter Jenny said: “Through this event I want to raise awareness with our youth about our heritage. The white lions are proudly South African.
“This is not a record attempt, so I will leave the enclosure whenever the situation dictates.”