(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.”
A gifted goat, who waves a jolly greeting at people as they visit his farm, has turned his back on the chance to become the next Susan Boyle.
Story by Jo Steele – 12th January, 2010 Metro.co.uk
Producers of Britain’s Got Talent have tried to sign Darren, an Anglo-Nubian goat, for this year’s show after he became a hit on YouTube and featured in Metro.
But his owners refuse to take him to auditions because appearing before Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden could be bad for his health.
Darren, eight, is a favourite at White Post Farm in Farnsfield, Nottinghamshire, where he greets visitors by climbing the fence and waving his left hoof.
BGT producers have phoned Anthony Moore, marketing manager at the farm, about a dozen times in recent weeks.
But he said: ‘It’s not our thing, it goes against the animal welfare standards we’ve set here. Making him wave in front of thousands of people would not be right for Darren.’
He said: “At first we thought it was a crank call. At the time we said we would think about it, but decided then that if it came to an audition we wouldn’t do it.”
Last week they rang to say saying eight-year-old Darren had passed the first round of auditions after producers watched a video of him on the internet.
Producers wanted Darren to appear at the live auditions in Birmingham next month.
But Anthony said allowing Darren to following in the footsteps of last year’s singing sensation Susan Boyle would be bad for him.
Snap-happy Vienna orangutan opens Facebook gallery
VIENNA (Reuters Life!) – A 33-year-old furry photographer is winning fans on social networking website Facebook for pictures of her daily life as an orangutan in a Vienna zoo.
Orangutan Nonja’s photos, taken with a camera that dispenses raisins as she snaps, have won over 500 fans on Facebook since the zoo launched an online photo album on Tuesday.
Although the slightly blurry images of Nonja’s climbing rope, food and companion’s shaggy red-brown fur have won lots of admiring comments from fans, the photographer herself is not so interested.
“Of course the apes don’t care about the pictures, they are just an accidental side product,” zoo spokesman Gerhard Kasbauer told Reuters. “They just know that when they press the button, a raisin pops out.”
The Vienna Tiergarten set up the project to help keep Nonja and her three hairy ape friends entertained in their enclosure. The album is online at: here
(Reporting by Alexandra Zawadil, Writing by Sylvia Westall, editing by Paul Casciato)
One day after turning 18, he tries to lay claim to Guinness World Record
KATMANDU, Nepal – Now that he’s all grown up, 18-year-old Khagendra Thapa Magar of Nepal wants the world to know just how tiny he is.
Magar, who stands 22 inches tall, has been waiting four years for his chance to take the title of the world’s shortest person.
On Thursday, a day after his birthday and becoming an adult, supporters mailed an application package to Guinness World Record in London seeking to stake his place in the record book.
Ranamagar said it was not clear how long the certification process would take. When Magar applied four years ago, Guinness officials said he would need to be examined by a doctor to confirm he had stopped growing.
The current record is held by 21-year-old He Pingping of China, who is 29 inches tall.
British holidaymaker Rishi Baveja is lucky to be alive after his bungee rope came loose, plunging him into a lagoon at 80mph in Phuket, Thailand.
By Nick Collins – Telegraph
Mr Baveja, a Cambridge graduate from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, spent a month in a Bangkok hospital in Thailand after suffering a ruptured spleen, torn liver, collapsed lungs and serious bruising.
But doctors were “staggered” he survived at all after the harness around his feet worked free during the jump, meaning he continued accelerating until he hit the surface of the lagoon at the Jungle Bungy centre in Kathu, on Phuket island.
Mr Baveja was able to take the impact of the landing on his chest, meaning he avoided serious head damage. Doctors compared his injuries to those of a car crash victim.
He told the Daily Mail: “All the doctors were staggered that I lived. I’m very lucky. If I had landed head first I would be brain damaged, or dead.
“I knew the jump would be scary but I didn’t think it was dangerous. I had a long phone conversation with my mum telling her it was safe.
“She only believed me when I told her that the website of the jump centre claimed it had a 100 per cent safety record. I didn’t need to do that jump. I wish I hadn’t.”
Mr Baveja, who was in Phuket on a month-long holiday to celebrate graduating with a 2:2 degree in engineering, had to have his spleen removed as a result of his injuries.
A video of the jump records him crying out just before his impact with the water, while an instructor seems to say “Oh” when he realises what has happened.
The tourist, who paid £50 for the jump, said he had no idea how the harness came loose, but that he would not sue the operator because there would be little chance of him succeeding.
He also added that his experience had not put him off extreme sports, and that he hopes to go skydiving when he has recovered.