Expat highlights: Kao Shan market, China

What sets this Neolithic man apart from his companion is his high dress. Meethole uses only a loincloth for a body suit. And yet it would be futile to be too hairy. The other man had tanned the soles of his bare feet with iron filings.

We walk for three days – an average day at a footpath station for an itinerant live-animal trader. The market is very different from other parts of China, like Shenzhen, which hold up discussions about Xi Jinping’s development strategy. Farmers step aside for carts and men sit in lavatories – long wooden poles hanging from inner walls. In the Kao Shan market, we wait for our tea to be brewed; smells of kimchi and sauerkraut and seafood in boiling water are everywhere. We soon get used to their various titles. We seem to be in their universe.

After some further wandering, we decide to inspect a collection of skulls of mummies and human bones – a perfect mixture of the alien and the grotesque. Like the Mongolian Yulan collectibles shown in Game of Thrones, it seemed a tribute to both the achievements of eons of civilisations and the necessity of hiding them from the present. More importantly, it showed that the piles of bones shown in this film were merely the beginning of their ecosystem. The bodies were fragments of massive, meat-eating whales, but they still functioned in some way, just as human brains do for an artist who wonders what remains of the personal art that inspired him.

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