It is not often that one can pick a dapper man and tuck him in the bouffant. A man in a nifty silk robe, his eyebrows arched, his hair combed back tidily. If the man is not there, there are others on tap: a pink butterfly, a blue fish, a dainty doll, an obese sumo wrestler. Their teeth chiselled, carved, hand-painted and decorated. That dapper man can untangle my tresses. Keep the forehead bangs in check. On a windy day, that man is hair-handyman. He is the comb. So is the pink butterfly, the blue fish, the doll in a dress, and the sumo wrestler.
In China’s Changzhou, in the Jiangsu Province, about two hours north-west of Shanghai, it is all about hair decor. The city’s historical Comb Lane area dates back to 2,500 years when skilled artisans would hunch for hours to make the finest combs out of bone, silver, ivory, bamboo or wood. Not only were the combs a perfect gift for the emperor, they find mention in poems and novels as well. A girl stands with a silver comb by a creek in a famous ode by poet Su Shi (1036-1011) and in one of the four greatest classical novel of China, Dream of the Red Mansions, Jia Baoyu bids farewell to his father in Comb Lane. Countless combs behind the glass panes of the Comb Museum keeps the history alive. At the door stand two gigantic lice-combs and there is a dog-eared sepia newspaper advertisement of the silver medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — the first time Changzhou combs were exhibited outside China.
But there’s more than these mane tools to the Dragon Town city located along the Yangtze River. The 13-storey Tang dynasty Tianning Temple — tallest wooden pagoda in the world — topped with a golden spire, has a 33,000-kg bronze bell. The complex of one of China’s largest Zen buddhist temples is redolent with the whiff of incense, the sound of bells clanging in the wind and the Buddha smiles in every nook and cranny.
At China Dinosaur Park, considered the Jurassic park of the East, located at the Modern Tourism and Recreation Park in the Xinbei district, dinosaurs come alive, not just in the preserved fossils, but in “Hot dance of the dinosaur car”, Dinoconda, the world’s third 4D coaster, and Zamperla, a pterodactyl-themed MotoCoaster.
The flying reptile is not my idea of a ride, a futuristic solar-powered vehicle is. I found one in the nearby Trina Solar’s giant laboratory. The sleek car at the entrance, 5×1.8×1 metres, is a high-efficiency vehicle powered by sunlight. Its aerodynamic body is tiled with 565 blue Trina interdigitated back contact (IBC) solar cells. This single-seater, which can hit speeds of more than 100 kmph, is a solar Formula One champion, having won two FIA Alternative Energy races in Suzuka, Japan.
From hair to noodles, the city — previously called Yanling, Lanling, Jinling, and Wujin — loves to pull at strands. City resident Li Enhai, a hand-pulled noodle genius has pulled the world’s longest dragon-whisker noodle, 133 times the height of Mount Everest, and broken the Guinness World Record four times. And, literally hand-pulled gold medals in the Chinese culinary equivalents of the Olympics. With 1 kg flour, he can make one extra-long noodle stretching 2,000 km.
I left behind the dragon noodles for a boat ride. Not on placid water under a silver-lit sky, but amid glistening solar panels bobbing in a former coalmine in the Suzhou province. Buckling up an orange lifejacket and a yellow hard hat, I rode through thousands of solar panels that float in the Trina Solar farm. Birds chirp around and fish break through the inky water. As the engine whirred, the landscape turned surreal — miles and miles of blue solar panels on the blue water. No carbon footprint. No pollution. No hazardous waste. Never before did I want to wear the helmet and race on the F1 track. But in Changzhou, I returned for another look at Trina’s solar-powered car. Perhaps, I could wriggle into it and race to the future. Leaving behind no carbon footprints.