We came across the amateur pottery cave of Taozui
(陶醉) on Gulou Dong Dajie, just one of many such outlets in the greater Gulou-Nanluoguxiang area that’s become a prime destination for DIY activities in the last year or so.
Taozui offers hour-long sessions upon the potter’s wheel (150RMB), providing you with all the necessary
equipment and lumps of clay to create your magnum opus. As for the skills to do so, well, that’s no certainty. Instruction is only in Chinese, though the first fifteen minutes or so are spent opposite a steadyhanded master, who skilfully displays the various pinching and pressing techniques to manipulate
your clay into form.
I try my hand at it and struggle along, though I soon get a grasp of the keywords that keep popping up, namely ruan (soft), ying (hard) and, most frequently, shi (wet); there’s a fine line between correct and excessive lubrication, and by the looks of the wobbly receptacle before me, I’ve definitely crossed it.
Despite my evident lack of talent, there’s a real therapeutic element to it all; I realise I’m not taking in
any of what’s being said to me, falling into some kind of trance as I stare into the hypnotic spinning wheel in front of me, hands clasped on the slimy clay.
After our brief one-on-one, my instructor gets up, takes a seat at a wheel next to me and crafts an elaborate, narrow-fluted vase in a matter of minutes, looking on as I struggle with my mass of damp clay. Eventually, she returns to assist me through to the end, and I finally end up with what you’d struggle to
call a ‘cup’ – it’s more of a wilting, deformed ashtray – that’s then sent off to be fired in the kiln, and glazed to the finish of my desire. We’ll find out in three weeks how it emerges from the flames.
Whether you manage to sculpt a priceless vase or not, the activity is a fun and relaxing introduction to an ancient art, and a great experience for all ages. A romantic date idea for all the wannabe Patrick Swayzes out there, too.