By Matt Hodges (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-18 09:35
Xuyi did its best to get in the act as 2,000 - shockingly talented - local performers regaled shellfish-munching crowds for several hours in a ploy to help Xuyi play catch-up with other revenue-hungry urban outposts in China.
Despite straddling the trade-heavy Huaihe River, the area has somehow managed to avoid cashing in on this and was until recently something of a backwater. While it is unlikely to shake off its rustic overcoat just yet, its time will come - not that the old men playing xiangqi (Chinese chess) on narrow streets at sunrise were at all perturbed by the masked laborers tearing up sod to replace it with new cement.
Showing a strong sense of international foresight, festival organizers mixed traditional Chinese drum dances with hip hop, stand-up, Benny Hill routines and Disney-like cutesiness, such as having scores of pre-adolescent girls hop around in yellow and white duck costumes.
"Yet again the festival got off to a terrific start," says Hua. "So many domestic businessmen joined our foreign friends in praising the beautiful mountains, rivers and lakes of Xuyi. But they said the people were even more beautiful. That was the highlight of the day for me."
To stress the international focus of the event, scores of foreigners were bussed in courtesy of the local government. One gave a keynote speech, others were called onstage to accept gifts of hand-knitted crawfish. One African man even sang a song.
"I wish they'd told us earlier that we would be going up in front of all these people. I and my African brothers would have worn our traditional dress," says 29-year-old Kingsley Kalusha of Zambia, who studies in Shanghai.
He says the local food, which defines the county and is seen in huge plastic effigy along kilometers of highway leading into town, exceeded the hype.
"I've been in Shanghai for four years but this xiaolongxia was the best I've ever tasted. You can just dive in and continue. I don't know if I broke any world records, but I probably ate about 60. I didn't plan to eat that many."
Fellow student Timmy Wigwe grabbed the microphone and sang Ise Ja (Jobs for all Nations), a traditional Nigerian song about trusting one's ruler to lead the country back to its golden age. Despite inserting the name of Chinese President Hu Jintao at the end to honor his hosts, few seemed to catch his drift.
"In my country we have lots of songs. Some are for clapping. Some are for dancing. Some are for listening. This one was for listening. I didn't expect people to clap. I told them before what it was about (in fluent Chinese) so I think they got the basic message," he says.
Of the 1.2 million tourists who visit Xuyi each year, mostly Chinese, some 200,000 visited this year's edition of the festival, which ran from June 12 to 17.
While attractions like the nearby Ming Emperor tombs hold much appeal, the opening ceremony of the festival was clearly the belle of the ball for Xuyi's new "foreign friends".