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#171 :: Doll Tea Service

July 29, 2004

The room where these are made must be light. (I was a potter once, and can picture it:) Powdery, white porcelain dust probably coats all tools, surfaces, the windows, and the makers’ hair, fingers and clothes as they shape the clay. Four cup-and-saucer pairs in each set, a tiny cream-and-sugar suite, a diminutive ewer for “tea.” A tinny radio plays news or dramas from state-run Chinese radio. The shop boss sits in the corner, chain-smoking, reading the paper and glancing up every now and then. It is hot, from the kiln in the next room. Deft fingers knead and mold the porcelain, forming tiny cups around their tips and then setting them – misshapen but good enough for export – onto a firebrick batt for drying. There are more than a thousand small tea vessels in this room, waiting to be fired. The third worker in the sixth row finishes one ball of clay, stretches her shoulders, then reaches into the cloth-capped bucket for another. The radio announcer reads another headline or makes another dramatic declaration. The boss turns the page.

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