Time to change tune

Chinese violin masters give the world a new golden age, dirt cheap

17 Dec .1996 ,《Hong Kong Standard》 By Priscilla Cheung

\CHINA is the world’s biggest violin exporter but its violins are known not for their quality but for their rock bottom prices.

Internationally acclaimed violin craftsman Zhu Ming-Jiang wants to change that image.

The 50-year-old Guangzhou native recently won the silver medal for viola and a certificate of merit on violin tone at the prestigious Violin Society of America International. Competition and Exhibition held in the United States.

Xia San-Duo, a first vio1inist With the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra,met him by chance and bought his award-winning violin.

“I feel privileged that an instrument I made has made it to a world renowned orchestra,” Mr Zhu says. Mr Zhu worked for the government after he graduated from the country’s only training school for vio1in-making in 1976. He opened his own workshop in Guangzhou in l991.

Mr Zhu has won 11 awards since 1986,second in China only to another master Zheng Quan. “Violin-making is a very lab our-intensive industry.We’re able to produce violins at low costs because lab our in China is cheap,” Mr Zhu says.

“People get the impression that our violins are inferior because they’re so cheap·

“Most people don’t realize that China also produces some of the world’s best violins. Our masters in China are just as good as any other internationally renowned masters.”

China exports about200,000 violins every year to more than 30 countries ,representing about 30 percent of the global market.

Most Chinese-made violins are mass produced in factories, and Mr Zhu says there are less than 20 internationally recognized masters in China. A violin hand-made by a Chinese master costs about US$4,000 to US$5,000 (HK$31,200 to HK$39,000), compared with an American- or European-made one for US$30,000.

Mr Zhu’s violins are now being used by masters in Europe, North America, China, Hong Kong and Asia He says he does not take orders because he answers only to his inspiration Mr Zhu says he takes at least a month to finish one instrument and makes 10 a year.

The violin was introduced to China only at the beginning of this century. The Chinese did not start making the instrument until the 1930s.

Like most masters, Mr Zhu follows the Italian style of the 17th century, the golden age of violinmaking. He says his instruments are known for their clear, strong sound and exquisite artistic style.

“Most masters come up with their own variations and establish their own personal styles, but they don’t stray too far from the style of the golden age,” Mr Zhu says.

“A good architect can design functional but aesthetically pleasing buildings. A violin craftsman must be able to produce high quality instruments that are also works of art.”

Mr Zhu is still experimenting to perfect his instruments.

“Each instrument is a unique expression of my own creativity and emotions. That’s why I keep competing to see if I have improved.”

“Labour is usually very expensive in Western countries. China, on the other hand, has great potential in labour-intensive industries,” he says.

“We just need to earn the confidence on the international level, and any international awards would definitely help establish a good name.

“We have to show the world that the Chinese have excelled in a great many things.”

Mr Zhu says he has toyed with the idea of moving to the US, but is now sure about staying in China. “I don’t want to work in the States. I want to be a Chinese master and bring violin-making in China. to a new level.”

Motorists splash out on sexy suds.

TOPLESS women attendants are getting male motorists into a lather at a newly opened car wash in the central Colombian city of Pereira.

The Sexy Car Wash, which opened two weeks ago, is the brainchild of Euler Soto and features 15 young women, clad in nothing but tang as, brief string-like bikini bottoms.

Mr Soto said that while 13 of the tropical teasers, equipped with sponges and soap suds, crawl provocatively over the dirty vehicle, two others dance around it performing a striptease.

“This is the only one of its kind in South America. I found these girls in the poor neighborhoods of the city and they loved the idea,” Mr Soto said. “This is nothing like prostitution because these girls don’t have to sell their bodies to make a living. The customers love it too-they show up five or six to a car.”

The wash, which is already attracting more than 80 cars a day, costs US$10 (HK$78)-about five times more expensive than one of the city’s conventional automatic car washes. The topless women workers are expected to earn US$400 monthly – three times the minimum wage. They have strict orders to turn a high-pressure hose on any customers who make a grab for them out of the car window, Mr Soto said.

He now has plans to open Sexy Car Wash 2 and 3 in Colombia’s second and third-largest cities, Call and Madeline.