Tying the knot

Updated: 2011-05-27 11:00

By Alice Xiang (China Daily European Weekly)

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And with Dali's lack of proper roads and reliable transportation, many locals spend hours each day on simple tasks, such as buying food.

Still, there have been noticeable changes. There are now two highways in the area rather than none, compared to when Thisted first visited years ago.

Tying the knot
OpiumOne's jewelry is handmade by workers in Dali, Yunnan and sell across the world. [Photos Provided to China Daily]

The smallest of building projects often bring more communication hurdles. An exchange with local builders regarding something as small as a hot-and-cold water faucet design, for instance, can be tricky.

"These builders have never had running hot water," Hansen says, "so of course they didn't see why we wanted it a certain way."

The locals can be refreshingly frank, she chuckles. "Sometimes they'll listen to you, then say: 'No, that will look stupid. We'll do it our way'. Amazing."

Most recently, the couple was told it was bad feng shui practice to plant a tree in the middle of their courtyard because it would "confuse good energy".

With the consensus of an impromptu 'committee', Hansen and Thisted were finally able to plant their tree - a little to the side of the yard, of course.

The Danes narrate these challenges and little cultural frictions calmly. It has probably helped that both have traveled widely and lived in several different countries previously.

Initially, leaving "little, idyllic Denmark" to study Spanish in Central America, then volunteer as a teacher in Tanzania, felt like entering "the real world," Hansen recalls. "And now I'm in China, with my hands full of jewelry!"

The 27-year-old from Copenhagen sounds amazed herself at where life has taken her, since first meeting Thisted at a jewelry exhibition in Denmark three years ago.

To Thisted, the important thing for foreigners living in China, particularly entrepreneurs, is to "be extremely patient, and open-minded." For him, "the whole world is opening up to new impressions We have so much to share."

Hansen finds the unique work ethic of the local culture, for example, perpetually striking and rewarding to witness.

"The old people work so hard here," she says incredulously. "You see them when it's still dark in the morning, walking in the mountains with their little torches You see people who must be nearly a hundred carrying I don't know how many kilos."

She also stresses, like Thisted, that a little patience and effort can go a long way.

"In the beginning," she remembers, "a lot of the people here were skeptical. Maybe because we looked different or Western."

But after learning a bit of Chinese and trying it out on the locals, she soon discovered that "with just a few words, they crack open."

And there is also the natural beauty of their new home. Hansen says the surrounding Cangshan mountains define the area's geography.

"If you take the cable-car ride up, it gives you the most fantastic view, and the most fantastic walk," recommends Hansen. "Just go up there with the birds singing. You see the fields, the old town, the lake, the beautiful clouds. It's like pure meditation."

Striving towards a symbiotic relationship with both the environment and its staff, OpiumOne embodies a new mode of entrepreneurship in China.

In Thisted's words: "We're doing a lot for them, and they do a lot for us."

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