Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist


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Gimme Shelter [Rain or Shine]

Umbrellas in Asia are for much more than just rainy days. They’re used to block sun, rain, drips from overactive air-conditioners, and even prying eyes. There are UV-blocking umbrellas for summertime, and huge, super-sturdy typhoon-proof versions too.

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My favorite umbrella is from [of all places] a tiny shop near Rome’s Termini train station, from my trip last year. It’s got a super-powerful handle, hot-pink details, and cheery-looking chartreuse bandages printed all over it. When its  metal spokes broke in Lijiang last month, my friends said: “Get a new one!” But nowhere in China would anyone sell anything remotely like my umbrella. Are you crazy? Hello Kitty, puppies frolicking in flowers, or lacy designs are fine. But bandages?! Why would ANYone walk around inviting bad luck by printing references to flesh wounds on their umbrella?

But the bandage design was exactly what I wanted. I was despondent and stubborn, a familiar state to anyone who knows me well.

That is, until I met the Umbrella Man.IMG_7836

I noticed him one afternoon outside my favorite dumpling shop at the edge of Lijiang’s Old Town. He and the local seamstress had set up shop – a pair of tiny workbenches with tools, umbrella-parts, and a foot-powered sewing machine – on a busy streetcorner.

“How much to fix this?” I asked him in passable mandarin, my aluminum umbrella spokes dangling. He gave it a quick perusal. “Ten kuai,” he said [around US $1.60]. Two hours later, after he fixed the spokes then broke and finally fixed the handle, he handed back my little piece of Italy.

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Thanks to Lijiang’s Umbrella Man, I’m protected from Sydney’s scorching sun this summer, whether we’re going to the Blue Mountains or to  the beach.

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