25 May 2007
the farmer who grows robots
current listening: we show up on radar – 1p needle and 1p thread
this man is my new hero. his name is mr wu yulu. i saw him on tv last week. and it was one of the most magical things i've ever seen. he is a farmer in his mid forties from a village in eastern beijing. he is also a backyard scientist who builds robots out of welded together metal, duct tape and second hand batteries. he thinks of all of the robots he makes as his sons. and they are all named after him and numbered one to twenty five. and they look like they come from outer space. number five is a one metre tall humanoid robot capable of walking, changing light bulbs, lighting cigarettes and pouring tea. number six is a monkey like robot with magnetized feet which enable it to crawl slowly up metallic walls. he has also produced a miniature frog shaped robot that hops, and a giant, walking eight-legged trestle table capable of carrying two passengers. and he made a mechanical grasshopper. his greatest invention though is probably number twenty five, a rickshaw robot, made to take him and his wife to market, that walks slowly across the fields pulling him and his wife in a rickshaw. it has big metal feet and eyes that pop out of its head and it shouts in mandarin, "hello everybody, i'm a rickshaw robot". which makes sense but is probably quite scary if you're not familiar with it.
sometimes they don't always work perfectly. five years ago, one of his inventions short circuited and he burnt his house to the ground. and once a salvaged battery exploded, and mr wu was left with serious burns on his hands and body and needed to be in hospital for several weeks. he is quite a lot in debt now after rebuilding his house and paying his medical bills and taking out extra loans to pay for more robots. and last year he finally had to sell one of his robot sons to pay off some of his debts. which is a bit sad.
he has a real family too, as well as a robot one. his wife is called dong shuyan and she seemed sweetly philosophical on the programme about him burning the house down and getting them into debt. "when we got married, everyone warned me he would care more about his robots than about me," she said, "but on the other hand, at least he doesn't drink or chase other women." although she did seem quite annoyed when she was talking in her newly rebuilt kitchen about how "other people's husbands are busy making money, or looking after the wife and children. and the only thing on his mind is making robots."
i hope one day i get to see one in real life. i think i'd really like a mr wu robot to be my friend. or maybe i could have a robot grasshopper as a pet. i think that would be nice.