Advice on vitamins intake
IT used to be "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."

Atlas from father of ET donated
DAUGHTER-in-law of Dr Rupert Turnbull, considered the father of enterostomal therapy (ET), recently presented the China Ostomy Museum inside Shanghai Second Military Medical University's Shanghai Hospital with her father-in-law's original atlas of intestinal stoma.

Death from hypertension varies with geography
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Zinc can reduce child pneumonia, diarrhoea
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Fashion trends in jeans:

Collector of 'magic pebbles'
by Xu Xiaomin

A CHINESE folk song says exquisite stones can sing you songs if you use your heart and soul to listen.

Though the stones in the collection of 70-year-old Du Baojun, a famous yuhua (rain flower) pebble collector in the city, haven't this magical ability, they still carry a message people can understand.

A small pebble, named "Immortal Directing the Road," seems to tell people where to go. You can see clearly a figure wearing a black gown waving in the wind stretching his right arm towards the sky.

A grey pebble contains a black pattern of a cricket. It is not a fossil but a masterpiece of nature. Du named it "Flying with Difficulty Because of the Heavy Dew."

A pebble with a pattern of yellow plum blossoms looks so lifelike I could almost smell the fragrance of the flowers.

The pebble named "Red Flower on Tianshan Mountain," (a famous mountain in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region) shows you a traditional Chinese painting with a bright red flower blossoming on the snow-covered mountain.

To my surprise, all are natural pebbles without any manmade carving or painting.

Yuhua pebble is formed by sedimentation of the ancient Yangtze River. The composition of yuhua pebble includes quartz, jade, opal and some other minerals. Thousands and thousands of litres of water have washed and rubbed to make yuhua pebbles smooth and shining in their various colours. Most of the yuhua pebbles are translucent, in colours of white, red, yellow, green and rose.

Du Baojun classifies her thousands of pebbles into five categories: animals, people, scenes, flowers and others.

"I love these pebbles just as if they were my own children," said Du. "I like their marvellous patterns and, most importantly, I like the yuhua pebble's quality."

"They have sustained a lot and become gorgeous outside. They will keep their nature for ever, which is much better than some people, who are always chopping and changing," said Du. "I hope people can learn something from these pebbles."

Collecting yuhua pebbles is a graceful hobby which has a long history in China. Famous writer, Su Dongpo, and calligrapher, Mi Fu, of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Guo Moruo, a well-known writer of modern times, and Deng Yingchao, late premier Zhou Enlai's wife, were all pebble collectors.

Du is called "Stone Crazy" by her friends. Once she and her husband Shen Fushun went to visit Beijing, during a short break in Nanjing - a place rich in yuhua pebbles, Du spent all of their money buying pebbles. So the trip to Beijing finished early. Du happily came back to Shanghai with a bag of pebbles.

Shen said his wife has spent countless money on pebbles since she first lost her heart to them in 1954.

"I just aimed to buy several yuhua pebbles to decorate my narcissus in the winter of 1954," smiled Du who was a policewoman for over 30 years. "But I found that the flower was too difficult to cultivate and faded quickly, while the stones kept extremely beautiful for ever."

From then, Du started her restless journey of searching for good pebbles.

"Getting a good pebble is the happiest thing in my life, but the process is not as romantic as people thought," Du said.

The couple had a meagre salary of about 140 yuan ($16.90) a month in the 1960s and had to support a family of eight people, including two grandparents and three children. It's impossible for Du to get a bargain when looking for her favourite stones in the markets and stores. So during her holidays, she went to villages near Nanjing to collect stones from farmers, which was much cheaper, but of course, much more laborious.

Several cucumbers and steamed buns and a bottle of water were all she carried in her travel bag.

"I didn't notice the burning sun when I squatted in the huge hole to select good stones, but when I stood up after several hours I felt terribly sick," said Du. "In winter, my hands were frozen in the icy water, but I didn't care at all."

The happiness of finding a favourite stone surpasses the difficulty. "You need acute discernment, or you will see nothing, even while the treasure is right in front of you."

In a heap of stones which had already been looked over by many stone collectors and was said to be no good, Du found her favourite yuhua pebble and she named it Du's Jade.

Nowadays, with three children grown up and one of them working abroad, Du has more spare money to buy pebbles. "My husband and children all support my hobby," said Du. "Especially my husband, he always accompanies me on the trips to find stones." Du said that even her little grandson also enjoyed pebbles.

Now Du's Jade is exhibited in a snow white porcelain. The heart-shaped spotless stone displays its pure red and delicate texture. Softly shining in water, the stone looks like a gorgeous gem but is much more unadorned than a gem. It's a miracle of nature.

Some stone collectors have wanted to buy Du's Jade, but Du said no to them because the stone is priceless in her eyes.

"You need to use a kind of imagination and insight when enjoying them," said Du.

With names mostly quotes from famous poems of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), yuhua pebbles, just like Chinese traditional paintings, are full of charm. Looking at the pebbles, you will see fish swimming in a pool, a fresco of Dunhuang (a place in Gansu Province which is famous for ancient frescoes), mandarin ducks which symbolize lovers, a zigzag cobblestone-covered path, a man raising his head and watching the moon which reflects perfectly a poem of Li Bai (a well-known poet of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907

) - Meditation in a Silent Night.

There are also some others in the collection which are very interesting: a smooth, creamy white stone which looks like an ear; a brown and white stone like a lovely brown bear cub while another stone is like an old man's wrinkled face.

Du welcomes people to visit her yuhua pebbles exhibition at her home. Foreign visitors will be provided a brief introduction paper in English, translated by Du's son-in-law. Please contact her in advance. Tel: 6297-0296

Copyright 1999 by Shanghai Star. All rights reserved.