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May 24, 2010

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Human pillars erected for Catalan party

FOUR human pillars, towering over a base of more than 200 people from Spain's Catalonia region, attracted endless applause on the Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall yesterday.

Human castles are a traditional folk activity that originated from the Catalan city of Valls, and the pillar is the most difficult, formed by just one person standing on top of another's shoulders as it's built heavenwards. The first written record of human castles was back in 1801 in a local newspaper.

A human castle usually requires more than 200 people for a strong base, one to nine for each layer above it and a child aged three to eight, often a girl who is lighter, to stand on the top.

The top kid, or the enxaneta, raises her hand to signal success as soon as she gets there. It usually takes 10 to 20 minutes to build and dismantle a castle, that can be made up from four to 10 layers of people. A 10-layer castle would require more than 500 people at the base.

"The purpose is not to show skills, or how swift we climb or how it's exciting like a circus; the most important thing is the team work," team leader Josep Sole Thrrago told Shanghai Daily. "A human castle really shows how we can build something wonderful by working with each other closely."

Yesterday, the tallest construction was a seven-layer castle, with three-year-old Sarai Zazo on top and 82-year-old Magi Guell one of the many forming the base; the youngest and oldest of the team.

The team formed three castles in an hour yesterday evening, one at a time except for the last masterpiece.

"I saw heaven when I was still able to climb to the fourth layer. One will never forget once he has seen the scene up there, the blue sky and heaven," 62-year-old team member Rafel Wauarro told Shanghai Daily as he prepared to build the next one.

Wauarro served at the base for all the castles yesterday. He was already 51 years old the last time he climbed to the fourth layer of a "seven-floor flat," as he called it.

The team, Colla Vella dels Xiquets de Valls, or "the beautiful human castle by people from Valls," is the first group to bring human castles to China. It is a frequent winner of competitions in Spain and also performed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics Opening Ceremony. It's a labor of love for all team members as they practice during free time outside of work.

The show kicked off the Catalonia Week, which officially starts today with cultural performances, tourist promotions and seminars, mostly in the Spain Pavilion of the Shanghai World Expo site. The team will also perform at the Expo's Europe Square for the next week, mostly from noon.

"It's such a fantastic performance, one that I've never seen before. I'm so impressed with the team work, the strength, and especially the cute kids on the top two levels. But I can't help worrying for the kids as well ... they are up there so high," said Chen Li, a 27-year-old Shanghai office worker.

Chen was shopping on the pedestrian mall with friends when the tall human castle and loud cheers caught their attention. The three young women rushed to the plaza and couldn't help cheering.


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