frying pan tower

The distinct thumping sound of helicopter blade is heard through the headphones as it lifts off the tarmac to take us off shores out to Frying Pan Tower. The team heading out to Frying Pan Tower is from the Confucius Institute at Pfeiffer University and the project is filming Dr Zhao writing poetry in Chinese calligraphy in Honor of Confucius Institute 10th aninversary. Frying Pan Tower is 40 miles off the North Carolina coast at the tip of frying pan shoals. The Tower is a decommissioned coast guard tower to mark shipping lanes and to warn freighters of the shallow shoals. The tower is now privately own and operated by Richard Neal and is a popular fishing destination. The Confucius team led by Weihong Yan wasn’t heading there to fish. The unique experience of being surrounded by sky and the sea and exposed to the elements is part of the art process.

Caption: The helicopter flight out to frying pan tower is 30 minutes each way and a max of 3 people each trip. Photo by:Aaron Cress

After a 30 minute helicopter flight half the team and part of the gear arrives at the tower. After a quick unload the helicopter pilot takes off to pick up the other members and gear still at the Cape Fear Airport. The wind is whipping 15 to 20 mphs constantly even after the helicopter took off and as Mr. Neal greets us on the upper deck. We all head to the lower deck where the living area and bedrooms are located and we began exploring the tower. Frying Pan Tower has a metal grated cat walk that span around all four sides and that you can see right through. This allowed you to peer into the water 80ft below and see the occasional sharks swimming under your feet. The tower seemed like the ultimate man cave with a pool table, massive construction and docking area, and a full stainless steel kitchen, all this underneath the upper deck landing area. The entire tower is powered by generators and solar panels. Once we all finished exploring our environment we settled in for the work ahead.

Caption: Part of the team hanging out underneath the landing deck. Photo by:Aaron Cress

That evening Dr. Zhao practice mediation and Tai Chi to take in his surroundings and get mentally prepared for his role in the project. The evening sunset over the ocean was humbling and majestic as clouds and an incoming storm filled the open blue skies as the sun dipped below the horizon. Practice was cut short because of an incoming storm and we buckled down below deck that evening.

Caption: Dr Zhao mediating at sunset. Photo by:Aaron Cress

Sunrise over the ocean and nothing but the ocean is wildly belittling. Looking out over the ocean with the endless white capped waves that appear and disappear just as quickly as far as the eye can see, just unfathomable of their size each being 6 and 7ft swells just seemed like little stars twinkling in the deep blue sky. The poetry of Dr. Zhao had similar elements of the sky and the sea coming together in harmony to a different narrative in different language.

The language barrier is a challenge at times with some members only knowing English and others only knowing Mandarin and only a few knowing both. The real challenge was in figuring out how to writing the poem in Chinese calligraphy on rice paper in constant 30 mph winds. The results were quite powerful along with the conditions.

Caption: Dr Zhao pausing after writing Chinese calligraphy on rice paper in constant 30 mph winds. Photo by:Aaron Cress

Shortly after finishing the calligraphy filming session it was time to leave. All the gear had to be reweighted for the flight back. And as quickly as it seemed that we just arrived we were off again over the ocean, just this time heading home.