Coffee in the land of tea ceremonies

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Tea Ceremony

Yes, you can find coffee in a tea drinking, tea growing, and tea ceremony  country.

Multinationals in the coffee world seem to have cornered the coffee market in tea drinking China. But, on Gulang Yu, a car-less island off Xiamen, we discover a little coffee café. While most of the group I was travelling with climbed Sunlight Rock for fabulous views, three of us explored a little area that our guide had said was boring, had nothing of interest. How wrong she was; we loved it.

 

This tiny island has brides galore, all with their make-up artists, clothing assistants and photographers who also have their assistants. Of course, a very bored groom is also at hand. It’s not an easy task in the 30° plus heat and their often large Western style wedding dresses – which they efficiently tuck up while walking from site to site for the photos.

As tourists we too were taking photos while the locals, and many Chinese tourists, are photographing us. I lost count of how many DSCN0176DSCN0176stranger’s selfies I ended up in – and I wonder what they will say about us when showing their holiday snaps.

 

use new kungfu pieuse new kungfu pieWe explored a little cake shop and bought some local pies to take back to New Zealand where my book group enjoyed them!

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Despite not having six Chinese words among us we loved checking out the shops and especially a fabulous clothes shop, all of which were made in India. We didn’t buy any pearls but one of our trio had her portrait drawn. The other, was most excited to find a real coffee shop alongside the pearls and artists so in we went.

I had a local iced drink the others had coffee which they declared fabulous. I also bought postcards and stamps from the eclectic little coffee shop. But let my photos tell the story – and if you visit them, make sure you tell them you read a blog about how good their coffee is!

 use gulang yu mapuse gulang yu mapNOTE: Gulangyu is directly off the south-eastern coast of China, (opposite Taiwan) This huge tourist attraction (especially for Chinese) is part of the bustling city of Xiamen. The island is famous for its natural beauty, colonial style architecture and a myriad of museums – including the Piano Museum. Xiamen has consistently been voted as one of China’s most liveable cities, and Gulangyu Island has been recognized as one of Fujian Province’s most scenic places.

 

 

Black flesh chicken and peanut soup

Huasheng Tang, otherwise known as peanut soup, is really popular in Xiamen, as is hailijian, oyster omelette – this is made with sweet potato web 20160530_224150 (1)20160530_224150 (1)flour as well as oysters. This was popular among the group I was travelling with but it was not a taste I acquired.

web 20160530_23163520160530_231635I also tried the sand worm jelly (tusundong), a local delicacy, and although it was not unpleasant I don’t like many jellied dishes, and after reading the article (see link above) about them I’m not sure I would eat them again.

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One of the most interesting dishes (see main photo) was one of black chicken. I thought it had been dyed with perhaps squid ink, but in fact these chickens which apparently originate in Indonesia actually have black flesh, and actually tasted like any other chicken. It was not until my last morning in Xiamen, exploring some local streets near the hotel that I actually saw a black chicken for sale.

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Silk Road, Temple and maritime history in Quanzhou, Fujian, China

Quanzhou city, southeast Fujian Province, and east of Taiwan, has been called the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road and is a city with a long history and rich culture, it also has many religions. As a trading port people came to Quanzhou from many places and Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism can be seen there.

Over the last couple of centuries, Quanzhou was also a migration source of many Chinese now living in South East Asia. Evidently some 6 million people, whose ancestors were from the area, now live abroad – mostly in Southeast Asian countries: a tenth live in Hong Kong.

The climate is warm and humid, comfortable for year-round travel, making it a popular tourist destination – mostly Chinese – and during my week in the province I saw only one western couple, and woman from Taiwan. Because of this, I have ever been photographed so much, nor been in so many selfies with people I don’t know!

As well as the rock carving of  Lao Jun (this link is to an earlier blog) we visited Kaiyuan Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Fujian Province, and which is a major historic and cultural site and under state protection.  With a history of over 1,300 years, the buildings in the temple are of course magnificent.

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The Grand Prayer Hall has 86 huge stone pillars, while the most famous attractions are two pagodas standing west and east of the temple. They are China’s highest stone pagodas (about 40 metres) and are a good example of Chinese stone architecture.

Quanzhou Maritime Museum, is evidently China’s only museum dedicated to the history of the counties overseas exploration. The exhibition hall, designed like a huge ship, was set up in 1959 and exhibits the components of a Song Dynasty (960-1127) ship discovered in the seaport of Quanzhou. The East Lake exhibition hall (1991) shows the history of overseas exploration, religious stone sculptures, and the folk culture of the area.

NOTE: I travelled in this region as part of a cultural delegation from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand. See more here – www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for photos on Instagram.

I visit Lao-tzu: founder of Taoism

Laojun and smokeSome 70 km north of Xiamen, is the city of Quanzhou which is about 10 times the size of Xiamen and with a population of about 8.5 million. Marco Polo, 13th century, said this was one of the best harbours in the world and was the eastern end of the silk route. It was also the base for boat building and for China to trade throughout much of the Asian world.

While there we visit the Kaiyuan temple with its beautiful tall pagodas, the Maritime Museum and,  my favourite, the stone carving of the founder of Taoism, which was carved in the fifth century: it’s on Mt. Qingyuan, is one of the principal tourist attractions in the Quanzhou area and, is only about 3ks from the city.

photo of a Boy playing while adults pray - and take selfies of course
Boy plays while adults pray – and take selfies of course

Lao-tzu was a famous philosopher and thinker during 770 BC – 476 BC which is called the spring and autumn period.  He is the founder of Taoism and evidently his most renown work is the ‘Tao Te Ching’, the basic doctrine of Taoism.

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In this carving (5m high X 8m wide) Lao-tzu’s left hand rests on his left knee and his right hand is on a small table. His face is larger-than-life, with long eyebrows, flowing moustache and oversized ears.

See details:

Taoism, which originated in China over 2000 years ago, is also referred to as Daoism which in English is more like the sound of the actual Chinese word.

It is a religion of unity and opposites – the complimentary forces of the Yin and the Yang; of action and non-action, light and dark, hot and cold.

Taoism has no God but includes many deities that are worshipped in Taoist temples and promotes achieving harmony and union with nature, self-development, and being virtuous. They also pursue spiritual immortality and their practices include feng shui, fortune-telling, meditation and of course the reading and chanting of their scriptures.

Before the Communist revolution, over fifty years ago, Taoism was one of the strongest religions in China.

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Hui’an women certainly do hold up half the sky

It’s an old Chinese saying that women hold up half the sky but in Fujian province it seems there is a group of women who do more than their fair share.

In the recent past, with their menfolk traditionally at sea, the Hui’an women had to shoulder not only all the responsibilities of child care, and that of their elderly relatives, but also working the fields and housebuilding. In fact, in 1958 it was many young Hui’an women who build a large dam in the region – and which is named after them.hui'an (15)

These young women are now involved in cutting, polishing and carving rocks, earning the same amount as their fathers and husbands. It is not surprising that they are known throughout China for their industrious and virtuous qualities. They’re also known for the distinctive clothing. Incidentally, they’re not a minority ethnic group but Hans.

They wear a yellow bamboo hat, a scarf which covers the lower half of the face, the top is short, and their black trousers baggy – and I would love a pair of their trousers!

hui'an (13)I visit the Huihe Stone Cultural Park (plus museum, carving training centre and display park) in Quanzhou, and watch the woman’s cultural performance which tells the story of their lives in the fields and bringing up children. See it here … and apologies for the wobbly end -editing is a skill I must now learn!:)

 

 

She makes it look so easy!
She makes it look so easy!
Janet attempts the carving .. much better than I was
Janet attempts the carving .. so much better than I was

Wellington’s sister city, Xiamen, Fujian,China

IMG_7353IMG_7353Fujian province seems almost unknown to most Western travellers but it’s the most famous – and perhaps China’s most-visited – area for local tourism. Friends are amazed that I’m not visiting the terracotta warriors, the great wall or any of the major cities of this huge country. However, spending more time in one region is, for me, preferable to rushing around to see all the must-see places. That being said, we did have to hurry to see just some of this city and region in a week.

Secretive and reclusive were terms often used about China but things are changing. Home to about one in six of the world’s population it’s not surprising they have embraced consumerism.

You will know it’s home to chopsticks, calligraphy, acupuncture, the Silk Road, and Tiananmen Square, and of course the Chinese invented paper, printing, gunpowder – and the umbrella.

IMG_7348IMG_7348Xiamen, the city by the sea, (or garden city) at the mouth of the Nine Dragon River has often been labelled one of China’s most beautiful cities. It’s also been called a garden on the sea and is consistently named one of China’s most livable cities, and was once called Amoy by Westerners.

The climate is subtropical, and as it is on the coast, with very little heavy industry, and no coal for domestic heating, it’s cleaner than most Chinese cities.

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This island city, which is just opposite Taiwan, has been an important trading port since the Song Dynasty 960 until 1279 and was a seaport open to foreign trade. The Portuguese with the first European traders in 1541. It is still an important trading place especially as it was one of the first four special economic zones in 1981.

Many natives of this area immigrated to Southeast Asia and Taiwan during the 19th and 20th century and in fact, many other overseas Chinese originated from here too – and they love returning home to the land of their fathers for holidays.

More blogs to come will be about: art/artists, temples, food, Gulang Yu island, the Hui’an women, Laojun, Riyuegu hot pools, Little Egrets dancers, and the Nangjing tulou- just to name a few)

NOTE: I travelled in this region as part of a cultural delegation from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand. See more here – www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for WXA photos on Instagram.

I join a delegation to visit Xiamen, China

The island city Xiamen
The island city Xiamen

Tomorrow I leave New Zealand with a delegation of Wellington, New Zealand citizens – and we’re heading to our sister city, Xiamen, South China.

Once known as Amoy, this island of 4 million has been an important port for centuries, and is a vibrant, modern, and affluent city – rather like Wellington, all except being an important port for centuries, and NZ as a country only has only about 4.5 million.

xiamen 2The Wellington Xiamen Association is a volunteer group of locals who, with the support of the Wellington City Council, form long-term relationships between the two cities by exploring each other’s culture through information, events and various projects in education, art and culture.

 

 

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On this trip, in a gesture of goodwill, a large choice of quality, award-winning books from Te Papa Press will be presented to the Xiamen city’s chief librarian.

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In essence, sister city organisations promote peace through people-to-people relationships, including programmes varying from basic cultural exchange programmes to shared research and development projects between linked cities.

Founded by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, Sister Cities International is non-partisan, non-profit organisation and around the world has tens of thousands of citizen-diplomats and volunteers in 570 member communities with over 2,300 partnerships in 150 countries on six continents.

The 'best little capital in the world' according to Lonely Planet
The ‘best little capital in the world’ according to Lonely Planet

This Wellington delegation includes, artists, translators, photographers and me, as a travel writer of course.

20160520_184152We have met twice, over Chinese food of course, and all told me they look forward to being good ambassadors from New Zealand’s capital city, as well as bringing information back about the culture of Xiamen to share with other Wellingtonians.

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dessert

For more information: See www.wellingtonxiamen.com and, of course, watch this blog for stories and photos from our week there and what appears to be a full, and diverse, itinerary.