Some 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Fujian 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.
Xiamen, 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.
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.
We leave the airport
food features large in our travels
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
This Wellington delegation includes, artists, translators, photographers and me, as a travel writer of course.
We 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.
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.
While searching for a document I found this summary of 1999 I’d sent to friends. What a privileged life I lead – be assured I value and treasure it.
“I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; and in swimming pools in Egypt and Thailand; Scuba dived and snorkeled off the Perhentian islands in Malaysia;
I’ve studied Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Chinese religions; was silent for ten days in a Buddhist temple and did a cooking course in Thailand.
Learnt to say ‘no problem’ in four languages, read junk novels, inspiring stories and travel tales as well as keeping copious notes for my own writing.
Been offered jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos, and worked for 5 weeks in Athens, Greece. Had a proposal of marriage, a few propositions and some foxy flirtations.
Celebrated four new years…. The calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one. Currently the year of the rabbit
Stayed in little villages, large cities and islands.
Climbed . . up into Buddhist temples and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks to boats.
Traveled on planes, camel, horse, bus, songthaew, cars, trishaw, bicycle, dingy, fishing boat, felucca, truck, river taxi, train, and cargo boat.
Slept in beds, bunks, hammocks, fleapits and 4 star hotels, on a concrete slab; on a mattress on the felucca, and on the roof of a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem with 29 others!
I’ve danced. . . on beaches in Malaysia and Israel, in a Cairo hotel, on the banks of the Nile, as well as in Hindu and Buddhist parades.
Experienced monsoon rain and dessert dry; from 48 degrees centigrade in the Valley of the Kings, down to 12 degrees in the hills of Malaysia and needed a blanket for the first time for ages
Been blessed by monks and had water thrown over me by school children, ladyboys and farangs. I’ve played volleyball, frisbee, backgammon, scrabble, cards and petanque.
Eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from the tap every where including the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s shops, by people who spoke no English, as well as under a palm tree in Malaysia and in a garden bar in Athens by an Aussie
Made music with bongo drums, spoons sang Pali chants and both Thai and Egyptian love songs as well as playing drums in a traditional Malay cultural band.
Taught English and swimming; became a grandmother in Malaysia and a mother-in – law in Thailand. And I’ve een called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, fox and H as well as Pouhi.
Ate in night markets, street stalls and fancy restaurants, in people’s homes. . .including the Minister of Health’s’ home in Malaysia!
Prayed in mosques, temples and churches of many religions. Chatted with monks, children, tourist police, street people and shopkeepers.
Witnessed funerals in Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt.
Swam with turtles and tropical fish and the most poison-ness snake in the world! In clean water, clear water, and polluted water; warm and cold water, calm and rough, blue and green; fresh, salty and chlorinated water.
Been to the toilet watched by kids, on swaying trains, in smelly dirty rooms, off the back of boats and developed good thigh muscles on the Asian squat toilets (which I missed when I arrived in Egypt.) Learnt to forgo toilet paper for months and use my right hand for eating and greeting!
Sold beer and bananas on the beach in Malaysia served pancakes, nasi goring and BBQ on the same island and cooked countless meals in Athens.
Been offered hash, opium, and marijuana and changed money and brought cigarettes on the black market.
Met people from all over the world was proud to be a Kiwi, ashamed of many westerners attitudes and behavior. Joined the inverted élite snobbery of being a traveller not a tourist.
Gave blood in Malaysia, broke a toe, and had an allergic reaction and apart from bites have been disgustingly healthy.
And have kept developing my courage and resilience despite fears!
Looking at some of the TV programmes I have recorded while travelling recently I see one looks at a British explorer and biologist, Alfred Wallace who discovered evolution in Malaysia. I look forward to watching it as I wrote really briefly about him in my book (pub April 2015) see below.
“Somewhere, in a museum, newspaper, or conversation, I also learnt about something called the ‘Sarawak Law’ which I’d not previously heard of. Alfred Russel Wallace was a British naturalist and biologist known for independently conceiving the theory of evolution through natural selection. He believed this natural selection was very clear in Sarawak Borneo and his paper on the subject was published with some of Darwin’s writings in 1858 – leading Darwin to later publish his own ideas a year later in the Origin of Species.
In his book, The Malay Archipelago, 1869, Wallace also wrote: ‘The Rajah held Sarawak solely by the goodwill of the inhabitants. Rajah Brooke was a great, a wise, and a good ruler – a true and faithful friend – admired for his talents, respected for his honesty and courage, and loved for his generosity, his kindness of disposition and his tenderness of heart.’ Quite a recommendation and as I said earlier, a film about the White Rajah will be most interesting and I’ll be watching out for it.”
Note: this book has been entered in the Malaysian Tourism Awards 2015 which will be announced on 21st November.