Category: China

Are there negative impacts to tourism?

When you travel to less developed countries, you might think that just by being there you’re helping give a better quality of life for the locals. Seems you, we,  could be wrong.

Just $5 of every $100 you spend stays local and  after searching I found the United Nations Environment Programme reference to the negative impacts of tourism here.

NOTE Seems the above  UNEP link is broken or has been removed  see  this one instead about sustainable tourism

Tourism is one of the most powerful change agents on Earth and we consumers must vote with our wallets and support local people with local businesses.”

I blogged about this issue (first published in a newspaper column) some years ago and reprint it here. I’ve also written a small book on the same topic A Love Letter to Malaysian Borneo  – and if you have read it I’d really value a review on Amazon or Goodreads. 🙂

Here’s that column I wrote . . .

What is an eco-tourist? Ecotourism?

Like Asians need rice, Italians love pasta, British their curry, and us Kiwi’s love fish and chips, I need to travel and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to rather than have to go the destination flavour of the month.

This means I’m often in places that are not on the tourist trail. As a slow traveller I can stay longer and get to know people, to absorb the local culture and flavour. This also means that although I don’t always sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism – a word that’s often thrown around and frequently means nothing.

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are that’s it an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the locals.

I believe independent travellers are most likely to be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours often have paid for their whole trip before they leave home – giving very little to the country they are travelling in but adding huge costs – in water, sewerage, rubbish, roads.

Worldwide many places say they are providing an ecotourism experience but is that really so? It seems that as long as it has a nature component many claim it to be eco-friendly. That has not always been my experience.

Life on an Asian marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes the natural sites and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does stay with the locals providing it. Unfortunately, the big money is creamed the off the islands in diving lessons given by Europeans who come in for the tourist season then  leave, taking the money with them. Because of the lack of a robust infrastructure, the rubbish – that travellers complain about – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws are left on the beach.

Have travel agents sold us too narrow views of places to visit? Given us a list of sights we ‘must see’ or activities to take part in? This produces problems all over the world with buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes to see wonderful pristine or historic sights.

It reminds me of Lake Louise in Banff, Canada, where I too was a body disgorged from a bus to see the great views. I have proof that I was there – a photo of me sitting alone with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However I know that beside me, waiting for their turn to have the moment recorded, is another busload of chattering travellers.

The problems of being poured into these tourist funnels will continue if we rely on unimaginative travel agents (and of course not all are) and the forceful marketing of those who have invested in areas. While it is more economical for planes and hotels to have us arrive together and stay in the same places it also creates problems for them – not the least is the strong chance of killing the goose that lays the golden egg such as the warning in the child’s story.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made. Tell others you are going to Bali (or Timbuktu) and immediately you will be told “you should have gone there ten (2, 5, 50 years ago,) before it was discovered.”

So, what can we travellers do?  I don’t know what you will do – what I do is travel slow, travel cheaply, and use local products when I can.

So, by combining the universal codes of pack it in pack it out and take only photos, leave only footprints, along with getting off the well-worn tourist trails means I’m able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wellington welcomes the Chinese year of the rooster

Wellington welcomes the Chinese year of the rooster

On a windy Wellington day it cannot have been easy to keep the dragons and flags under control.

Thanks to all the participants who help us celebrate our city’s cultural diversity.

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the wind encourages the dragon to escape if it can!

On my way to watch the performers prepare for the parade I come across some non-parade  action outside some Chinese food shops.

. . . and then I went a round a couple of corners to watch the parade assemble

. . . then left to go to the waterfront to watch the parade go by

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See more I’ve written about the year of the rooster

Happy Chinese New Year – but roosters, beware of danger ahead

Gong Xi Fa Cai, Gong Hey Fat Choy, and 新年快乐

cropped-rooster-by-barbara-else
Rooster captured on film by children’s author Barbara Else

It’s not long until the Chinese New Year (28th January 2017) will be celebrated – this year it’s the year of the rooster. I am a rooster.

And, oh no! I have just found out that when it’s the year of your Chinese birth zodiac sign it’s never a good year for you. That fortune in all aspects of your (my) life will not be very good and therefore, we roosters should be careful during 2017 – it’s a fire rooster year.

Apparently 1945 was a wood rooster so maybe I’m safe from a bad year. Also, just so you know a wood rooster is ‘energetic, overconfident, tender and unstable’ I of course, couldn’t comment!

http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/rooster.htm

It seems to bring myself good luck in this zodiac year of my birth I need to wear red so will check my wardrobe – I don’t think I have a lot of red although my winter coat is full-length and red, so covers me completely so I’m ok for winter

Red of course is one of the luckiest colours in Chinese culture, standing for prosperity, loyalty, success, and happiness. Apparently, it can also drive away bad luck and evil spirits.

Research tells me I can wear red belts, socks, shoes, or other red clothes. Apparently red underwear is highly recommended but another ‘rule’ that we roosters need to pay attention to, or the red won’t ward off bad luck, is I cannot buy red underwear for myself.

Now you know what I need for gifts this year!

One good thing, as well as wearing red, I also need to wear Jade accessories–  so will be wearing more pounamu (NZ Greenstone/Jade) and that’s easy for me.

However, it gets even more complicated, it also seems I need to adjust my furniture and dwellings to face east “to get Tai Sui behind them”.

All I can say is crikey,  Gong Xi Fa Cai, Gong Hey Fat Choy and 新年快乐

 

 

Visiting one of the oldest Tulou: China’s ancient earth buildings

Visiting one of the oldest Tulou: China’s ancient earth buildings

During my trip to Fujian province in China we visited the Nanjing tulou area which I found absolutely fascinating. Built between the 12th and 20th centuries these earthen buildings are unique to the Hakka people in the mountainous areas of south-east Fujian.

very thick walls ... this one is 5 stories high
very thick walls … this one is 5 stories high

These, mostly round, enclosed buildings with thick rammed-earth walls, are many stories high, and can often house about 800 people.

Forty-six tulou sites were inscribed (2008) by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, and as “exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization [in a] harmonious relationship with their environment.

Self explanatory
Self explanatory

We only spent a few hours in the area, and as I knew nothing about them before visiting, I will let my photos do the talking – hover over the  picture to see the captions.

However, Wikipedia tells me that the one we visited is called “Yuchanglou (裕昌樓) is a five-storey tulou located at Nanjing County, Shuyang Town, Xiabanliao Village. It was built in 1308 Yuan dynasty by the Liu family clan. It is one of the oldest and tallest tulou in China. Yuchanglou has been nicknamed the “zigzag building”, because the vertical wooden post structure is not straight and perpendicular, but zigzags left and right. It was built that way due to an error measuring the building materials. But in spite of this apparent infirmity, this tall tulou withstood 700 years of natural elements and social turmoil. Yuchanglou’s outer ring is 36 m in diameter and boasts five storeys, with 50 rooms on each floor, 270 in total.

Each of the 25 kitchens on the ground floor at the back half of the circle has a private water well beside its stove. This is the only tulou in all Fujian with such convenient water supply”.

 

I’d certainly visit here again, and stay longer if possible – apparently you can be hosted in one of the tulou.

Duishan Art District, Xiamen, China

Duishan Art District, Xiamen, China

 

The Duishan Art District, near Jemei University in Xiamen, China has a gallery to display contemporary work by regional, and prominent, artists. Like the art I saw at the University was thought provoking and different to our (my) expectations.

Our group, all coffee aficionados, were also happy to drink the excellent coffee served at the café.

Despite the coffee, tea plays an important part in the artists lives – each had a tea ceremony area in their studio.

 

 

Great art at Jimei University, Xiamen, China

Great art at Jimei University, Xiamen, China

On my recent trip to Xiamen, China I was interested to see local art and, as our Kiwi tour leader, Janet Andrews, had attended the Arts Academy at Jimei University as an exchange student just a few years ago we were lucky enough to visit the Fine Art College there.jemei-unijemei-uni

She was treated like a visiting rock star and we rode on those coat-tails. An exhibition of the students end of the semester work was very different to our preconceived ideas about Chinese art.

Here are some of their work and the fantastic artwork around the University grounds.

If you have the chance to visit this Uni, grab it!

My next post will be about the Duishan Art District and some of the artists, who graduated from Jemei Uni, and have studios there.

 

NOTE: thanks for the  assitance to travel in this region as part of the cultural delegation from Xiamen’s sister city Wellington, New Zealand.

See more here –http://www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for photos on Instagram, and in this blog for many other posts about my great week there.

Xiamen: tea ceremonies in Wellington’s sister city

Xiamen: tea ceremonies in Wellington’s sister city

Wikipedia, that oracle of facts, tells me that we Kiwi are not big tea drinkers: seems we are 45th in the world – way behind Turkey, the Irish and British. The Chinese put it on our culinary world map in the 10th C when they began drying, then steeping, the leaves of the Camellia sinensis.

International Tea Day is December 15 and it seems tea is the most widely used drink  – after water.

On my recent trip to Xiamen, China, (as part of a cultural group from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand) we drank tea daily, often many time daily – many times at tea ceremonies.

Here are just a  few of those tea drinking events.

Note: I travelled to Xiamen as part of a cultural delegation from its sister city Wellington, New Zealand. Thank you for the help for me to take part in this trip.

See more here –www.wellingtonxiamen.com and check #Xiamen for WXA photos on Instagram.

 

Xiamen library (Fujian,China) is huge, and amazing

Xiamen library (Fujian,China) is huge, and amazing

Fujian province, China, is unknown to most Western travellers but is the most famous and perhaps the most visited area for local tourism.

‘Secretive and reclusive’ were terms often used about China but things are changing.

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, is at the mouth of the Nine Dragon River, and has frequently 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 liveable cities, and was once called Amoy by Westerners. The climate is subtropical, and as it is on the coast and with very little heavy industry, and no coal for domestic heating, it’s here is cleaner than most Chinese cities.

This island city, 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.

During my week in the area we visited their amazing library which had originally been a foundry. It retains the huge features of such a building and has been converted amazingly.

Follow my footsteps on our trip via this slide show.

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Te Papa Press is an award winning press so check them out.

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

Buying artwork in Xiamen, China.

Buying artwork in Xiamen, China.

Fancy some good artwork on your walls? Van Gogh perhaps, or a Rembrandt? Can’t afford it? Oh yes, you can buy artwork in Xiamen!

It seems many people can buy, not the originals, but copies made by talented artists and which are sold around the world. They hang in private homes, hotels, motels and conference centres and it seems most are painted and sold in Xiamen, Fujian province, China.

I visit the Xiamen oil painting ‘village’ (within the city) which has evidently been named one of, if not the top, centres of the world’s oil painting areas: most of these paintings are exported to America and Europe.

Some 5000 artists (mostly graduates from Art Schools) produce the paintings and it appeared that each had their own specialities. Many will paint your family or home from a photograph to your specification or styles.

After sheltering from a monsoon type downpour I later wandered around the streets full of little shops selling completed canvases, paint brushes, frames, and other art paraphernalia.

Needless to say I too bought an “original” artwork – not Mona Lisa or Chairman Mao, but a bright green frog with four shopping bags. I asked the artist where he got the idea from. He responded “Look up Google”.

a frog goes shopping

I have done as he suggested and the closest I can find were on UK, reusable shopping bags: my frog is a boy, the bags were of naked frogs or frogs in dresses. Perhaps this is how they get around the original artist’s copyright, by making small changes.

My quirky green frog takes pride of place on my wall and he always gets favourable comments about his cuteness – not what people expect to see as a souvenir from China. (of course I have other more Asia-obvious things too)

My next blog (s) will be about the Jimei university’s JMU Fine Art College and the artist in the  Duishan Art District. Now take a walk with me through the village … all these photos were taken on my phone.

Coffee in the land of tea ceremonies

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!

DSCN0159DSCN0159

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.