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.

Which is your Buddha? (Thai Buddhist traditions)

I was told, in Thailand, that Buddha spent seven days following his enlightenment thinking about the suffering of all living creatures, and Thai people now believe that their day of birth reflects their life.

Seven Buddha images show each day of those days, except Wednesday which has two, morning and afternoon-evening.

So, one year, while in Thailand, I bought Buddha’s that matched that day for each of my immediate family as their Christmas gifts. You may like to check your day of birth and which Buddha is associated with you.

Here are photos that show the various postures for that days – I need to point out that some temples had different poses for some days!

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left Sunday, middle Monday. right Tuesday

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Left Thursday (my day) middle Friday, right Saturday

These photos are not good as were taken through scratched glass but stay as my reference for the various poses and days as that was when I first heard about them – during a bike ride out from Bangkok.

Thailand also has lucky and unlucky colours for days of the week; the lucky ones are:

  • Sunday: red
  • Monday: yellow
  • Tuesday: pink
  • Wednesday: day Green / night grey
  • Thursday: orange
  • Friday: light blue
  • Saturday: purple sleep

I hope you are happy with your colour and Buddha stance!

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

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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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Gujarat: salt plains, wild ass, and I hope we’re not lost!

 

Although it’s a few years since I visited the huge Little Rann of Kutch (staying at The Royal Safari Camp when it was 18 months old) my memories of staying there are still vivid and I often tell people to put Gujarat on their bucket-list.

We enter the ‘camp’ through a traditional red arch and into the facilities by huge one hundred-year old doors. Among some of the fabulous pieces of furniture is a carved wooden chest which, when I ask, I’m told “this is a family heirloom. It was carved from one piece of wood: my father-in-law gave it to us.” Still having my hand-written notes and notebooks is a great resource!

It's a harsh life for these people
It’s a harsh life for these people

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Covering nearly 5000 sq. km, the Little Rann of Kutch is a unique landscape and includes an official Sanctuary to the beautiful wild ass. Related to the zebra, this is the world’s last population of these ass.

Believed to once been a shallow sea, we take a tour of the bare surface of dark silt, encrusted with salts which evidently transforms into a spectacular coastal wetland after the rains and is considered to be a transitional area between marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In the monsoon, it gets flooded for about a month. With no, or little, vegetation, except on the fringes, the ground-cover which requires little water, is dominated by short-living plants.

The land is so arid, I hope we’re not lost!

Jon records a piece to camera
Jon records a piece to camera

 

Note: it was while we were here that fellow travel writer Jon Haggins got the tittle for his book, Chasing Wild Ass

 

Near Camp Zainabad, Gujarat
Near Camp Zainabad, Gujarat

Until I went to Gujarat, India, I did not realise how big birding was in the world – as well as birding blogs, see a blog I wrote about Desert Coursers  the resort at Zainabad, Gujarat, India where I stayed a few days.

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.