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.

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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Photos of rural scenery: Middle of the North Island, New Zealand

Near Palmerston North.

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Come for a drive in the countryside with me. April 2016. Dairy farm … grass fed stock

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Toi toi

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Ponga

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Windfarm

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Sheep farm

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Old homestead

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I meet sheep on the road

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Down into the valley

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Cattle look tiny

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Self evident

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Rural mail boxes

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Old shearing shed and yards

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Green swampland. Vital to the region.

Photos of public art in the Wellington Botanic Gardens, NZ

 

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Grab a free map of the sculpture walk to see these, and many more great pieces of art, Wellington’s Botanic Gardens.

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I took these photos on a recent walk … and thought others may like to see them. Take the cable car from the CBD up to the gardens and wander around these lovely gardens.