The danger of travel

Travelling, or reading about travelling, help us realise people are not like those presented in the headlines of our papers or in the sound-bites of radio or television.

Woman and masks ... Cochin
Woman and masks … Cochin

So, in a world of turmoil and fear-based voting, once again I see the dangers of travel.

No, not the rare physical danger of airline or vehicle crashes; not the very occasional danger of being robbed or becoming sick, but the every-day common danger of your heart getting to know people and places. People we would not usually met.

Each week, hearing of train accidents, deaths in the Middle East or riots in India, poverty, earthquakes, droughts and floods I am very conscious of that emotional danger.

Sunset in Parit Jawa, East Coast, peninsula Malaysia
Sunset in Parit Jawa, East Coast, peninsula Malaysia

Geography was always of more interest than history at school. One could have a stab at answering questions if I knew a couple of other facts. Distance from the equator could give clues to temperatures and climate. Mountains, plains, rivers all added up to some understanding of a place that dates and historical facts didn’t – well for me anyway.

Now travel has given me a different perspective to places. Geography remains important, history helps with understanding people and the two, combined with travel experience, gives me a sense of, not exactly ownership or belonging, but something rather like kinship, I’m attached. I leave a bit of me in every place and take some of the place away with me

To me this feeling of human-oneness is particularly acute at times of high emotions; small countries meet a goal; overcome an obstacle; a national team wins; and in particular, really acute in times of national pain.

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My first real experience of this came after I’d been to Ireland and then shortly afterwards ‘the troubles’ began again. I was devastated that the wonderful little city of Londonderry (or Derry, depending on the map consulted) was yet again the centre of violence. Streets I’d walked down were now dangerous. That people I had maybe spoken to or walked past were now dead or injured had me crying in front of the TV or newspaper.

Turkey and Greece had earthquakes, people in Israel and Palestine killing each other, years ago London had rubbish bins removed from the street for fear of terrorism, New York and the New Yorkers I love were devastated and traumatised, monsoon floods happen in Asia, and in Egypt, fabulous country and generous people, is grief stricken with deaths from buildings collapsing, and Indian pilgrims die during a festival.

One of my favourite photos from my last trip: taken in Safronbolu - home of the 'best Lokhum -turkish delight  in Turkey

What ever the cause, I think of the diverse people whom I have come to know, love, judge and compare and empathise with their pain. Yet what can we do to ease that pain? Nothing. The one thing that would help – having loved ones live again – is way beyond anything we can do.

However maybe travel-writing that gives the texture, flavour and smells of a place helps bridge that gap between us and them. After all scenery and monuments are the same on everyone’s photos. It’s our experiences that provide the difference.

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Young or old, male, female, Christian, Pagan, Muslin, or freethinker as a Japanese friend describes herself, we’re all part of the human family and when a family member is in pain we travellers feel it.

Maybe all leaders need to have budget-traveled the world long before putting their hands up to serve their country . . . it almost seems many really only serve themselves.

I don’t want bombs dropped on places I’ve been, people who have sheltered or fed me, and when that happens I suffer the emotional pain of being a traveller.

(I wrote this some years ago, now tweaked and republished)

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.

View from the bus – travels in Xiamen, China

IMG_8770IMG_8770These are not good photos, more just memory joggers for me as I write about my recent travels to Wellington’s sister-city, Xiamen – in Fujian Province, China – so, I hope you enjoy this  unedited slideshow. Check out the other blogs I’ve written and watch for more to come about Xiamen: one of China’s top 10 pretty cities.

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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

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.

Food glorious food: Xiamen,Fujian, China

I have discovered how to put on weight in Xiamen, China.  It’s simple really, just fly in as part of a citizen’s delegation from it’s sister-city,Wellington, and then leave some 7 or 8 days later. That’s it.

The old saying that a picture paints a thousand  words means I’m offering you  a long form essay with these photos – or food-porn as it’s called on social media.

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That’s just a little selection for you … with much more to come from my fun-filled days here in a fabulous corner of a huge country I’d not visited before.

So, how to put on weight in Xiamen? Eat the above then waddle to the plane some days later. Simple really!

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My last breakfast at the Seashine Palace Hotel