Christchurch’s Arts Centre reopening soon – hurrah

I thought I’d repost this piece so visitors to Christchurch know the Arts Centre needs to be on your bucket-list esp. as the Great Hall has reopened. I will be back in the city in a few weeks to check out many events at the WORD Readers & Writers festival and will absolutely be off to the Art Centre which is one of my favourite haunts.

KiwiTravelWriter talks food, travel, and tips

Over the past five years, returning to the city of my birth, Christchurch, New Zealand, was often like returning to school – but the old three R’s rule of reading, writing and ’rithmetic had been replaced with different R’s – I often had to ask if it has been reopened, renovated, relocated or reduced-to-rubble. Unfortunately, with something like 80% of the inner-city, my old stomping ground, demolished because of quake damage, many were reduced to rubble or relocated.

Of course many of my favourites have another R as they remained-open or have reopened after minor damage was repaired, while a few had to close temporarily while neighbouring buildings were ‘de-constructed’.

A few of my special city-centre places in the remained open (or just closed briefly) category are, The Classic Villa; Canterbury Museum; Botanic Gardens; and The Antigua Boat Sheds.

Two months before the September 2010 quakes, a mayoral candidate said…

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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.

KiwiTravelWriter’s books are 50% off this month

E-copies of my three books are half price this month YAY for you lucky buyers. A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoA reminder of what they are:

  • Naked in Budapest: travels with a passionate nomad (the story of me running away from home at 50, travelling the world for a year, alone, and with no plans – it was so good I did it three more times – and, of course, I’m still travelling)
  • Surviving Suicide: a mother’s story (all about my son’s death and my later career as a suicide bereavement counsellor)
  • A love letter to Malaysian Borneo: or can this travel writer be green (Malaysia is my favourite Asian country and this small book looks at my adventures in Sabah and Sarawak and discusses eco issues around worldwide travel)

See more and buy them here at 50% off – July 2016 only

I’m sure it tells you this on the page but a reminder – use the code SSW50 at checkout for 50% off during our site-wide promotion!  (Offer good through July 31, 2016)

Print version was published in 2007
Print version was published in 2007

 

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.