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.

What is ecotourism?

Not everyone can travel. Living in New Zealand means we have a better chance than many. We have a far higher rate of people with passports than most countries, and countries which are poorer are much more likely to be visited than to produce travellers.row of travel books

I’m a travelophile. Like Asians need rice, Italians pasta, British curry, Kiwi’s fish and chips: I need to travel. When I travel I feel good and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to and not have to go the flavour of the month.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not!
My view from Doubtless bay Villas

 

This means I often arrive in places that are not on the tourist trail. I get to be a cultural tourist in that I stay longer in places and get to know people; absorb the local flavour.

This means that although I don’t often sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism?

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are, very briefly, that’s it an activity that has least impact while providing greatest benefits.

Independent travellers are the ones most likely be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours have often 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.P1124662 travel tips web

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 a 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 – usually bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags abound.

The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarwawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hotested me)
The kiwitravelwriter, arrives on Talang-Taland Island, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. photo by Gustino from Sarawak Tourism Board, who hosted me)

We think of New Zealand as a clean green destination but pollution is not just rubbish on the ground or dirty air. So, are we conservation minded or is it just our low population that produces less rubbish? Have we have sold the visitor a too narrow view of places to visit; given them a list of sights they must see, activities they should take part in? This produces problems such as Milford Sound has. Buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors (and fumes) to see wonderful pristine sights. An oxymoron? This is not a New Zealand only problem.

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 with the lake and mountains as the backdrop – it looks idyllic. However, I know that beside me, waiting for their turn, to record the moment, is another busload of chattering travellers.

eat local
eat local

The problems of being poured into the tourist funnel 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.

TheTravelBook-2-pic for web

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.”

However, help maybe at hand. An organisation called Green Globe 21 is on the rise in New Zealand. Some 200 companies have embraced its ten different indicators for sustainable environmental codes. What is even better is that many local authorities have signed up too. (www.greenglobe21.com)

What can I do? Shop at locally owned places wherever I am; support companies that practice high standards; (e.g. Kiwi Host, Green Globe) are a good start.

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’ll be able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

A LoveLetter to Malaysian BorneoIf you’re interested in this topic see my small book about travelling in Borneo which looks at some of these issues too.

The Prince and the bogus guru. India

 “Come with us” the Prince said, and with a royal invitation I feel compelled to follow him and three other men.

Down the ancient steps, past Ahilya temple, past widows, their hands out for alms, past stones identifying extreme monsoon levels, and further down, we reach the 300-year old ghats where women are washing clothes. Others proffer water, in cupped hands or in a container, towards the sun, and as the water runs through their fingers they are reciting sacred verses.

Beside Nandi the bull and Shiva lings that mark the cremation sites of various nobles, we climb onto a flat-bottomed, traditional boat on which white plastic chairs sit. The prince is taking us upstream to another temple that belonged to his ancestor.

Mediatation on the banks of the holy Namada River, Maheshwar.
Meditation on the banks of the holy Namada River, Maheshwar.

Twenty–two generations ago, Maharani Prince Shivaji Rao Holkari Ahilya Bai Holkar of Indore, the celebrated Indian Queen (died 1795) renowned for her piety, charity, and statecraft, built Ahilya Fort at Maheshwar on the banks of the holy Narmada River. Now her direct descendant, Prince Shivaji Rao Holkar, son of the last Maharaja of Indore, allows a few guests in his fabulously restored palace. After weeks of backpacking, I value the luxury.

part of the palace from the holy Namada river
part of the palace from the holy Narmada river

Another guest in this boutique, royal-homestay, is Sam Adams Green who, incidentally, introduced Andy Warhol to his muse – society girl Edie Sedgwick – and also gave him his first exhibition when he was director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Now founder and director of Landmarks Foundation, which works at protecting global sacred sites: our destination is one of those sites.

Two young men, standing at the rear of the boat, move us upstream with large paddles; we have tea and biscuits that the prince produces from a picnic basket, watch life on the riverbank and cattle cooling in the water, as we glide towards Kaleshwar Temple, a 12-century temple complex. “It has been a site of Hindu pilgrimage destination since the beginning of time and memory,” Sam tells me.

There are 7 holy rivers in India, including the Ganga in the north and this one, the Narmada, in the south – it divides the north from the southern peninsula of India.

The southern bank is ancient Gondwanaland, which, as it moved north collided with the Central Asian landmass. Between the two, a rift valley was created and through which the Narmada flows over some of the oldest rocks in the world. The north – where the palace and temple are – is made of hilly sedimentary sandstone while the southern bank, peninsular India, is flat igneous basalts.

Parikramavasis, a thousand-mile circumambulation of the holy Narmada traditionally takes 3 years, 3 months, and three days to walk. Starting 3000 feet above sea level and finishing some 1300 miles later at the Arabian Sea this is the only Indian river where a parikrama of the entire course is performed. (the top photo is of a young pilgrim)

In ‘Sacred Virgin Travels along the Narmada’ by Royina Grewal (whose own sacred journey began in 1993) says: ‘depending on where you meet her and how, the Narmada can mean different things to different people. For the many turbulent stretches, she is called Rewa, derived from the Sanskrit ‘rev’, to leap. Of her many names, this is my favourite. But she is also called Manananda, who brings eternal bliss, Rajani, the spirited one, and Kamada who fulfils desire, Vibhatsathe the terrifying one, and Manasuardhini who craves the lifeblood that she has nurtured. Ferocious, insouciant, benevolent.’

Prince Richard tells me that where the holy Narmada flows only Shiva is worshiped for he is the only god who has the tranquillity to calm her

Approaching Kaleshwar, we see two sackcloth clad, and orange wrapped devotees standing on stone fortifications that have tumbled down from the temple to the waters edge after a high monsoon.Prince Richard of Indore has ambitious plans for the rejuvenation of this ancient temple and dharmasala – a pilgrim’s rest house – and those who make donations over $US5000 towards its restoration are invited to tour the princely state of Indore and stay as his guest in his 18th century palace home.

Currently a bogus guru is holding up the process, effectively denying a free place to stay for some 50,000 pilgrims annually.

A couple of years ago this ex-army man asked the prince if he could stay at the temple for a few months. Soon he had set up a health clinic and was giving fake injections to cure many ills. Eventually chased out of town, he came back, ran up many bills, was run out of town again and when he next appeared was wearing the saffron robes of a holy man. Moving back into the temple, he has gathered a few devotees around him and intends to stay: it seems squatters have rights here and he cannot be evicted. Money has been offered for him to go but even this honey has not sweetened a move.

Prince Richard and the Landmark Foundation must be feeling like Henry 2nd when he said of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?’ as they too wonder what to do with this man who happily poses for my photos – an incongruous guru with a mobile phone hanging from his neck.

Back at the rivers edge the holy men who are walking the length of both banks of the river have washed and re-covered their bodies with ash.

India is vivid and varied, a melting pot of religions and people from central Asia, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions and here, with a, prince, a fake guru, and genuine devotees” it’s just as Sam said: ‘these guys could have walked straight out of central casting for a Bollywood movie.”

Twenty-one hours before I check in …now what?

websuitcase-usa-tripWith less than a day before the shuttle delivers me to Wellington Airport (NZ) I’m now ready to sit back and relax in front of TV and a book. I’m reading Open, by Andre Agassi – once at the airport I’ll start something new on my e-reader)

I’ve watered my balcony plants, I’ve had a little tidy-up  of my allotment. The only washing left to do will be the bed-linen in the morning – and my coffee plunger and cup.

I’ve charged my electronic gear, I’ve checked my gear for leads. My at-my-seat bag is all ok too — headphones, e-reader, sox/socks, eye mask, peppermints, pen and paper so no getting up and own to my carry on luggage, and  I’ve re-read my pre-travel airport checklist

  • Passport? check
  • tickets? check
  • money? check
  • camera? check
  • plus all my other pre-flight essentials
Carry-on bag, plus little red cube for at my seat
Carry-on bag, plus little red cube for at my seat

I also have my clothes to wear sorted: layers for hot or cold conditions in planes and airports, and have done my last luggage check.

So, time to relax, post this and then that’s it! Don’t even have to prepare a meal tonight as I’ve bought salads and cold meat at the supermarket, and tomorrow will go to the Preservatorium for breakfast.

Ready to go
Ready to go

Wanderlust – a passionate desire!

Do you have wanderlust?  I have and consider it rather like a friendly disease or benign addiction – or are they oxymoronic?

luggage 20141001_091331

Maud Parrish 1878-1976 (in Nine Pounds of Luggage) said “Wanderlust can be the most glorious thing in the world. Imagination is a grand stimulating thing, like a cocktail, but to find reality is the full course with champagne”.

As she travelled around the world sixteen times (with very little luggage and a banjo) I imagine she knows all about both wanderlust and reality.

When I read the above quote I wondered, what do those words REALLY mean?  Imagination, wanderlust, reality – they trip off the tongue so lightly and yet maybe when I say I have wanderlust you may not know what I mean, or, when you agree that yes you too have it, maybe the attributes I give it – on your behalf – are way off beam.

Time for some market, or rather word, research: The Oxford Paperback Dictionary & Thesaurus (Oxford.1997) dictionary tells me that wanderlust is an ‘eagerness to travel or wander. Restlessness.’ Yep. Got that.

Christchurch International Airport
Christchurch International Airport

My eagerness takes the form of an obsession with travel programmes on television or radio, travel pages in magazines and press, in fact I even buy magazines with names such as Wanderlust, Sojourney, and NZ Wilderness. Why?  So I can find new and exciting places to visit – places to add to my list – eager to get to places not so well known.  Restless when I feel trapped.

Goal planning, and goal achieving are often different. So often the people who tell me, ‘You’re so lucky,’ also have dreams of travelling. But are they eager enough to do the necessary saving and budgeting at home to reap the benefits of being ‘lucky’ enough to travel?  Usually not.

However I digress, back to the book of words: imagination. This evidently means having a ‘mental faculty of forming images of objects not present to senses.’  Guess that’s me thinking of lazing on an Indian river, or viewing polar bears. Being able to see the dollar or two saved this week as a coffee on the West Bank in Paris. Yes, I have imagination too: imagination that my back will always be able to carry a pack on it and I will stay in good health.

sunset from the Indigo Pearl beach club
sunset from the Indigo Pearl beach club

I also checked wander and lust as separate words and I certainly qualify there. To wander is to ‘go from place to place aimlessly, diverge from the path.’ Well I have done that all my life, and travelling has not changed it at all. I love to get off the beaten track, in fact to be lost is ideal, that’s when the wonderful, the unexpected, the amazing, the different happens. As long as I am found one more time than I am lost, I know all is well.

Lust. Another word close to my heart. My trusty Oxford tells me it’s ‘passionate desire’. Well, been there, done that, still got it, intend to keep it – what else can I say. Passionate for travel, new places, new foods, people, and experiences.

And finally, last on my list of words to check reality.  This seems to be the boring one, the one that people often accuse travellers of trying to escape from. Not so. This is what can separate the traveller (with time) from the tourist (on a schedule) as the dictionary says it is ‘what’s real or exists or underlies the appearances’.

How often I have made some assumptions about people, places, and things, about actions, beliefs, and religions by believing the appearances – what I think my eyes are telling me rather that waiting a little longer and seeing what is real.  We humans love to have order in our lives so make up stories to make sense of things. However, that does not make them real. Knowing the ‘truth’ is like having a secret shared and I value the people who I meet along the way who share their truths, and their realities, with me.

'Have a coffee with me' an old man indicates - I do. Oman.
‘Have a coffee with me’ an old man indicates – I do. Oman.

Nevertheless, ask three people to describe an accident they witnessed and each will be different. We experience things from within our own reality or context.

So do you have the wanderlust? Is your description of it the same as mine? There will be commonalities, and I suspect, for people with the overwhelming desire to wander aimlessly, most will not be seeking a cure.

I agree with you Maud, wanderlust is glorious, stimulating, and it sure does provide the meal of life with champagne-like bubbles.

every page has a tale to tell, a reminder the the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of places
every page has a tale to tell, a reminder the the tastes, colours, sounds and smells of places

 

 

 

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.

 

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!