Heather Hapeta lives in Aotearoa-New Zealand: real travel, real adventures, real stories, real photos. Recent destinations Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan and Hong Kong – now NZ destinations due to COVID travel restrictions
Fujian province seems almost unknown to most Western travellers but it’s the most famous – and perhaps China’s most-visited – area for local tourism. Friends are amazed that I’m not visiting the terracotta warriors, the great wall or any of the major cities of this huge country. However, spending more time in one region is, for me, preferable to rushing around to see all the must-see places. That being said, we did have to hurry to see just some of this city and region in a week.
Secretive and reclusive were terms often used about China but things are changing. Home to about one in six of the world’s population it’s not surprising they have embraced consumerism.
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, (or garden city) at the mouth of the Nine Dragon River has often 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 livable cities, and was once called Amoy by Westerners.
The climate is subtropical, and as it is on the coast, with very little heavy industry, and no coal for domestic heating, it’s cleaner than most Chinese cities.
This island city, which is just 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.
Many natives of this area immigrated to Southeast Asia and Taiwan during the 19th and 20th century and in fact, many other overseas Chinese originated from here too – and they love returning home to the land of their fathers for holidays.
We leave the airport
food features large in my travels
More blogs to come will be about: art/artists, temples, food, Gulang Yu island, the Hui’an women, Laojun, Riyuegu hot pools, Little Egrets dancers, and the Nangjing tulou- just to name a few)
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 WXA photos on Instagram.
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.
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!
Opposite the infamous Toul Sleng prison, amid the dust, heat and noise of Phnom Penh, I found an oasis of green and peace. The Bodhi Tree Guesthouse and Café have welcomed people for meals since 1998 and for the past three years (written early 2000’s) have also had guest accommodation. The ten rooms are individually decorated with traditional Cambodian materials: all are extremely tasteful and most have an en-suite.
I know the food is great, not only because I tried it, but also because some 70% of their customers are locals who eat there.
The main idea of the Bodhi Tree, as well as being commercially viable, was to give a comfortable working space for young Cambodians who find themselves in challenging circumstances.
I talked with a young man who has worked there for two years.
‘I could find another job with more money but it would not be good like here’ he says ‘I like to stay here. Everyone is friendly and all are equal. I have learnt so much. Before I worked at my Auntie’s shop and could speak some English but I did not understand anyone talking about it. The accent was too hard – now I can talk to many people.’ He continues ‘I want to study management. My boss wants me to help others improve too. We only have people here who have a good attitude.’
Another young man tells me he has worked there for five months and that it was ‘ . . . a good place to work. I get two meals a day and it is a nice place to be. People are kind to me and I am learning many things. I stay in a house with some of the others who work here’ He also told me the restaurant was named after the tree in the story of how Buddhism started. (See sidebar)
The cook, who has cooked for three years, produces wonderful meals. She had been a cleaner at the Bodhi Tree before learning to cook and now her menu and skills could be used at any international restaurant she chose to work at. Along with the Asian and continental breakfasts from the kitchen, these became my favourites during my stay:
Slow roasted honey and cinnamon Asian pears – topped with fresh blue cheese and walnut – served with balsamic vinegar.
Red bean and steamed spinach salad with black pepper grilled bread with grated Parmesan and summer vinaigrette.
Spanish potato omelette served with tomato, olives, and mint salad and garlic bread.
After a week of travelling on the back of a truck in the remote north-east of the country, being served these, while sitting on cane furniture, leaning against silk cushions, under a Bougainvillea tree in an outdoor room, and with a Buddha gazing serenely on the scene, was heavenly.
Surrounded by the delightful artwork, birds of paradise, orchids, lotus buds, and other floral arrangements or plants it was hard to imagine the horrors that had occurred right across the road in the prison S 21. (See sidebar 2 below)
Note: I wrote this many years ago and have just refound it!
Sidebar 1. (As told to me by one of the young workers at Bodhi Tree )During the 16th century, in what we now call Nepal, Prince Siddhartha Gautama became curious about what life was like outside his comfortable court existence. When he saw people suffering it caused him great pain and he decided to alleviate their suffering.
Giving up his comfortable life, and his wife and child, he set out to study various religions for the answers.
After some time he adopted a life of self denial and fasting until, on the verge of death, he realised that this was not the way to end suffering: in fact he was perpetuating it.
During this time he was meditating under a Bodhi tree and this was where he received the revelations which led to his enlightenment. These were on three successive nights: on the first night he saw his former lives pass before him; on the second he came to understand the cycle of life death and rebirth, and on the third night the four holy truths of suffering.
Despite receiving enlightenment he chose to remain on earth and help others.
Toul Sleng (known in the Pol Pot years as S-21 or Security Office 21) is now The Museum of Genocidal Crimes. This was Angkor’s’ primary security institution: designed for the interrogation and extermination of anti Angkor elements. Originally a high school (Ponhea Yat) and built in 1962 it was enclosed with corrugated iron and electrified barbed wire during the Khmer rouge regime. Prisoners came from all over the country, all walks of life and included different nationalities including British, American Australian and new Zealand.
Over 12, 000 people were killed at S-21. While in the cells prisoners were shackled to iron bars and on arrival had been photographed and details of their life recorded.
The museum is not only a reminder of Cambodia’s very recent history, but also serves as a warning about how badly very ordinary human beings can treat each other.