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.

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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.






How much of your travel dollar do you leave behind?

How much of your travel dollar do you leave behind? Do you leave any for this woman or her relatives? Or is it all going to to multi-national companies?


I recently read something by Chris Ball that said “When you travel to less developed countries, you might think that just by being there you’re helping provide a better quality of life for the locals. You’d be wrong. Just $5 of every $100 you spend stays local.” I have often heard those figures but could not find his reference.

As he says, “Tourism is one of the most powerful change agents on Earth.  And, “We as consumers must vote with our wallets and support local people with local businesses.” I totally agree and contacted him – he is the Adventure Honey founder and CEO Chris Ball said that in addition to supporting local travel operators, 25% of Adventure Honey’s proceeds are invested into their ‘Changemaker Program.’

“Our site is designed for independent adventure travellers who want to find not only the coolest things to do in the world, but also ensure their travel has a positive local impact – that the locals truly benefit from their adventure.”

He also tells us “When you buy adventure tours and activities through a website like Adventure Honey you help ensure a positive impact from your travel and have an incredible adventure at the same time!

After some searching I found the United Nations Environment Programme reference to the negative impacts of tourism here.

This is topic is something I blogged about (first published in a newspaper column) about some years ago and reprint it here.

What is an eco-tourist? Ecotourism?

Like Asians need rice, Italians love pasta, British their curry, and us Kiwi’s love fish and chips, I need to travel and being a traveller who writes means I get to visit where I want to go to rather than have to go the destination flavour of the month.

This means I’m often in places that are not on the tourist trail. As a slow traveller I can stay longer and get to know people, to absorb the local culture and flavour. This also means that although I don’t always sign up for an eco-tour, I practise many of the principles of ecotourism. But what is ecotourism – a word that’s often thrown around and frequently means nothing.

My understanding of the word and the concepts behind it are that’s it an activity that has minimum impact while providing maximum benefits to the locals.

I believe independent travellers are most likely to be the closest to being real eco travellers. They leave much of their travel money in the country while those who travel on tours often have 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.

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 an Asian marine reserve sounds wonderful right? A great eco experience? Yes the natural sights and walks are fantastic; money spent on food and accommodation does remain 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 – is bought to the island by them: water bottles are not refilled, plastic bags and straws are left on the beach.

Have travel agents sold us too narrow views of places to visit? Given us a list of sights we ‘must see’ or activities to participate in? This produces problems all over the world with buses arriving in droves, disgorging visitors and fumes to see wonderful pristine or historic sights.

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

The problems of being poured into these tourist funnels 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.

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.”

So, what can we travellers do? I don’t know what you will do – what I do is travel slow, travel cheaply, and use local products whenever I can.

So, by 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’m able to enjoy my travels with a clearer conscience.

Maa Amba – the mother goddess – celebrated during Navratri

Goddesses have been revered for years in India and include deities of earth, speech, and wisdom. Number-one goddess is Maa Ambathe mother goddess.

In Gujarat, the Navratri festival is devoted to festival to her, Maa Amba, the Goddess of Shakti (power) and temples have a constant stream of visitors.  No wonder they call it Vibrant Gujarat The most popular form of celebration is the performance of Gujarat’s folk-dances, the garba and dandia-ras, and beautiful chaniya cholis swirl and glitter as the women wearing them twirl in a fantastic fusion of dance and devotion for the nine nights of Navratri.

Happy Navratri to all my Gujarati friends as you celebrate this year.

Hindu gods and goddesses confuse me with their many names and manifestations – however it seems, Shakti is the divine manifestation of Lord Shiva, and Navratri is dedicated to the three main goddesses of Hinduism – Parvati, Lakshmi and Sarasvati. The first three nights are dedicated to the goddess of action and energy when her different manifestations – Kumari, Parvati and Kali are worshipped. They represent the virgin girl, auspicious wife or mother, and the angry old hag: the different aspects of our nature.

The festival is a non-stop ‘circle of ecstasy’ with millions swaying in a colourful fusion of dance and devotion. Claimed as the longest-dance-in-the-world, it is said Gujarat does not sleep during this time and people dress-up and dance until the wee hours: I am about to find out when I attend the inaugural night held in Gandhinagar, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.

River sand has been spread over the ground, a fine green nylon mesh laid over it, and thousands of chairs and couches face the huge stage.  I’m directed to my seat, where I am most misleadingly identified as a ‘Prominent Lady Journalist’.  Exploring the eight themed pavilions and photo-gallery of heritage sites whet my appetite for this, my first trip to India, and although the 150 handicraft stalls are enticing, soon it’s time to return to my front row seat.

The music starts and some seven hundred dancers introduce me to the ancient dances and worship of the female deities. Garba, the traditional dance, ranges from three simple three steps though to complicated routines and I fall in love with the colour and music too. The few hours pass very quickly, the weather stays fine and all too soon an extravagance display of nine simultaneous garba performances signals the finale.

As the music fades, groups of women dressed in pink, move through the hordes handing us all a diya (small earthenware container with a candle inside it) and matches, and as the aarti (blessing) happens, the grounds glow with their flickering, soft yellow lights.

As one of the very few westerners here I am spoken to by many locals as we head for the exits. Again and again I’m told, ‘this makes me feel really nostalgic’ ‘It’s great to see the old traditional garba on the stage’ and ‘This is what Navratri was like in my childhood. I love it.’ So do I.

The next night I join the celebrations and in traditional clothes I too am clapping and trying to dance in the concentric circles. Women and young girls twirl in their glittering chanai-choli while the men, with their traditional clothes and headgear, gracefully keep in step also. Despite laughing, all are tolerant of my clumsy efforts – seemingly enjoying having a westerner join their festivities.

During Navratri, some devotees of Durga observe a fast and prayers are offered for the protection of health and property. A period of introspection and purification, Navratri is traditionally considered an auspicious time for starting new ventures.

Although Gujarat is well-known as a progressive business state and Navratri presents a colourful mix of culture, dance and devotion the state also has a rich tourism potential: exquisite beaches, great birding, enchanting forests, enthralling wildlife, ancient temples, desert, and is the birth-place of Mahatma Gandhi: go there before too many other tourists discover it.

NOTE: I flew to India with the help of Singapore Air and Gujarat Tourism – thank you very much!

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