Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
One pleasing scenery travelling long distance across Anhui province is the presence of green. Whether in the form of natural foliage or human agriculture.
Where villages are, usually a concentration of simple white cement houses, whether tucked away at a valley or spreaded out on a plain, are usually surrounded by neat plots of vegetables or crops. Every inch of land around a house is definitely devoted to the growing of some edible plants.
Anhui's climate is suitable for tea growth. And it does have its own species of tea. Keemun (qimen) red (black tea is regarded as red tea) tea is one of those.
Passed by lots of tea bushes along the journey, however, they are not planted in large scale. Mainly in the form of small, squeezed in between vegetables and crops or grown simply to fill up the space of arable lands. Therefore, some of these tea bushes are grown in the weirdest places, like the slopes of a steep gradient, in a corner of a forest, on a ridge and many are actually far off from villages. They look more like the results of re-aforestation, rather than planted for use.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Hong village resides in the region of the Yellow Mountain and was the location for the movie "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon".
Hong village is famed for its Hui architecture, that is, the white-washed wall (now coloured by age), the grey tiled-roofs and pointed gables. I would add another element to the charm of this village--water. Without the reflection from the waters, Hong village will be far less interesting without the symmetrical effect. Not to mention the perfect reflection of the bridge, the houses and the surrounding hills during calm days, giving a sense of tranquility.
Visitors are greeted by the lake immediately after passing through the gate. And a narrow footpath spans across the lake with an arch stone bridge in the middle of it. And this footpath leads to the village. It was said that the layout of the village was constructed according to the shape of a buffalo, with the lake as its stomach.
In the centre of the village, there is a pond in the shape of a crescent, surrounded by stone houses that stood next to one another. The idea of the crescent was symbolic (nothing in the Chinese architecture can seem to pass without symbolism) and it represented imperfection, relative to a full moon. Therefore, with a crescent, there leaves space for good things to come to fill up the crescent (to a full moon). The pond which lies in the centre of the village is actually the spring of life, providing water source to all the households.
Villagers still live in a very basic manner. Or eco-friendly. I wonder if tap water, save for the hotels that are there, is accessible to the villagers living here. Some are seen washing vegetables and their utensils by the pond, which in the past was their portable water source and I wonder if it still does.
In stark contrast to the prudent feel of the white and grey theme of the village, there were wealthy merchants who lived in the village in their magnificent houses--exquisite carvings on the wooden columns and beams, colourful wooden ceilings..... the wood used as columns are insects-repellant which are especially useful in the summer. Also, the skills of carvings that show vivid facial expressions and mannerisms of people are very impressive! Looking at such craftsmanship reminds me of those days when real skills were much appreciated and valued, unlike these days, the skill of generating money is much appreciated than any other real skills. Therefore, a banker is paid more than a doctor; a fund raising officer of private schools are paid more than the school teachers......
Enjoy walking through the winding alleys of the village, soaking in the feel and the smell of the village itself and seeing "authentic" villagers out and about running their chores, save for a handful of businesses targeting mainly at the tourists. The claws of tourism are still bearable. And it was easy to avoid the winter crowds as they mainly gather at one or two scenic spots before they move swifly to the next destination--another historical village near-by. Hong village is actually an open-concept village with no village walls. Apart from the main entrance, there are other ways into the village. If I have not struck a deal with the taxi driver to include the entrance fee into the fare, I would have walked round the village to find a way in (like I always do).
Considering the living cost of the locals, entrance fees to places of interest in China is very expensive. A village like Hongcun demands £8 per entry. And I certainly do not see how that money benefited the villagers living there.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Without the fog, the mountains would be fully in sight, and that would be relatively boring to the beholder than when they are partly hidden. It's all about the art of "looming", being able to see part of the whole picture visually, leaving the rest of the picture to the minds of the beholders to construct, bringing about infinite possibilities. And that itself is exciting!
Yellow Mountain refers to a range of granite peaks in Anhui province, a poor agricultural province 7 hours bus ride from Shanghai. The granite formation of the peaks created peaculiar-looking contour lines and precipitous cliffs. You get lots of jutted peaks and cliffs that are stacked on one boulder on top of the other like lego. Although not of high altitude--the peaks are only about 1600m-1800m high, the precariously-looking cliffs, pavements and pavillions sticking out of the granite edge, are definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Yellow Mountain has been a magnet of attraction throughout the history of China, in art and literature, and is still the most popular mountain to the Chinese as a tourist attraction. In the year 2007 alone, 15 million tourists, mainly Chinese, visited the area, and the crowds in summer, the peak season, are disastrous to the serenity and tranquility of the mountain range. Unless, of course, if you are able to rise above the nuisance of the crowds.
Names of the peaks and rocks formation
It is all visual and imagination. Names like "Lotus Peak", "Turtle Peak", "Lion Peak", "Bookcase Peak", "Pillow Peak" are simply representation of the shape of the peaks. "Mobile Rock" is a boulder in the shape of a mobile phone with an antenna, "A monkey gazing at the sea" is nothing but a gigantic boulder, shaped like the back of a monkey, resting on the peak.
It is a test on imagination and you can actually see more things if you go beyond the "officials ones." I like "Scholar drying shoes" especially, where a peculiar-shaped boulder, resembling an upside-down ancient Chinese shoes. And I still remember a spot where Guanyin, a goddess, is playing chess. Didn't see that this time round though.
Photo: A pine tree, adorned with icicles, growing from the granite, just like that.
Playing with Time
For three consecutive days, the mountain range have been shrouded completely in fog/mist/clouds. Luckily, there was time to bid for luck--that is, to wait at a scenic spot for the fog to clear or clouds to move away. It might be a futile attempt but when the luck shines, it is worth all the time waiting.
Chanced upon an area called "Collective Peaks Point", a side-track from the main route, thus void of any Chinese crowds. Only a white screen was presented at this "point". Loitered around. Staring ahead of a white screen of fog, when all existence is shielded from one's eyes, is quite philosophical. When the fog moved away, the peaks started to peer through the screen of fog, revealing peaks one by one, and that was when you realize there was so much to offer behind that blank screen!
There was indeed a WHOLE collection of peaks, as suggested by the name. Given the speed of the passing clouds, peaks unfolded promptly and faded into blankness swiftly, and thus, every second is a changing scenery. When the peaks surfaced above the clouds, which is termed "the sea of clouds" in Chinese, there was really a surreal look, as the altitude of the peaks are accentuated by the sinking clouds. The show of the peaks lasted for less than five minutes but it left such a beautiful impression.
And because of such a brief period of opening, whenever the clouds clear, I will scamper into action with camera, filters and chasing after the clouds before they swallow the peaks. Sometimes, you have to run after it literally; sometimes you are caught in a delimma of which part of the scenery to take in. On the second night, temperature dropped below zero, yet not enough to bring about snow. Instead, the day woke with a blanket of frost. The wind in the night left its trail on the pine needles in the form of icicles and from far, the pines looked like they have been decorated with a layer of icing.
Yellow Mountain cannot do without pine trees. And these trees is an embodiment of strength in the Chinese culture. Because they thrive in places which are impossible for growth, such as crevices of rocks and they survive the harshness of winters.
Pine trees add the scale of perspective to the peaks and soften the harsh lines of the granite. Some even took to the liking of growing diagonally from the cliffs.
LuckStill, snow did not dawn as desired. Instead, lots of rain. Each day, after the walk, all shoes, clothings and bags have to lay infront of the heater to dry. On top of that, most of the peaks were closed off in winter and a lot of the sights were missed due to the fog. Given that Yellow Mountain is hidden in fog/mist/clouds for a third of the year, and given that little amount seen during the few openings of the clouds this time, this is by far the best of Yellow Mountain that I have ever seen. Tonnes better than the last time I visited during summer when sky was clear.
So less is indeed more.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
While most mountains in China are highly modernised in terms of infrastructure, with a large presence of cable cars spanning across the mountains at different altitudes, neat cement pavements, dustbins and pavillions painstakingly installed along all routes in the mountain range, there is one thing of the Chinese mountains that remains disturbingly backward (not taking account into the level of hygience and mannerism), that is the transport of goods up and down the mountains.
It seems to me, that every mountain in China I could name, is equipped with a cable car service. Yet, in the popular Yellow Mountain range, with a hefty entrance fee of £23 (high season), three cable car stations ( £8 per trip), 3-4 stars hotels littered across the mountains, is still relying solely on manual labour for the transport of all and sundry. Every single brick used in the mountains is transported manually--over the shoulders of a porter on a bamboo pole, all the way up to the final destination in the mountains. Cable car stations are built in this manner too. And we are looking at an average altitude of 1500m where most hotels are concentrated. Even walking up the steps to such height with a light pack proves to be a feat on the calves and thighs.
Face it. Every leaf of vegetable that I eat and every chair that I sit on in the mountains are hand carried by these porters. Laundry is carried down daily from the hotels to the foot of the mountains to be done before being carried back the same way it came down.
Wages are paid according to the amount of weight that they carry. I was told, on the average, the porters could carry about 75kg per trip, which is more than the body weight of the porters themselves. Some could even stretch up to 100kg.
I bear witness to a small-frame porter coping with 1 gas cylinder each on either end of his bamboo pole, negotiating his steps with that amount of weight cutting into his shoulders. It took me 4 hours just to descend from an altitude of 1800m, and with a walking stick.
While cable cars are used extensively to transport tourists who could not afford to walk up the mountains, they prove too expensive to transport daily supplies and construction equipments.
So when I sat cosily at the hotel lounge, looking at the computers, bar counters, large calligraphy frames, fridges, chandeliers, french window etc. around me, I couldn't but feel surreal.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Something caught my attention for no apparent reason. I noticed people carrying their own shopping bags round the city, instead of the usual plastic bags. Being a skeptic, I did not think that the environment awareness had suddenly landed from Mars on this city and her residents in a span of 5 months, nor the Expo 2010 had in anyway contributed positively towards the a greener environment. It was all, unshamedly, down to the effect of charging for the use of plastic bags. And its effect is phenomenal. Money speaks louder than words.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
Monday, November 08, 2010
I plastered myself with sunscreen before I embarked on the walk under the morning sun. The walk, intially meant to be a mode of transport from Point A to Point B, turned out to be a destination itself. It was an excursion for me to this older part of the neighbourhood to which I was born in before I relocated to somewhere else.
(An elavated respite area amidst the growth--photo on the left)
It was a joy to walk pass the old flats with ground units, those with a short staircase leading to the front door as well as the back door, which is very unusal for public flats. Each family has their own way of utilitzing the area in front of their units. Some would plant a "jungle" of potted plants, some would start an "outdoor cafe" with chairs and tables, some would open a bird park with caged birds....I chanced upon a small fenced area of garden with vegetables and plants which was the fruit of a gardening club of the residents in the area. And the wet market which I was to meet B, was bustling with people and life. Stark contrast to the sterilized shopping malls. Hygiene level too, I must say.
(Not the flower but the ripened fruit of a yam plant--photo 2)
This is just at the backyard of where I live and yet, has been undiscovered by me. And it has been so near, yet so far.
After our breakfast, we went for a nature "trail". Unknown to me, there is a mangrove swamp right in the middle of our neighbourhood. Away from the concrete jungle, we stepped into thick growth which was presented in a very Singapore way--planned and organized. The "nature" was relocated, sieved and remodelled to fit around the paths and carparks for humans. Nature, lacking of "humanity" will not be fit for us I am afraid.
(treading on the bridge to take in the mangrove swamp--photo 3)
Arriving at the end of the "nature" area is the coast where one could catch a glimpse of Malaysia. The skyline of Malaysia, or the Johor state to be exact, has been growing vertically and steadily for the last ten years. Could still remember those days when we enjoy to make day trips across the causeway to Johor to eat till our fill, taking full advantage of the weak currency and the price of living in Johor. The most classic of all was me crossing the straits to spend my afternoon at a starbucks.
There used to be a jetty here. Now, this coastal part has been given a facelift and has been recently converted into a recreational area--after 30 years.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
Thursday, September 02, 2010
Monday, August 02, 2010
Characterized by their specific "templates" ( 4x5, 8x5; 4x8, 8x8 ) and the specific rhyme requirements，whereby poets had to create a new world within the restrictions.
"River Snow" is one of my favourite, an essence of the fine boundary between Chinese poems and Chinese paintings, where the two can be one, existing in different forms.
Decided to ignore the grammatical rules of the English language, so as to keep as close to as possible, the original flavour of the Chinese poem/Chinese language, especially the visual, objective montage effect.
The Chinese language, void of the burden of grammar, could therefore produce a montage effect and neat parallelism (depicted by the colours as shown) in poems.
Poet Liu painted a painting of snow-covered river in a poem, using many layers of visual contrast....
......to evoke a tenacious sense of solitude.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Protagonists mentioned in the movie that it would be extremely difficult to alter one's mindset or to inject a new thought/idea into one's mind. This had to be done in the realm of dream. That was what the title of the movie "Inception" comes about.
Not sure about that. Seems pretty easy in reality though. Through media's selective/purposeful reports of the truth, the chants of advertisements.....and the artificial seeds of pre-mediated thoughts start to take roots in our minds unknowingly, growing to be the real thing in our own minds.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
Found her tomb next to the West Lake in Hangzhou. Couldn't help but to question why this woman, (479-502), a famous courtesan of her time and a poet too (though I wouldn't say that her poetry would be in the same calibre of those masters in Chinese poetry), could leave her name behind for more than a millenium years and to have her tomb rebuilt in the 21st century after it was destroyed during Cultural Revolution (btw, nothing could be left intact after the sweep of the infamous revolution).
Her new rest place, next to Xilin Bridge in the West Lake, with 6 pillars inscribed with poetry written in reminiscence of her. For someone of her gender, her background in that era, who became a source of inspiration to many great poets, even a few hundred years after her death, is bizzare to me. Died at the age of 19, as an orphan and unmarried and therefore, had her beauty and youth being immortalized and romantized. Though a courtesan by circumstances and became an object of men's play, she became the player instead and bent neither to wealth nor power.
And maybe little did she expect herself to become the subject in the poems of many literati after her time. I am more curious about the literati who drew their inspiration from her than Su Xiao Xiao herself. Wonder what was in their minds and hearts?
Sunday, June 20, 2010
of travelling in the city of Hangzhou. It's not a business venture, therefore rental charges are very affordable, meant more for the locals (I think) to ease the traffic pressure on the roads. Bike booths are located in a lot of places in the city, not just the touristed areas. Any time of the day, you can get a bike (as long as they are available) with a top-up card. No deposit seems to be needed.
Found these tiny solar panels and solar stands along some roads to power the street lights. Brought a touch of green amidst the exhaust fume from the vehicles that run amuck on the road.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Bought a packet of Japanese green tea biscuits--bamboo shoots-like biscuits coated with a layer of green tea cream. Something that I was addicted to while in the UK.
Glad to find it in stock over here. But little did I know that I would open to a paper box full of horror.
Inside the box, there are no more than 10 pieces of biscuits. But EACH biscuit was further packed painstakingly in little plastic bags. Classic example of excessive Japanese packaging where appearance and exquisiteness surpass environment concerns. And from a country that produces no resources on its own.
Thursday, June 03, 2010
Businessmen, in ancient China, used to rank below farmers, craftsmen and scholars in terms of social status. They were frowned upon because, unlike farmers and craftsmen who produce goods, businessmen contribute nothing substantial but make a living out of the labour of others and generated money from money itself. In those days, knowledge and skills were appreciated. But, of course, not anymore now. Money alone measures the amount of respect one gets.
All the more made those tins of Dragon Well Tea that I bought from Dragon Well Village significant .
Dragon Well Tea (Long Jing Cha) is one of the many green teas produced in China. It got its name from the village that grows the tea bushes. Dragon Well Village sits on a hill near West Lake in Hangzhou and the name happened to catch my attention in google map while surveying the vicinities of West Lake. So, this is the source of the well-known tea.
It turned out to be a modern village, revamped a few years ago with new cables, drainage system and buildings, not the traditional wooden houses that I have imagined. But it was certainly a nice area with creeks and woods. It was misty that day and some of the plantations were shrouded in mist. Air was fresh, creeks were crystal clear and surroundings were serene--that I almost forgot I was in China.
Met a few villagers on the bus to the village, one of them Mr. Zhang who is the third generation of tea planters in his family. Own plots of land and apparently, the harvest time (usually during Spring, right after winter)for the tea was over (May) for the year. Harvest period for this tea is brief and therefore, the tea is well-sought after. Tea leaves are plucked early in the morning, around 5. Invited to his house for tea (well, of course, it was not without a purpose) and sampled his tea harvested from his own plantation. It was delicious! (I must use this adjective for the tea) I even started chewing the dried tea leaves from the pile and they were tasty! It certainly tastes different from the tin that I bought from supermarket. Even C who has a disdain for green tea warmed up to the flavour and we ended up buying a few tins of Dragon Well Tea from the planter. I knew I was being ripped off for the price that they quoted me but something in me held me back from bargaining down. I guess I'd prefer to be ripped off by these people who are in the frontline of production rather than the far end of it.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Poem By Lu You
Poem By Tang Wan
Visited the scene of my Chinese literature again.
Amazed. While stones are worn out by the hands of Time, words, as fluid as they are, withstood the testament, to be remembered many centuries after. Such as the works of the ancient philosophers, the lines of literati.......
Emotions are universal and timeless.
Chanced upon Shen's Garden in Shaoxing, just like how Lu You (1125–1210) chanced upon Tang Wan, his former wife in the same Shen's Garden (well, may not be the exact spot. The garden may have shifted locations after all this time) that I visited.
Lu You, under the pressure from his mother, divorced his first wife, Tang Wan, whom he grew up together with. He met her again after some years in Shen Garden when she was already wife of someone else, and he himself had remarried. Emotions were thick when Tang Wan brought him a toast. After the brief encounter, he wrote a poem (to be exact, lyrics) on the walls of the garden. Tang Wan wrote a poem in response to his. She passed away a year later. Today, visitors could see the encravings of their works on the walls, reminiscing in the pain of these ill-fated lovers.
红酥手，黄縢酒， With your rosy, soft hands, a toast of good wine was brought to me.
满城春色宫墙柳。 The town was adorned with Spring and willows swayed by the walls
东风恶，欢情薄， The East wind bit mercilessly on our thin happiness,
一怀愁绪，几年离索，A heart full of sorrow for these years of living asunder.
错，错，错。 All but a mistake! A mistake! A mistake!
春如旧，人空瘦， While spring seemed untouched by time; lovesickness caused one to grow empty and thin.
泪痕红浥鲛绡透。 Traces of tears drenched the handkerchief.
桃花落，闲池阁， Withering peach blossoms left the garden in solitude.,
山盟虽在，锦书难托，The oath of yesterday remains but no longer can we converse through letters.
莫，莫，莫。 Forget it! Forget it! Forget it!Poetry was a common tool of expression in ancient China, thus the tradition of writing poems. Emotions, thoughts, ideals are captured within the scope of a poem. The Book of poems was compiled as early as 1046BC - 771BC. It is not without regret that none of these ancient Chinese poets could hold a candle to the international fame that Shakespeare enjoys.