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the real kanga and baby roo

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p1140334Kanga and her baby Roo, from the infamous Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne, lived with Pooh in the Hundred Acre Woods. kangaThe appearance of a home-grown native animal in an English story book, while being raised on the English Canon, served to reinforce my love for these Australian animals (as a city-bred child I rarely encountered  them myself outside of Sydney’s Taronga Zoo). Kanga’s character in the book reflects the characters of the wallabies/kangaroos that now surround my house at all hours of the day/night. Like Kanga they are pretty, observant, loyal and unequivocally devoted parents. Also like Kanga their one Dislike is … Any Threat to Roo! 

how to recline with ease

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buddhaLearning to let go and just Be sounds easy. As a westerner I gravitate to the idea of sitting quietly to contemplate great Truths. I see myself practising Dharma, back against an ancient tree, toes buried in the soft soil, my mind freeing itself from ignorance, attachment and anger.

But I share the Western scourge, a nagging culturally-programmed little voice that has the propensity to demand action rather than rest. To Do rather than Be.

It was on a busy tour of Thailand that I was profoundly impacted with the beneficial implications of mastering the latter.

Wat Pho, or Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is home to a 46 metre long, gold-leaf plated Buddha that oozes beauty, peace and serenity… even though the Buddha is surrounded by hoards of tourists and locals, chattering non-stop and infringing on her space. This may be a sculpture, but the artists have captured an essence that permeates the atmosphere as if the Buddha was truely alive.

In her presence I was reminded that inner serenity is possible, even in the midst of chaos. That the cliche “beauty emanates from within” is based on truth. That how I walk and position my body, particularly when others are around, says much about what’s happening on the inside.

I felt her lesson is to master the art of reclining with ease, amid whatever circumstance I may find myself. To hold love in my heart, and by a natural sequence, emanate love to those around me. To practice purity of thought, to rest and project my mind outwards in search of deep Truths. And ultimately to recline, into a state of blissful Being.

Khao Sok National Park

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Intrepid Trip Jan - Feb 2010 004I have been cruising through some of my old travel photos and the flower one caught my eye. It was taken on the grounds of one of the best places I have ever stayed, the Morning Mist Resort near Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. Don’t think western style resort with multi-story buildings and contrived landscaping, this was an immense flower garden with bungalows for guests dotted throughout the grounds. It was amazing to meander back to our digs through such a sensual overload and to wake up amoungst it.

There are drinks buried under there.
There are drinks buried under there.

The place had a great restaurant with incredible views of jagged mist covered mountains, delicious local cuisine and the most divine fruit cocktails, decorated appropriately with masses of flowers. The resort was walking distance from an entrance to Khao Sok National Park, Thailand.

One of the highlights.

Khao Sok is one of the oldest virgin rainforests in the world, even older than the Amazon, and the area is well worth a visit.  One of my favourite outings was visiting a monkey colony and being allowed to cuddle a baby monkey, it was even sucking its thumb like one of my daughters used to do. It is memories like these that keep my passion about travel alive. I hope Morning Mist is still there, the people were so lovely. I did this trip in 2010 and the garden must now be a midsummer dream.

architectural delights @ China

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Gold painted inlay @ Buddhist temple
Gold painted inlay @ Buddhist temple

I love well designed buildings and adore aesthetically appealing details that leave me nodding with appreciation or gasping with delight.

While most modern buildings in China  mimic the traditional rectangular apartment blocks of the West, block being the key word, the older, traditional Chinese buildings and Buddhist temples are full of interesting and beautiful features.

Carving on the entrance wall to a Buddhist temple in Fengjing.
Carving on the entrance wall to a Buddhist temple in Fengjing.

The dragon carving was at the entrance to a Buddhist temple in Fengjing, a water town in Shunde District, that is part history lesson and part living community. P1160622The curving wall is part of a Museum Garden, a very old house and garden that is open to the public. Whether it’s the line of a roof at a monastery, a shapely wall or a painting on a temple ceiling, these are the gems to seek out.

for the love of gardens

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P1160645Many of the public gardens, historic houses, or Buddhist temples I visited in China, had lovely water features. There is something about the sound, sight and presence of water in a green landscape that speaks a universal language, evoking in us all a certain charm and heightened sense of relaxation. The Chinese gardens I visited often had large scale lakes full of families cruising around on paddle boats, lagoons filled with water lilies, bulrushes and turtles, and hidden places criss-crossed with narrow but quick flowing streams complete with weeping willows and hungry koi.

Park in Kunming, Yunnan Province
Park in Kunming, Yunnan Province

Whatever the configuration the Chinese people love their gardens and they are well frequented in the day and late into the night. One reason is that many Chinese live in dense housing situations and really value going ‘outside’. Here families can connect with nature, dance together, practice tai chi, play games, enjoy traditional music and gossip.

While volunteering as an ESL teacher at Ronggui in Guangdong Province I stayed in a small apartment in a 25 storey high rise, surrounded on all sides by other 25 storey high rise apartment blocks.

View from the apartment... there were about 25 of these apartment blocks ringing the building I was in.
View from the apartment… there were about 25 of these apartment blocks ringing the building I was in.

The blocks were interspersed with gardens and every night the sound of music, children and laughter floated up to my rooms as the apartment dwellers flocked outside.

... that white sheen in the sky obliterating the background is air pollution not clouds
… that white sheen in the sky obliterating the background is air pollution not clouds

The Chinese people I came in contact with worked long hours (though the pace was slower than at home and there is a long break in the middle of the day) but many of them work 6 days a week so the evenings are often their social and family times. In a crowded city with hectic traffic, air pollution and concrete skylines, it is easy to appreciate why sitting under a tree, mucking about in a paddleboat, or simply watching koi slide past, are valued pastimes.

China unearthed

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wall art @ Buddhist temple
wall art @ Buddhist temple

Last month I travelled to China … more specifically …the lower south west corner between Hong Kong and the top of Tibet. I didn’t do an organised tour or have an English guide, just travelled and hung with a friend, an ESL teacher in Ronggui. Travelling away from tourist centres minus the local language is challenging, though my friend had a few carefully selected words and some key phrases. Unfortunately, like most languages, the same word can mean different things, depending on emphasis and tone sequence. It’s pretty much a social faux pas waiting to happen for us two mono-language ‘tourists’. Our attempts to find a place to eat or  a local ‘attraction’ had the potential to yield a cultural collaboration of mutual happiness and laughter or a cultural meltdown, it was an endless lucky dip.

Children's merry-go-round character, complete with sub-machine gun
Children’s merry-go-round character, complete with sub-machine gun

Watching my friend’s carefully annunciated attempts invariably caused ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers’ or ‘She sells sea shells’ to kick start in my head. Thanks Miss Ball, those elocution lessons really paid off. We did have a phone app but it refused to work on a pre-paid and we couldn’t satisfy its desire for a good hotspot. In the main we set out like Columbus, trusting that past the row of designer shops sitting opposite the crumbling facade of a once grand building, or across the lines of screaming traffic (where pedestrians give way to cars even at marked crossings) we would discover something worthwhile, something quintessentially Chinese, something that reminded us of the ancient ways, the long history and the beauty that is embedded in modern China. And we weren’t disappointed.