travelling in China
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.
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. The 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.
Many 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.