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.


Chinese ‘northern mallard’

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P1160346Spotted this duck swimming with a few of its counterparts along the shore of a small lake in one of the public gardens in Kunming, China. It looks suspiciously like Australia’s Northern Mallard and given the NM was introduced to Australia it most probably is. Like all dabbling ducks it was taking insects and floating vegetation from the surface with the occasional upend to forage below.

Chinese ‘sparrow’

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P1160338This little fellow and his/her flock were one of the few wild birds I saw when visiting China last month. In size and colour they were very similar to the sparrows in Australia and were just as flighty.

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.