January 31, 2009 § Leave a comment
Hainan Isle, PRC – the ancestral village homestead
Chinese New Year the old way:
Homemade fireworks, watermelon fields and palm trees. Blood relatives coming in from miles around.
Xin nian kuai le to my brothers and sisters and may life bring you what you wish for.
December 15, 2008 § Leave a comment
Hainan isle, PRC – on the road from Zhongyuan to Haikou
Back on the road again. Can’t say I’m not loving it.
The best of it: Discovery/rediscovery. The worst of it: Packing/repacking.
October 19, 2008 § 4 Comments
Guizhou province, China – enroute from Guiyang to Bijie
I’ve realised that I am perfectly content being alone and in the field, surrounded by friendly strangers and the electricity of discovering the deep unknown; digging through the layers of humanity and seeing more and more how fragile we are and the very base needs that ultimately govern our actions.
In the highlands of Guizhou province, the thin, brisk air, the characteristic carved mountains of old chinese etchings – this is a life that breathes. It is real and earthy, uncensored and fully unadulterated.
I’m not sure if I could ever give this up… Not when I feel like I’ve just begun on such an incredible journey and everything else has just been the prologue to the rest of my life. That everything has led to this: an open heart, burning curiosity, a pervading sense of solitude, a quick grin (and even quicker laugh), a pen, a notepad, my camera(s), the big, wide world and forever, the constant roam.
October 18, 2008 § Leave a comment
August 25, 2008 § Leave a comment
Shanghai, China – Yu Fo Si Jade Buddha Temple, Anyuan Lu 170
The Festival of the Dead. A time when the souls of the underworld are free from purgatory to roam the living world and invited to Buddhist temples to feast and be appeased by their relatives during a three day vigil of incense burning and paper offerings.
Buddhist temples all over the world open their doors to the general public and the devout to pay their respects in a haphazard production that belies the facts and figures reserved for a select few.
Ensconced within the heart of the temple compound at Yi Fo Si, within a gilt lined hall, smoky with the fragrance of incense from a rare wood found exclusively in the jungles of Vietnam and Indonesia, 400 people are lined in silent and strategic rows. They wear identical black robes and pray separated from the cacophony of the jostling hoards outside. The front row is given to the highest paying local patron to the temple. The second row is given to the highest paying foreigner. The cheap seats are in the back.
Front row prayer seats – US$200,000
Second row prayer seats – US$100,000
The cheap seats at the back – US$3,000
One strand of fragrant rare wood prayer beads – US$15,000
Twenty sticks of rare wood incense – US$100
*All available from the temple shop
The total cost of the festival to the temple each year is approx. one million USD.
August 24, 2008 § 2 Comments
Hainan Island, China – ancestral homestead in a small village about 2 hours drive from Sanya beach resort (host to Miss World beauty pageant 2007)
Verdant mountains, lush country, industry abounding everywhere. We were on the Eastern Expressway, travelling from Sanya to the village of our maternal ancestors. Stretching around me were glistening rice paddies and sun darkened farmers in conical straw hats weaving their way through the harvest. Here and there, we would spot brick farmhouses adorned with the ubiquitous line of laundry strung like a ragged necklace. I raced through this countryside, sucking up as much of it as I could, ensconced with my luggage in the back seat of a teeny, weeny, seaweed green chevvy that smelt vaguely of stale underarms, face to the wind and casting frequent grins of exhilaration to my sister in the front seat.
We are finally here. 2 hours of lawless highway and another half hour of bumpy dirt road later, Ling and I have been safely delivered to our ancestral home – the same one I stayed in when I was about 5 years old – also the place I last saw my great-grandmother all those years ago when she was 102.
I am totally blown away.
The way my relatives live here – eking out an existence by their bare hands, with the help of several water buffaloes, chickens, pigs and a couple of mangy dogs (trained as “guards”, but function more as leftover food disposals). The roof over my head has housed 7 generations of blood relations. It has seen the industrial revolution, the cultural revolution and is now languishing unaffected through the digital revolution.
I visit the rudimentary prep school that mum built over 10 years ago, watch livestock put to the knife in preparation for the feast the villagers are holding in honour of our return to the homestead, use a mixture of mandarin and hainanese to converse with the wizened, old matriarchs and stay up most of the night winning over the local kids by teaching them how to use my digital SLR and photoshop. I am then woken at 4am to witness the final slaughter of the last 5 chickens and 2 geese (because word got out about how enthusiastic I was in photographing the initial 2 chooks in the afternoon), and seeing as I am already awake, I rock down on my haunches and get in the vegetable prep assembly line. Snowpeas, spring onion and celery, here I come.
I can honestly say, it is an incredible experience – squatting outside on a dirt path that serves as the outside “wet” kitchen, taking part in a task that was probably done by women of 5-6 generations before me in exactly the same spot… Women whose gene pool I share and who could never imagine how far my life has taken me from this place.