The colour of home

January 24, 2007

After a long trip away, how does one reconnect with home? After speaking in broken sentences for weeks in a foreign language barely understood, where does one relocate the language common to one’s self of well being? Tongues in trees as Shakespeare said?

I ask these questions because it has been just over two weeks since returning to Tasmania from my stay in China and time enough, I would have expected, to have gotten back into some form of rhythm here. Not so.

It was easy enough to open the door and walk into the house that is nestled in the grove of trees on the hill that overlooks the ocean.  Harder, though, has been opening and walking into Windgrove’s larger house: the one that is the hill and the ocean itself.

So daily I venture out of the one house to try and familiarise myself with the other house. Some wanderings start off totally aimless. Other times, I have taken several groups of people around Windgrove’s Peace path or have worked clearing a new footpath through the scrub. But, in the midst of all this, I have kept searching for some clue, some hint, some hook to finally bring me back to this place; this land called Windgrove. My home. Something that will ease me back into a comfort zone of recognition.

Colour, oddly enough, is helping with this process. And the colour is green. Or, more precisely, lime green.

Yesterday’s evening sun reflected in breaking waves produced such a green. And, during recent rains, the wet eucalypt bark cracking off a branch revealed such a green.


The colours I associated with China were red and gold. Here, the signature colour of the land—the fresh perky quality of new green/ spring green—is bathing my spirit with a welcoming home coming.

How marvellous to reunite with such vibrancy.

This calls for a gin and tonic. And, a slice of lime, for sure. 


Back from China

January 18, 2007


I’ve been back for over a week now from China and have found the process of settling back into a “normal” routine is taking longer than expected. For sure, I am more than happy to be back on home soil and tending to the Peace Fire and such, but like the photo above, a partial fog hovers over my mood like a soft blanket of sadness.

For the past few days I have been mulling over what this feeling is about and from whence it comes. This morning I received the following email from my partner, Sally, who, after three months of living in China, is leaving in a couple of days to return to Australia. What she writes points towards this difficulty of adjustment.

I am sad to be leaving. Ready for a change from the hospital hours, but there is a part of me that would like to stay and enrich the relationships that have been slowly building, learn the language and get to know this nation’s people a little more. I will miss their friendliness and their gentle innocent humour. There is such a softness to the people here, and a softness between the people and an ability to live so easily amongst one-another, or on top of one-another. There is a basic acceptance of human nature and survival that I’m not sure exists at home. Less ego. Less toes to be stepped on (even though there are more toes around.)

Wandered through the streets. Lots of activity, different smells, red lanterns, street stalls cooking meat, flute music here, rock music there, handbags and high-heels, cars honking, bicycles, people. How will Australia feel after all of this?? I will miss this crazy place.

What she writes encapsulates clearly the pain all travellers experience (must experience) after immersing themselves into another culture and then choosing to move on to another place or returning home.

And “home” is never quite the same again. When I returned home last week after dark and after a 30 hour flight, two things stood out: the total lack of sound and the unpeopled sense of emptiness. No wind, no waves hitting the beach, no animal noises. It was as though the land had fallen quiet out of respect for what I had left behind. Eerie, it was.

So, we do the simple things to stay in touch; to rekindle the memories.  Mornings still find me carrying on the practice of learning the Chinese language. I’m also looking into taking Chinese cooking lessons.

china_stone_2More importantly, though, the stone from Taishan Mountain that I swapped with the Roaring Beach stone is now nestled among the other stones on the Ancestral Midden (it’s the brown and white one near centre bottom of the photo).

It gets a special pat on my daily visit to the Peace Garden.


Last Climb

January 8, 2007


A fitting ending to my month long stay in China was to climb Tai Shan (Peaceful Mountain); the most climbed mountain in China and the most revered of its five sacred mountains.

Getting to the base of the mountain for the start of the climb provided the usual minor hassles – taxi to bus station, bus to Tai’an, find a bank when we realized we didn’t have enough money and then a 2nd taxi ride to the trail head.

taishan_1taishan_2taishan_3Once walking, everything changed into a lovely, quiet, winter stroll up the mountain past shrines, temples, old cypress trees, tea shops and idyllic scenic spots. Truly wonderful. Actually, stroll isn’t the correct word to use because it was a steady uphill walk till we reached the mid-way point (about a 800metre or 2500 foot rise in elevation over five kilometres).

taishan_8taishan_9taishan_13taishan_20The second half was shorter in length, but much steeper. Being the weak kneed coward that I am, the cable car ride proved a god-send and I was able to arrive at the summit with enough energy to walk around it and explore things a bit more. Looking down upon the stairs from above was certainly less tiring than looking up at the cable car from below.

The cable car didn’t quite go to the very top and there were still plenty of stairs to climb. And I mean stairs. From the base of Tai Shan to the top there are supposedly 6660 of them.


taishan_11taishan_17The amount of work that would have gone into the cutting and laying of these many granite steps and paving squares boggles the mind. They were certainly built to last. Winding their way through the trees and, more or less in an upward direction, their beauty added a another aspect to the walk.


One very important aspect of coming to Tai Shan was to place a Roaring Beach stone in some out-of-the way, protective spot. taishan_15taishan_16Just below the summit, in a sheltered, sunny location I both hid the stone and picked up another to bring back to Windgrove. For whatever reason (conscious or unconscious) there was in doing this “swap”, it felt plain honest good and I look forward to placing the Tai Shan stone on the Ancestral Midden back at Windgrove.

At the summit of 1,545 metres, a sense of closure to my Chinese adventure and a profound good feeling towards the Chinese people came into my heart. taishan_22 They have their problems, certainly, and the land is suffering greatly, but my overwhelming sense of the people (at least, in ShangDong Province) is that at their core there is a selfless sense of well being that exudes a generous kindness to all.


If the world is to have 9 billion people living on it, the Chinese will be the most capable of living together.

taishan_23And once any summit is reached, the only alternative is to turn around and find your way back down to where you started. In my case, Australia.


New Year’s Weekend

January 3, 2007


Winter came briefly to Jinan this past Saturday. Exciting, but at the same time a bit of bother as this was supposed to be the day Sally and I were going to the town of Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius.

QuFu_2QuFu_5QuFu_3After sitting in snarled traffic for nearly an hour and only getting half way to the bus station, we told the taxi driver to turn around and take us back to the hotel.

Changed plans, however, meant that we were able to climb the hills back of Jinan and visit two Buddha sculptures carved into the cliffs. Following narrow trails, we got (almost) lost, but seeing these two, relatively unknown Buddhas in the snow and silence were a welcome change from the usual din of a noisy city.


On Sunday we took another chance, caught the bus and headed two and a half hours through the mist south to Qufu.QuFu_10QuFu_16 Here, we were able to spend the day (although cold and wet) walking through the Confucius Temple, the Kong family’s Mansion and the Confucius Forest (a 200 acre cemetery where the Kong descendants of Confucius are still being buried today; Confucius being a romanization of Kong Fuzi, meaning Master Kong).


As a sculptor, what most fascinated me was the exquisite carvings and attention to detail that was evident everywhere. QuFu_11QuFu_12Although a bit weary with age, the technical mastery and former grandeur was still evident (with a slight squint of the eyes and a bit of imagination).


In the vast cemetery, the lightly falling mist provided a gentle, mysterious aura over this ancient site.
Couple this with limited people around (alive, that is) and being able to walk around by myself, my sense of time was transported back two thousand years and more. At times, I truly felt as though I was with those very Chinese sages and peasants who walked this land those many years ago.

Finding myself alone with a 1,500 year old cypress tree, I did the old tree hugger trick and wrapped my arms tightly around it. Within a few moments of meditative prayer, faint whispers came through the trunk. I pressed my ear against this certainly wise old tree. I distinctly heard: “Confucius says: Baseball all wrong – man with four balls cannot walk.”

Upon returning to Jinan we were able to catch a bit of New Year’s fun and bring in 2007 with a night out on the town.


Christmas travels

December 28, 2006

qingdao_2qingdao_4qingdao_1Looking somewhat like a Muslim is how Sally presented herself to the world on Christmas Day. Nothing religious in intention; just what one has to do to keep healthy in air that knocks most Westerners about.

Air, that makes for great sunsets and sunrises. Big red sun filtering through the smog is always dramatic. Makes me think fondly of Los Angeles.

And, when one does get sick, Chinese herbal medicines are readily available.

Speaking of Christmas, what a traveller’s ordeal. On the Friday before, while we were at police headquarters applying for an extension to Sally’s visa we were told that she would have to hand in her passport while the visa was being processed over the next five working days. This meant that we would not be able to travel to the coastal city Qingdao for the weekend as all hotels are required to see one’s passport (photocopies aren’t accepted). So, we left without the visa extension, but fully aware that her visa would expire on Christmas Day and that we would need to be back in Jinan, at this same police station, before 4PM on that Monday or else risk Sally being deported.

I mean, why stay in Jinan over the Christmas weekend when we could be hanging out in the town settled by the German’s at the turn of the last century and made famous by their brewed beer, Tsingtao? Let’s take a chance. We’ll get back in time.

qingdao_6qingdao_5The bus for Qingdao was around a 5 hour trip. Rather comfortable, with a bus stewardess offering tea and snacks. The view out the window, though, was disconcerting as visibility was very limited because of a combination of fog and high pollution. Our hope was that, as we approached the coast, the air quality would improve. Not to be. We arrived in brownish air at a different bus station than the one described in the Lonely Planet. The view from the hotel balcony was somewhat surreal. Luckily, a sea breeze followed the tide in, blew out most of the pollution and revealed more of the harbour and its surrounds.

On a larger scale the air quality prevented the taking of dramatic, sweeping views of the city and its mountains. qingdao_9qingdao_15qingdao_14qingdao_11However, like I mentioned in last week’s blog, the real beauty of the city was to be found in the small: the splashes of colour and detail found in bamboo gardens, street side flower arrangements of cabbage (they grow in the winter), pine paths along the coast, buckets of seeds and beans for sale at market stalls and the relatively quiet, incense infused temples.

So…. Early on Christmas Day we awake at 6AM to get a taxi to take us to the bus station to make sure we get back to Jinan on time to deal with the visa extension. We have no tickets; we don’t even know what time the bus leaves (staying at the cheaper hotels usually means forfeiting the right to have an English speaking person on the other side of the counter answering all your travel questions about how to purchase tickets, etc.). Anyway, we get to a bus station of sorts, but there is no one around, just a cleaning woman sweeping dust out of the doorway. The taxi driver gets out and talks to her. He comes back and says: “xxxxx, xxxx, xxxxx, xxxxx,xxxxx.” We don’t understand a word, but the implication is that we are in trouble. After a bit of struggle with our language differences and a bit of scribbling on a scrap of paper, the taxi driver was able to convey to us that there were no buses because the road to Jinan was closed due to fog.
The one and only option is the train. So, a mad dash through thickening traffic to the train station to meet up with everyone else trying to get to Jinan. Next, find the ticket counter (no English anywhere, just Chinese characters). Then, try to purchase a ticket for the next “fast” train to Jinan (four and a half hour trip instead of seven).

What time will the train arrive? I receive several answers; all, though, should get us into Jinan in time to make it to the police headquarters. We manage to get two upper berths in the sleeper carriage. Tight squeeze with a smoker below, but who’s complaining? We made it.

We even got back in time for some Christmas music in our hotel lobby and a bit of roast turkey at a nearby Kiwi, western restaurant.


Red and Gold

December 19, 2006

Looking out of the hotel window here in Jinan (a relatively small city by Chinese standards of 5 million where Sally is studying Chinese Medicine at a TCM hospital) the haze and numerous undistinguished buildings make it not unlike any other polluted global city. jinan_2However, what I am finding out is that the city’s visual beauty lies hidden in cultural detail. One aspect of this being the usage of the colours red and gold.

jinan_4On the cold, windy peak of Thousand Buddha Mountain, the leafless bushes are brought to life with red strips of prayers and well wishes, while nearby, golden locks symbolizing fidelity and long lasting love contrast easily with the red cloth.

jinan_3jinan_5Peeking through the prayer strips, the giant statue of the Buddha at the foot of the mountain brings life to an otherwise barren winter landscape. It stands well over 150 feet/40 metres tall.

In courtyards, winter’s trees are warmed, and, in temple doors, red and gold peek through smoky incense.


For tired legs, the best part and most appreciated of this past weekend’s hike up the sacred Thousand Buddha Mountain was being able to descend a portion of it in a way that was totally carbon neutral. From the country where mass bicycle usage for transportation is a great environmental asset, coming off the sacred Buddha mountain on a sled was a hoot.