|Title:Japan - 25 November - 3 December 2016|
Japan: 'The Arts Constellation' A journey through tradition and modernity
by Michele Ferguson
The harmonious blending of art, architecture, and nature that we encountered on the Friends tour of Japan was an inspiration for the contemplation of beauty, the natural world, and our place in it. Our journey was a unique opportunity to join a diverse group of travellers, all of whom share a passion for art and an interest in Japan, its culture, traditions, and contemporary life.
The Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum at Mure near Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku was the first of many extraordinary experiences. Noguchi's work is steeped in the spirit of the land, echoing his belief that sculpture is a way of teaching people about nature and that art should become one with its surroundings. This place was his refuge. Here the great Japanese-American artist worked on large stone sculptures and created a sculpture garden of such meditative beauty that it continues to inspire artists and visitors.
We looked out to the world beyond as he would have done, and onto the garden area where stone works were placed like performers on a stage. We saw streams of stone and imagined the sound of running water. Around the studio were more sculptures, artworks, and tools.
My expectations were high for the art islands of Teshima, Inujima, and Naoshima in the Seto Inland Sea. I had heard tales of their extraordinary installations and wanted to see the ways in which contemporary art had contributed to the revitalisation of these islands. I had also heard it was complicated to arrange travel to the islands. Travelling with the Friends was a different story! We crossed the Inland Sea in the comfort of a private boat as our tour leader, Keiko Packard, spoke about the islands and shared her knowledge with us.
Teshima, our first island, had been a prosperous agricultural area until the 1970s when it became an illegal dumping ground for industrial waste. It is now undergoing environmental restoration. Our local guide, Yoshi Ohora, took us to Christian Boltanski's Les Archives Du Coeur where we had our heartbeats recorded and heard the amplified heartbeats of others drawn from thousands of stored recordings.
Teshima linked into the Seto Sea art expansion when the Teshima Art Museum opened in 2010. Sited on a hillside like a drop of water fallen to the ground, the graceful curved structure nestles alongside thriving rice fields. The vision of artist Rei Naito and architect, Ryue Nishizawa, this astonishing creation comprises a thin white concrete shell without pillars. Two oval openings bring in light and bird sound. Tiny drops of water rise from a natural spring, streaking across the floor in thin, silvery lines.
We also saw the Teshima Yokoo House, an old building renovated to display Yokoo's artworks, and the Shima Kitchen, a popular restaurant reconstructed from an old building that connects people to art through food.
Inujima, our next stop, is home to the intriguing Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, which opened in 2008 on the site of an abandoned copper refinery. How fascinating to see new plants slowly creeping across the preserved remains of old chimneys and other structures. The new buildings were designed by architect Hiroshi Sambuichi, while artwork by Yukiori Yanagi references the Japanese post-war writer, Yukio Mishima, who warned of the dangers of modernisation.
Also on the island is the Inujima Art House project, developed by artistic director, Yuko Hasegawa, and architect, Kazuyo Sejima. It comprises art installed in small spaces constructed from local materials and in old, converted houses.
What does the future hold for these islands as their small, aging population diminishes? Art is a key to attracting visitors, yet the issue of increasing the permanent population seems unresolved.
As dusk fell and the islands turned to indigo, our boat arrived at Naoshima's Benesse House. Designed by Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, Benesse House Museum opened in 1992 as the central facility within Benesse Art Site Naoshima. Its theme is the co-existence of nature, architecture and art. Ando's later buildings on Naoshima include the Chichu Art Museum, Lee Ufan Museum, Ando Museum, and new accommodation at Benesse House.
We had close encounters with artworks in galleries and guest rooms, in the buildings, the gardens, and along the seashore. It was astounding! Japanese artists whose work we saw included Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kazuo Katase, Yayoi Kusama, Shinro Ohtake, and Kan Yasuda. Among the other artists were Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Jean Michel Basquiat, Frank Stella, Antony Gormley, Yves Klein, Alberto Giacometti, Niki de Saint Phalle, Nam June Paik, and Cai Guo-Qiang.
In the Chichu Museum, Tadao Ando's quiet, poetic spaces house its permanent collection: five water lily paintings by Claude Monet, Time/Timeless/No Time by Walter Maria, and three works by James Turrell. Although much of the building is underground, natural light is the sole source of illumination.
Walking through Naoshima's Honmura district we saw the seven houses of the Art House Project, each transformed by a different artist.
On Shikoku, we had the opportunity to explore some of the more traditional and historic aspects of Japan. At Shikoku Mura, an open air "village" museum, 33 old buildings and structures have been reconstructed in their original forms. The entrance, a shaky timber and vine suspension bridge, was an exciting introduction to the farmhouses, storehouses, workshops, and the historic lighthouse.
Our introduction to the elaborate world of Kabuki took place at Japan's oldest Kabuki theatre, the Konpira Grand Theatre, also known as Kanamaru-za. Built in 1835 the theatre is still a home for Kabuki, retaining its original Edo atmosphere.
Strolling through the rich autumn colours of historic Ritsurin Garden was a rare pleasure, around every corner we came across another exquisite gem. This famous garden was designed for a local feudal lord, later opening to the public after the Meji Restoration. More garden delights were in store in Kyoto. On the last night of autumn, we walked up to Kiomizu-Dera Temple to see spectacular red foliage bathed in theatrical lights.
Beyond Kyoto, we visited the Miho Museum designed by Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei, and sited in a hillside. While the roofline reflects traditional Japanese architecture, great glass structures bring light and modernity into the interior. We were fortunate that our visit coincided with an exhibition of the work of 17th century ceramic artist, Kenzan.
The Sagawa Art Museum, also outside Kyoto, focuses on expressions of the spirit of Japanese art. Exquisite ceramic work by Raku Kichizaemon was displayed in stunning surrounds. In the adjoining tea room we gained an appreciation of the tea ceremony, its ceremonial preparation, and presentation.
Food was an important part of our tour. It was a delight to taste Japan's fresh, seasonal produce and so many delicious snacks along the way. We had a lot of fun and memorable meals, from a simple bowl of fresh udon noodles to the delicate beauty of a Kaiseki dinner at Benesse House Museum, all embodying the Japanese belief that food should be enjoyed with all the senses.
Our tour was a fascinating journey of discovery and a tribute to the organisers, tour leader and former Chair of the Friends, Keiko Packard, supported by Belinda Piggott and Therese Lesaffre, and Keiko's assistant, Seiko Kobayashi, who had the dual roles of advance scout and boundary rider.
|Title:China - Shanxi. Friends 35th Anniversary Tour. November 2016|
Five days in the birthplace of Chinese culture by Linda Ferguson
The name Shanxi means “West of the Mountains”. Shanxi is located on a high loess plateau between two mountain ranges, Taihang to the east and Luliang to the west. The Yellow River forms the southern border and the Great Wall of China separates it from Inner Mongolia to the north. Shanxi province is the birthplace of Chinese culture with archaeological records dating back more than 3,000 years to the Zhou Dynasty. Today the loess plateau is heavily eroded, arid, and bleak, but in the past, it was fertile agricultural land. This area, with its rich historical past, was a very suitable destination for the Friends 35th Anniversary Tour.
Our journey began early Saturday morning with a private car pickup from our doorstep; what luxury! Within a few hours we were driven from Hong Kong to the Shenzhen airport to catch our flight to Taiyaun, the capital of Shanxi province.
Our first stop in Taiyuan was at the Grand Courtyard of the Chang Family compound. This “compound”, which could more accurately be called a small town, was built in the Qing dynasty by a Chinese merchant family involved in the tea trade between Fujian province and Russia. This sprawling complex, which was built up over a two hundred year period by successive members of the Chang family, boasts over 1,500 houses, 40 communal buildings and more than 6.7 square kilometres of land. It is described as a fusion of northern and southern Chinese architectural styles, but what struck me was the incorporation of western design elements and motifs. Many of the buildings had western inspired carvings and the manmade lake on the northern edge of the compound, and with its lawns, orchids, and ornamental trees, felt very European. The Chang family must have been very cosmopolitan, with business interests from southern China to northern Europe, and their family compound reflected this. It was truly unique, unlike any other Chinese Family compound I have seen.
After dinner at the hotel we were treated to a lecture by Dr Xu Xiaodong on the history of the Bronze and Jade artefacts that had recently been discovered in Shanxi province. These items were found in a series of tombs belonging to the Jin State, one of the feudal kingdoms during the Western Zhou period (685-591 BCE). They provide a near continuous record of the Jin burial system. The next morning, we went to the Shanxi Provincial Museum in Taiyuan to see the items for ourselves. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The Museum was very well organized, our Museum guide was very knowledgeable, and the bronzes and jades were spectacularly beautiful.
We also visited the Taiyuan Museum of Contemporary Art. This recently opened museum was designed by the American architect, Preston Scott Cohen. The building itself was beautiful, but unfortunately for me, I was less impressed with the artwork on display. Then it was back on the bus for the 2-hour drive to Pingyao.
Pingyao is a well-preserved, traditional Han Chinese city, with buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. During the 19th century it housed more than 20 bank headquarters and was the financial centre of China. We visited one such building, the Ri Shang Chang, now a museum. We had about an hour to wander around the old city and visit the many small shops. Pingyao black vinegar is one of the specialties of the town, and we were so impressed with the shop owners’ descriptions of the health benefits of drinking vinegar every day, that between us we bought over 10 litres. I’m not sure if it will actually make us healthier, but it is worth a try!
We headed north to Datong to see the Yungang Grottoes. This is one of the most famous ancient Buddhist temple sites in China. There are over 250 grottoes dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries, described by UNESCO as a “masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art... [that] ...represent the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions”. The grottoes were constructed over a 70-year period during the Northern Wei Dynasty. They have been modified and repaired over the centuries so what you see today is an amalgamation of many different styles. Some of the statues in the grottoes are huge, with the largest being over 17 metres tall. In some instances the Buddha’s face looks out through an opening in the rock face, as if Buddha is peering through a window onto the world. I’m not sure if this was the original design intent or if it was the result of erosion of the rock face, but it was very moving.
On the fourth day, we headed southeast to the Wu Tai Mountains to the Xuankong Hanging Monastery, which had also been built during the Northern Wei dynasty. Perched on a cliff face above a small river, the monastery is remarkable for its combination of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian relics within a single structure. We were able to walk (or rather, climb) around inside to admire the artefacts and artwork. The structure looks more precarious than it actually is, with oak crossbeams fitted into holes chiselled into the cliffs to provide structural integrity. I suspect that the Chinese government carried our extensive repairs before it was opened to the public, including the construction of concrete steps and guard rails to ensure that visitors and the faithful do not fall to their deaths!
After the excitement of the hanging temple, we drove for three hours drive to the sacred Buddhist mountain of WuTai Shan. Associated with Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom, who is the special guardian of Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism, much of the temple architecture has a “Tibetan” look to it. A testament to the religious piety of the area, Tibetan monks, dressed in their distinctive red robes, wandered the village streets. The area is home to over 53 sacred monasteries, mostly from the Ming Dynasty but some go back as far as the Tang Dynasty. Unfortunately, we only had time to visit a few of them. My personal favourite was the upper terrace of the Tayuan Monastery. It was a bit of climb to get there, but the view from the top was spectacular and well worth the effort.
Exhausted but happy, we celebrated a successful tour at the Wutai Friendship Hotel in Taihuai village, where we enjoyed a traditional Chinese banquet before retiring for the night, in readiness for an early start for our long journey back to Hong Kong and modernity.
|Title:China: Kaiping Diaolou 20 - 22 November 2015|
by Amanda Thomson
Kaiping county in the Pearl River Delta may only be 95 miles from Hong Kong, but to me, it was like a trip back in time to the New Territories of the 1980s. The countryside is dotted with duck and geese farms, small holdings, paddy fields, and Diaolou. I first read about these watchtowers in 2005 when this area obtained UNESCO status for the Diaolou and had long wanted to visit. Our three days in Guandong were spent looking at Diaolou and other historic buildings, and visiting Cang Dong village, a project where the village Diaolou, ancestral halls, school and other clan buildings have been carefully preserved to provide an understanding of village culture and life.
Our first stop of the trip was at the Overseas Chinese Museum in Jiangmen for an overview of Overseas Chinese history, which gave us a good understanding as to why and how so many Chinese, possibly up to 3 million from the region, left China between 1840 and the 1930s to travel to work overseas, and how they retained a bond with their home, often sending large sums of money to build mansions, schools, clan houses, and Diaolou in their hometown.
We then travelled to Kaiping county, where we saw our first Diaolou or watchtowers which were financed by Overseas Chinese, mainly between 1900 and 1939 to protect their families left at home from the bandit raids prevalent after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. These towers were usually of four to seven storeys and for the most part were not intended to be occupied full-time but were used only when bandits were in the vicinity and to store valuables. One of the most interesting aspects of these towers is that the adornments and designs on the buildings often reflect the international nature of the individuals who paid for them to be built including Roman columns, Baroque embellishments, Byzantine domes, and neo classical Chinese Renaissance decorations and paintings. This was particularly evident in the Zili village with its nine Diaolou and the Li Gardens mansions, which were still furnished in the style of the 1930s.
Some of the highlights of our visit were being welcomed into Cang Dong with a lion dance and the evening entertainment in the village, which included extracts from Cantonese Operas, songs, and music by village members, whilst we were treated to a banquet cooked by some of the ladies of the village. The warm welcome we received and the beautiful location made the evening a truly memorable experience. We were also fortunate to have a lecture from Dr Selia Tan, who leads the conservation project with Rocky Dang, and who was instrumental in obtaining UNESCO status for the Diaolou.
On the last day, we visited the Nanlou Diaolou built on the bend of the River Tan, where seven members of the Situ clan died fighting the Japanese. This was followed by a visit to the delightful town of Chikan with its riverfront rows of shophouses, built in the 1920s by Overseas Chinese. Once again the mix of Chinese and western styles of architecture were on show. Even the former cinema built to an art deco design would not have been out of place in a British, Australian, or American town of the 1930s.
We had some wonderful meals, including our last lunch where the rice noodles were made in front of us from rice harvested from fields next to the restaurant and from organic fresh local vegetables.
Our tour leader Peter Stuckey, with his endless patience, and Rocky Dang with his wealth of knowledge, energy, and untiring enthusiasm made this trip so much fun and so memorable. It was hard to believe we travelled such a short distance to see so much.
|Title:London - Oxford 30 September - 3 October 2015|
by Elizabeth Miles
One of the best things about Friends cultural trips is that doors are opened for us that are normally closed to the general public. This could not have been more true than on this visit to London and Oxford. Thanks to the reputation of the Friends and to the wide range of global contacts we have, Edwin Mok (Collectors Circle) and Therese Lesaffre (Tours) were able to use their valuable connections to give our small group unprecedented access to the British Museum, the Fan Museum, Bonhams auction house, Waddesdon Manor, Oxford University’s China Centre, the Ashmolean Museum and to both Wadham and St Hugh’s Colleges.
Waddesdon Manor was a revelation. A building more suited to the banks of the Loire than to rural Buckinghamshire, this is a grand house designed and built for entertainment by Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 and it now houses the Rothschild Collection, one of the world’s finest collections of decorative arts primarily from the 18th century. The history of the Rothschild family is fascinating. Ranging from medieval to modern, they were the greatest collectors of the 19th century and they bought only the very best pieces available. We were fortunate to be given a personal tour of the house and grounds organised by Anna Ellerton, a longtime Friends member and a guide and lecturer at the Manor. We also managed to squeeze in a small exhibition of the drawings of the sculptor, Henry Moore, providing a valuable insight into his sculptural works.
From Waddesdon, we sped off to Oxford and to the newly built and very beautiful Dickson Poon China Centre Building within the confines of St Hughes College and opened by the Duke of Cambridge only last year. Drawing upon Oxford’s historic relationship with China, the centre is destined to become the foremost place of study about China in the world. We were treated to a personal tour of the building and strolled through the Fellows gardens for tea at her home with the warden of St Hughes, Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC who produced some exceptionally good scones, not to mention chocolate cake!
After a very comfortable night in the rooms of Wadham College, which dates from 1610, we were treated to a most informative tour of the college, its chapel and delightful gardens by Professor Jeffrey Hackney, Emeritus Fellow and Lecturer in Law, who has recently marked over 50 years at the university. Sir Christopher Wren is perhaps the College’s most famous alumnus and designer of the clock in the historic front quad.
From Wadham, it was onwards to our final visit of the trip – the Ashmolean Museum and a private viewing of paintings from the Michael Sullivan collection of Chinese paintings, 2 exquisite but minute Chinese robes, and historic publications especially selected for us and discussed by the curator, Shelagh Vainker. We were able to spend a little time exploring the treasures of the rest of the museum (and of course the shop) before boarding our bus for London – tired but completely sated. It was a wonderful trip and I am already hoping that Edwin and Therese will start to plan another.
|Title:Mongolia 16 - 23 August 2015|
by Raymond Chu
My wife introduced me to the Friends of the Art Museum, and this trip to Mongolia was the first time I travelled with them.
Although I have visited Chinese Inner Mongolia many times, we decided to join this trip so that we could satisfy our curiosity and get an interesting introduction to Outer Mongolia.
The landing in Ulaan Baatar airport reminded me of China of 20 years ago, when China was just opening up for tourist travelling. Definitely, they will need to expand the airport and its immigration facilities to cope with the aircraft and the rush of tourists that can be expected in the near future.
This trip revealed many unexpected historical facts, which were provided by our professional Mongolian guide, “Sunny.” She was very proud of her country and happy to share her enthusiasm. Before, we had only learnt about Mongolian history from a Chinese point of view, for example, studying how the Great Wall was built against the nomads. Now we were introduced to a cultured civilization in the Hunnu Empire.
As Chinese, we tend to think Mongolians are just one of five types of people alongside the Han people and we see Genghis Khan as part of our Chinese history. Wasn’t Kublai Khan, the first Emperor of the Yuan dynasty, and part of Chinese traditional history? Now we see this more from the point of view of a unification of both Mongolian and Chinese history.
It was interesting to hear about the three episodes of history from Sunny who explained that there was a Turkish episode, a Mongolian episode, and a Chinese episode – so three versions of history to comprehend! Which viewpoint holds the most truth?
The most delightfully surprising thing was to see the beautiful natural landscape with such a vast, flat grassland (not really much grass, but many sweet smelling herbs) with horses, cows, sheep, and goats, who were all so relaxed and enjoying their grazing. Another surprise was to discover that 50% of the population still live as nomads in Mongolian “gers”, just as in centuries past (though these days, some have solar panels and satellite dishes!).
Participating in dismantling a ger and assembling it again definitely improved our understanding and appreciation of how quickly and easily they can be built and moved. This must have been a strong benefit in the past with its important function facilitating the mobility of an army force.
The special method of Mongolian “hoomi” throat singing left a deep impression on me, and the high tones of the Mongolian lady singing the special Long and Short Mongolian songs were amazing. They were so evocative of their “mother grasslands.”
Our visits to the Hustai National Park, seeing the last remaining wild horse species, to the ancient Erdene-zuu Monastery with its many well preserved thangkas, the Gobi rocky mountains, and the Terelj National Park, all gave me impressive memories.
The Tibetan Buddhism influence and the yellow hat sect had important influences on the daily life of the people. My only regret is there are not many tangible historical sites left from Genghis Khan and no palaces due to the nomadic lifestyle. The artifacts found are those now kept inside museums.
This is my short description of the tour and I definitely recommend others to join. Indeed, I am keen myself to join again in the future. It was very successfully organized and I wish to express my thanks for all the preparation for a wonderful trip.
|Title:Fujian Tour: The Tulous 15-19 May 2015|
The Tulous of Fujian - A memorable experience
by Gillian Kew
With today’s digital cameras we take thousands of photographs, storing them on USB sticks as “aides memoires” that we rarely see again; when we do, time has often blurred the memory as much as the picture is clear. I hope this will not happen with the Friends trip to Fujian because my memories of the trip are quite special. More random than linear, they pop up like the bobbing heads in the “whack-a-mole” carnival game; and I like it that way. That said, and to set the scene, my first memory does come from the start of this tour. After a minor accident on the plane I was left limping and wondering whether I could continue, but with the help of Peter, our amazing tour leader, the bamboo stick he found for me, and the various arms of my fellow travellers, this became a wonderful experience to remember.
The focus of our trip was, of course, the Fujian Tulous, solidly built, earthen wall and wood frame structures designed in a circular, inward-looking pattern with an open courtyard and only one entrance / exit. Built as much for defence as for living, they are several storeys high, and at their peak, housed up to 800 people. The fortified mud walls feature windows only above the second floor and overhanging roof tops, designed to protect against nature and man, with gun-holes in the top floor, suggesting that mankind was the most to be feared. And we had the privilege of staying there, in somewhat better conditions, with en-suite rooms (a hand-basin, squat toilet, and a shower over said toilet) and air conditioning. We were hardly living the life of the tulous clans-folk of years gone by, but we were given a taste. I loved sitting in the open courtyard in the early morning, drinking coffee and listening to the sounds of nature and waking humanity.
Travelling around the area we saw local tea plantations, temples, and an orchid farm famous for producing rare orchids. We were a little early in the season to see many blooms but were reliably informed that it was the leaves that mattered. It was an experience to witness row upon row of beauty in the making while we sipped local tea, surrounded by papaya, passion fruit, and osmanthus trees. Some of our group could not resist the tea: that phrase “all the tea in China” came to mind as they returned from each stop loaded up with yet more bags of the delightful leaf!
As well as some wonderful teas, we were treated to some exceptional local produce; meals were more like feasts! As well as soups and various meats, fresh, local vegetables were coupled with fish, seafood omelettes, local mushrooms and generous use of garlic and chillies in some of the dishes. Although some of the soups were a little bland, I learned that this is in keeping with the local food culture of allowing the natural flavours to speak for themselves. And in-between meals we could rely on Rocky to keep us well supplied with local fruits and a wide array of Hong Kong snacks!
No tour would be complete without some local culture and we were treated to an exceptionally fine puppet show in the courtyard of the tulous, as well as an afternoon of local music, and a demonstration of local wine production, which included a tasting that somewhat made up for the belligerent skies that opened up and barely ceased to pour forth that day. We were also very fortunate to be given talks by Dr. Selia Tan, on orchids, the Fujian Tulous, and local conservation and heritage issues. During her final talk we learned of her successful fight to gain UNESCO World Heritage Status and preserve the crumbling Tulous, and of her current project, the Kaiping Village Conservation and Development Project to preserve the tangible and intangible cultural heritage and traditions of this area. To learn more, visit www.cangdongproject.org.
Our final night was spent in the luxury of Xiamen, although, truth be told, I missed the simplicity and tranquillity of my little “Tulous en suite”. There were no fire-spouting hair driers, over-priced bottles of water, or noisy crowds in the Tulous! That said, our final dinner in Xiamen was excellent. Our guides, Rocky and Peter made sure that it was special, as we were able to choose from a vast buffet, as well as excellent a la carte selections. But even then, it was more about the company – relative strangers had become friends and we had all enjoyed the experience immensely. As I left my (by now fraying) bamboo stick behind and headed for home, I was, and remain grateful to have travelled and learned with a great group of Friends and our supportive and knowledgeable Tour Leaders, Peter Stuckey and Rocky Dang.
|Title:Yunnan: Tea Horse Trade Road And Ethnic MInorities : 12-18 March 2015 |
Museums Visit - by Sandra Yuen
On day one, our first visit was to the Dongba Museum where we were most fortunate to be able to view the Naxi Cultural Exhibition. The sysem of pictographic glyphs used by the Bon priests of the Naxi people of southern China was particularly interesting, just one exhibit of many, as we were guided through these wonderful cultural links to their history. The pictographs appear to be an independent ancient writing system, created by the founder of the Bon religious tradition of Tibet. From Chinese historical documents, it is clear that the script was used as early as the 7th century during the Tang dynasty and by the Sung Dynasty in the 10th century, it was used widely by the Naxi peope. Apparently it is the only pictographic language in the world still being actively maintained.
Our second day concluded with a visit to the Ancient Tea Horse Road Museum situated not far from our hotel in Lijian. This wonderful museum gave us a most interesting perspetive of the history of the ancient road. The Museum is also known as Dajuegong Palace, which used to be part of Chieftan Mu's mansion complex in Shuhe Town during the Ming Dynasty. Eight halls exhibit the history and routes of the ancient road.
The story of the Tea Horse Road started in the 11th century in the central plains of China, when the borders of the Sung dynasty (960-1279) were threatened by barbarian invasions. At the time good quality horses were crucial to warfare and control over the territory. The Sung emperors were compelled to deal with Tibetan tribes who supplied the Chinese with these special horses and in short, this is how the 'Tea Horse trade started.
Tea Planatation by Harriet Holbrook
The visit to the tea plantation was a lovely surprise. Sitting on Changsha Mountain with a gorgeous view of Dali and its pagodas in the distance, the small tea plantation was ready for some more than eager pickers. Our host taught us to pick only the fresh young leaves at the tip of the shoot, and sent us with baskets to our chores. While the men sat on the terrace and “supervised”, our strong women travelers waded into the neat rows of bushes and picked bright green new leaves from the tops of each plant.
Between us, we finally gathered enough and our host then taught us how to roast the leaves in several stages. The most industrious among us put on gloves and communally tossed the leaves in a large heated drum until they were roasted to perfection. We then proceeded into the beautiful stone walled tea room where our host brewed our pickings in the traditional Chinese tea ceremony style. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor as we calmly sipped some of the loveliest (and certainly the freshest) green tea ever!
Yunnan Food by Maria Ho
There were lots of local snacks available from street vendors. The more common ones were :-
1) Baba - a white potato pancake available in salty and sweet favours.
2) Naxi style fried white cheese - a soft white cheese cut into slices and then fried and served with sugar sprinkles.
3) The one you can't miss is the fresh rose pastry - It's a delicate flaky treat with a perfumed center of sugared rose petals.
4) We also bought strawberries and grapes that taste so fresh and delicious.
Unfortunately, our greediness meant that we were constantly full and hence didn’t have an opportunity to try the famous Cross-Bridge rice noodle "Guoqiao Mixian". This is a traditional and famous flavour of Yunnan. It is hot soup with a layer of oil and the meat, vegetables and noodles are cooked in the hot soup in front of you.
In Lijiang, we had wild fungi and matsutake mushrooms at almost every meal, thanks to its close proximity to Shangri-la. Fresh water fish is quite common too, which is either steamed or braised in local spicy sauces.
All over Lijiang ,we can find wide varieties of fruits and vegetables in most markets, which are very fresh and tasty. However, local restaurants use lots of oil in their cooking. I have to especially mention a private kitchen we went to in Dali, whose owner and chef had spent several years in France. It is located in a neat, two-storey bamboo building in the Old Town. Some delicious dishes include shredded goat cheese with balsamic vinegar, fried Wagyu beef with green peppers, fried river shrimp with basil, and rice with black truffle. You can also find Dom Perignon there !
|Title:From Doha to Iran : 25 April - 3 May 2015 Part 1|
From the Arabic Gulf to Persian cities by Deborah Wiley
The “jumping off point” for our week long trip, was one day in Doha – a very modern city on an azure blue bay that grew out of the desert but still very much a desert. With a population of 1.3 million people, only 400,000 are “natives” and the rest in service to the Qataris. The culture of Qatar has been acquired by the sheiks from their oil wealth to display to visitors their Arabic/Islamic ancestry.
A trip to Iran had a shroud of mystery to it for a Westerner. “Peeling back the veil” of mystery was very appealing to me. I went to Iran expecting to see lots of beautiful tiles and rugs and vowing to keep my mouth shut about topics of politics and religion. Well, what a breath of fresh air it was to arrive and find something completely different.
What we found were people approaching us at every venue we visited who wanted to take pictures with us. We found ourselves engaged in question and answer sessions – Where do you come from? What do you think of our country and the people of Iran? Coming from America I was pleasantly surprised at the number of times I was told how much the people liked our country.
The culture of Iran was far more than I expected. We heard beautiful poetry of Sa’adi and Hafez (13th and 14th century AD respectively) recited by our very passionate tour guide. We saw the once magnificent, now ruined, 2500 year old complex of palaces with preserved bas relief sculptures, beautifully detailed frescoes of historical scenes painted in the 15th century, tile paintings in palaces, large courtyard houses and mosques whose bright colors and details are as vivid today as when they were painted or made, and spectacular many acre formal gardens each with moving water, alleys of trees (cypress, elm, oak, plain trees and pomegranate), and roses, roses, roses….. the royal jewelry and carpets – all with intricate design and detail, patiently created by either expert craftsmen or nomads wandering north and south in the desert. The glories of the Silk Road were and are everywhere in Persia.
DOHA - by Ruth Phillipson
The Sheik Faisal Museum established in 1998, is miles from the city centre and the drive there afforded an insight into this harsh, flat, desert landscape. The Qatari style structure was built around several old wooden boats but as the Curator led us through hall after hall, some resembling aircraft hangers, we were constantly amazed at the amassed treasures. It appears that this private collector knows no bounds, with the exhibits ranging from old and antique cars, to coinage, Arabic prints and manuscripts, exquisite old Korans, fossils, weaponry, carpets, aircraft and even a gorgeous old house from Aleppo, lovingly reassembled, tile by tile, in the museum. The parting shot came as we learned that Sheik Faisal is working to house 650 more old cars! Whatever one thinks of this extraordinary and compulsive collector, it is certainly a vast treasury of Arabic history.
The Museum of Islamic Arts, Qatar, came as almost a relief after the Sheik Faisal Museum! Housed in a stunningly beautiful stone and glass masterpiece by I. M. Pei, it opened in 2008. The structure sits on a specially built island in Doha bay affording a welcome breeze on the extensive outdoor terraces. The cool, soaring interior was a joy to behold and the world class exhibits of ceramics, carpets, jewels, metalwork and textiles took our breath away! The collection spans 1,400 years of Islamic art and history and one could spend hours gazing in wonder at the exquisite colours and sheer artistry of the lighting and display. This museum is a feast for the eye and well worth a revisit.
TEHRAN AND KASHAN by Doris Lye
Tehran, population 14 million, and capital since 1796, was a surprise. What I imagined would be a bustling, dusty, drab city with a somewhat somber, oppressive atmosphere, turned out to be a dusty, busy but rather green city. There wasn’t a sense of oppression or submission on the part of the women. On the contrary, everyone we met, particularly the girls and women were warm, friendly, confident and lively.
Established in 1976 by the last queen, Farah Diba Pahlavi, the exterior of the Carpet Museum was built to resemble a carpet loom. It was bright and airy with a breathtaking collection of fine carpets from all over Iran dating back to the 18th century. As we gazed at beautiful carpets, some adorned with colourful profusions of flowers, others more staid, we could not help but admire the skill and creativity of the weavers in producing such wonderful works of art.
Next stop, the National Museum, designed by French architect André Godard and completed in 1928. We concentrated on the pre-Islamic collection. Among the notable exhibits were relics from Persepolis from the Archaemenid period, including a frieze of an audience scene of Darius I - or Xerxes I, a beautifully carved double bull-headed capital, a headless statue of Darius with hieroglyph inscriptions and a rather realistic statue of a sitting dog. We were told of the origin of the phrase “parting (Parthian) shot”. Parthians were reputed to be skilled horsemen and capable of turning back and firing arrow shots while riding away from their enemies. One striking exhibit was the Salt Man, so named as his body was found buried in a salt mine. Due to the salt, his head was amazingly well-preserved, and his long hair, beard and gold earring (still in his ear) indicated that he was a high-ranking person. Studies dated the body to 1700 years ago.
The Golestan Palace - Palace of Flowers-, a UNESCO World Heritage Site was another highlight. The Palace became the residence of the Qajar kings since Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar moved his capital to Tehran in 1796. The various buildings within the complex surrounded a large manicured garden. We were struck by the beauty of the tile work with its colourful variety of motives, some depicting scenes in Europe. One outstanding building is the Marble Throne, a richly decorated terrace on which sits a settee-sized throne made of yellow marble. Also a feast for the eyes was the jewel-toned stained glass, sparkling ornate mirror work and glittering chandeliers decorating some of the halls.
The Treasury of National Jewels is reputed to be one of the finest jewelry museums in the world. Jewel encrusted thrones, an emerald studded globe, crowns and tiaras (including those used by the last Shah at his wedding), aigrettes, water-pipe containers, boxes, daggers, rings, brooches, piles and piles of loose diamonds, spinel, strings upon strings of pearls from the Persian Gulf, and the Darya-i-Nur or Sea of Light, the largest pink diamond in the world, all of 182 carats, set into an aigrette worn by Nasser-ed-din-Shah, one of the Qajar kings.
Along our way to Kashan, we stopped in the city of Qom, to take photos of the beautiful domes of the shrines and mosques. Qom is considered a holy city by Shi’a Muslims and is home to the shrine of Fatime Masuma, sister of 8th Imam Ali al Rida. Honoured as a saint, her shrine is considered one of the most important pilgrimage destinations in Iran. The city is the largest centre for Shi'a scholarship in the world and we saw many clerics walking around the busy streets, some with black turbans and some white (black is worn by clerics who are descendants of the Prophet through one of the 12 Imams).
Our hotel in Kashan, the Ameri Family House was a traditional home built during the Zand era (1750-1794) by Agha Ameri, the governor of Kashan, and since converted into a boutique hotel. The traditional architecture is quite impressing. It has several lovely courtyards surrounded by a warren of rooms.
Two historic houses in Kashan, the Tabatabae House and the Borojerdi House were built for wealthy merchant families, and featured beautiful gardens, wall paintings, and intricate stucco mouldings. We learnt about the unique characteristics of Persian residential architecture. Of particular curiosity to us were the double knockers on the main door, one for men and one for women visitors which make different sounds so that the occupants know whether it is a man or woman at the door.
The Fin Garden, another UNESCO Heritage site on our itinerary is the oldest garden in Iran (completed in 1590). It is considered the epitome of the Persian garden; a lush refreshing green lung in the surrounding desert, with many water features, fed by water coming from a spring in the hills behind the Garden.
And as we drove into the desert towards Esfahan, it began to snow!
|Title:From Doha to Iran 25 April - 3 May 2015 Part 2|
DOHA by Ruth Phillipson
The Sheik Faisal Museum established in 1998, is miles from the city centre and the drive there afforded an insight into this harsh, flat, desert landscape. The Qatari style structure was built around several old wooden boats but as the Curator led us through hall after hall, some resembling aircraft hangers, we were constantly amazed at the amassed treasures. It appears that this private collector knows no bounds, with the exhibits ranging from old and antique cars, to coinage, Arabic prints, and manuscripts, exquisite old Korans, fossils, weaponry, carpets, aircraft and even a gorgeous old house from Aleppo, lovingly reassembled, tile by tile, in the museum. The parting shot came as we learned that Sheik Faisal is working to house 650 more old cars! Whatever one thinks of this extraordinary and compulsive collector, it is certainly a vast treasury of Arabic history.
The Museum of Islamic Arts came as almost a relief after the Sheik Faisal Museum! Housed in a stunningly beautiful stone and glass masterpiece by I. M. Pei, it opened in 2008. The structure sits on a specially built island in Doha Bay affording a welcome breeze on the extensive outdoor terraces. The cool, soaring interior was a joy to behold and the world class exhibits of ceramics, carpets, jewels, metalwork and textiles took our breath away! The collection spans 1,400 years of Islamic art and history and one could spend hours gazing in wonder at the exquisite colours and sheer artistry of the lighting and display. This museum is a feast for the eye and well worth a revisit.
ESFAHAN - The City containing ‘Half the World’ by Lim Heng Tan
After driving along the Zayanderud river –‘the Living River’- we enjoyed the view of the lighted-up Si-O-Se (bridge of 33 arches) built in AD1632. It was good to feel the clean fresh water of the Zayanderud River which originates from the Zagros Mountains and flows 400km across the dry central plateau of Iran passing Esfahan all the way to the Gavkhouni salt lake.
Over our time spent in Esfahan, the ancient capital of Persia (AD 1598-1722), our visits covered four places of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The Chehel Sotun Palace is a perfect example of the architecture making full use of sunlight and reflection, from the lovely ponds and fountains to capture the 20 reflected columns in the water and the 20 standing columns to make up the "40 columns" Palace. At the Jame Mosque, we saw Islamic art spanning a thousand years starting from AD 841. It remained the oldest preserved mosque structure of its type in Iran. The four-courtyard layout was adopted from the times of Sassanid palaces (3rd-7thC). The domes were built double-shelled, an architectural innovation in its day.
No one going to Esfahan would want to miss seeing the grandeur of scale and size of Iman Square, the second largest public square after Tian An Men. The Square is surrounded by buildings dating back to the Persian Safavid era AD1501-1736. It is a lively place for families, some enjoying riding in horse-carriages, and others picnicking in the garden. The original use of Imam Square was for polo-playing, a royal sport. The Ali Qapu Palace on the side of the Square was built for Safavid monarchs to sit on top to watch the polo-games below. A centre-piece of the Square is the 17thC wonder of the Sheikh Lutfollah Mosque, an iconic Safavid Iranian architecture built in AD1603-1618.
Unique in Esfahan is the Armenian quarter where the Vank Cathedral is located. The Armenians were first settled by Shah Abbas I after the Ottoman War AD1603-05. What struck us was the Cathedral had a huge Persian Islamic dome with a crucifix on the top. There are unusual murals showing explicitly the scenes of Heaven and Hell.
Esfahan is truly a garden-city. We walked through several grand gardens including the Hesht-Behesht. All had a similar theme of streams of water, beautiful roses, sound of birds and nightingales and the clever planting of the appropriate trees of sycamore, cypress and elm for providing copious cover to shade the people from the bright hot sun. Gardens as the Iranians said are a glimpse of the promised paradise in heaven.
The Abbassi Hotel, originally a caravanserai, offers a very large beautiful courtyard garden with majestic old trees surrounded by roses, a perfect sanctuary from the mad traffic and heat outside.
We had the pre-conceived notion that under a strict and tyrannical Ayatollah after the 1979 revolution, large Iranian cities like Esfahan would have moral/security police patrolling the streets. Esfahan, as well as the other cities we visited Tehran, Kashan, and Shiraz were free and open. In Esfahan the women were mostly in colourful dresses of different styles and the only dress-code they must have was a shawl to cover their head/hair and long sleeves for dresses to cover their hands, and trousers or skirts long enough to cover fully their legs. Many women in Esfahan were in heavy make-up and wearing high heel shoes!
SHIRAZ – The ‘City of Secrets’ by Vicki Firth
Shiraz came at the end of our trip after a short flight from Isfahan. With the ruins of world-famous Persepolis, and the tomb of Cyrus the Great nearby, it is certainly one of the most intriguing places to visit, a beautiful oasis of green and Persian gardens surrounded by stunningly bare mountains. It is a city of gardens and poets, drenched with romance.
Shiraz means ‘City of Secrets’, so named during the heyday of nearby Persepolis when secret documents were kept there. The famous vines could be seen lying forlornly on the distant hillsides surrounding the city, now making non-alcoholic grape juice and awaiting a much longed-for regime change. As our lovely guide told us “We Persians used to pray in private and drink in public. Now we have to pray in public and drink in private.”
This is a city steeped in centuries of poetry and literature, with Persian gardens in all directions. These gardens are distinctive in character surrounded by walls with trees and hedges forming ‘rooms’ inside the walls, and bursting with fragrant rose blossoms. Pomegranate and orange trees are everywhere, mixed among the larger trees like elm, beech and plane, providing delicious cover from the sun.
Inhabitants of Shiraz, numbering about 1.8 million, are known to be friendly, hospitable, easy-going, and picnic-loving. The graves of two famous poets, Hafez and Sa’adi, are situated in lovely flower-filled Persian gardens and frequented by many locals, especially young couples and students. The rich intellectual life of Shiraz features a university and an excellent medical school. Hospitals and clinics are of regional importance and Shiraz has become a medical hub for surrounding countries.
Persepolis still deserves its renown, even though so many its important pieces are in museums around the world. Situated on a huge platform (with stones comparable to those of the pyramids) at the base of a mountain range and overlooking a wide valley, its commanding position and grandeur cannot be underestimated. The huge elegant staircase leading up to the entrance is imposing yet easy to navigate. Friezes still extant illustrating processions to see the King are exciting for their artistic merit and educational in historic detail of the many different nationalities and cultures that came to pay homage.