|Title:Taiwan Tour 14-18 March, 2018|
Uncovering Treasures in Taiwan: Collectors Circle Taiwan Tour
Peggy Pik Ki Ho (Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong)
Splendid Feast of Sensations: H. C. S. Arts Foundation (14 March afternoon)
Enjoying the spring breeze of Taipei, the tour received a warm welcome from Mr. Gary K. C. Ho (何國慶), Ms. Beatrice Hsieh (謝佩霓) and Dr. Kuo-hau Wu (吳國豪) at the well-known H. C. S. Arts Foundation (何創時書法藝術基金會), which houses numerous calligraphies of the Ming and Qing dynasties and the Republican Era. Being a good storyteller and sophisticated collector, Mr. Ho deciphered the poems in cursive scripts for us and recalled the memories of his beloved father Ho Chuang Shih (何創時), who often wrote poems with ink and brush:
“Of wine, won’t you drink one last cup with me? 勸君更盡一杯酒，
By practising the favourite verses from “Song of Wei Town” (渭城曲) by Wang Wei (王維), the grief of war was transcended. The calligraphy foundation was established in the name of his father to share the healing power and beauty of Chinese cultural relics. Mr. Ho invited two guqin masters to play “Running Water” (流水) and “Thinking of an Old Friend” (憶故人) for us. Surrounded by exquisite works by Huang Daozhou (黃道周), Wang Duo (王鐸), Fu Shan (傅山), Mei Qing (梅清), Shi Tao (石濤) and tasting Taiwanese tea and cakes, the splendid feast of sensations marked an unforgettable afternoon for our members.
Stunning Beauty of Royal Taste: National Palace Museum (15 March morning)
The generous support of Dr. Pei-chin Yu (余佩瑾), the Chief Curator of the Department of Antiquities, facilitated a private viewing of porcelains and a visit to the Conservation Centre. The presence of the Cup with Design of Chickens, Rocks and Flower in Doucai colour, Chenghua reign brought the excitement of our members to a climax. Conservation processes, tools and techniques of rare books, painting and calligraphy and textiles were introduced. In addition, Ms. Lan-yin Huang (黃蘭茵) and Ms. Wen-e Tung (童文娥) gave us guided tours for the two exhibitions: “Pleasingly Pure and Lustrous: Porcelains from the Yongle Reign (1403-1424) of the Ming Dynasty” and “Celebrations Lighting Up the Night: A Special Exhibition.” The transparency of the Bowl with Impressed Four-seasons Flowers Decoration in Sweet-white Glaze was eye-catching. The painting Activities of the Twelve Months: The First Month by court artists of the Qing dynasty portrays the appreciation of blossoms and lanterns during the Lantern Festival. Both the purity and blossom colouring projected the superb artistic achievement of the royal taste of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Joy of Sharing: Mr. Tsai I-ming’s Collection and His Family (15 March afternoon)
In the afternoon, our members were hosted by Mr. Tsai I-ming (蔡一鳴), the founder of the Ching Wan Society (清翫雅集) formed by famous collectors in Taiwan. He loves Chinese antiques partly because of the influence of his classmate’s elder brother Mr. J. M. Hu (胡惠春), one of the founding members of Min Chiu Society in Hong Kong. Mr. Tsai made our trip worthwhile by giving us the opportunity to view some unique and meaningful pieces, including the Famille Rose Moon Flask Vase with Design of Quail and Magpies, paintings by Fu Baoshi (傅抱石), Qi Baishi (齊白石), Li Keran (李可染) and Zhang Daqian (張大千). According to Bobby, Mr. Tsai’s son, his family believe that the key to being a successful collector is to assume the responsibility to share and educate others. We not only appreciated the beauty of Mr. Tsai’s collection, but the meticulous preparation and the attentive hospitality by the Tsai’s family warmed our hearts. Our group would like to express our gratitude to the tour leader, Mr. Edwin Mok, as he is a good friend of Bobby and his wife Fifi.
The Surprising Charm from outside China: National Palace Museum, Southern Branch (16 March)
In the third day of the journey, Dr. Pei-chin Yu and Miss I-fen Huang (黃逸芬) led our members to the Southern Branch of the National Palace Museum in Chiayi. We viewed several exhibitions including “Celebrating the Year of the Dog: A Special Exhibition of Festival Themed Collections”, “Heavenly Crafted from Hindustan－A Special Exhibition of Exquisite South Asian Jades” and the like, with a guided tour by Miss Wan-hsuan Lin (林宛萱) and Miss Yu-wen Weng (翁宇雯). The first one featured canines to celebrate the Year of the Dog. It included four of Giuseppe Castiglione’s famous set of monumental hanging scrolls “Ten Fine Hounds”, which were the superstars of the show. Meanwhile, the exotic beauty of Mughal jades was beyond our expectations. Rulers of the Empire enthusiastically recruited skilled European and Persian craftsmen to provide jade carving skills. Among a wide variety of arts and crafts flourishing within Mughal Empire territory, jades became one of the brightest stars. There were 142 pieces exhibited in the show. Part One of the exhibition features jades used by the Mughal emperors and nobility in their daily lives, while Part Two explores the Qianlong emperor's aesthetic point of view through his poetry. Part Three utilizes non-Mughal Indian jades to introduce the local characteristics of Indian regional states situated outside the empire, yet still influenced by Mughal culture. Leaving the Southern Branch, Mr. Wang-Hen Wu (吳望亨) showed us the gorgeous architecture created by Taiwan’s dream team Kris Yao Artech (姚仁喜大元建築工場) before sunset.
Experiencing Rurality of Taiwan: Lanyang Museum and the National Centre for Traditional Arts in Yilan (17 March)
We travelled to Yilan County visiting two spots favoured by local people, Lanyang Museum and the National Centre for Traditional Arts. Winning many awards including the International Architecture Awards in 2012, Lanyang Museum was built next to Wushi Harbour (烏石港) as a place where visitors can learn about the history, culture, landscape, and natural beauty of Yilan. The Director of the Museum, Dr. Bi-Lin Chen (陳碧琳), explained that the museum was designed by Kris Yao, who was inspired by local natural elements such as the cuesta, a rock-form commonly found along the northeast coast of Taiwan. The building is truly a unique design, which, at a distance, resembles a giant black rock (paying homage to Wushi Harbour, or Black Rock Harbour).
That afternoon, we went to the National Centre for Traditional Arts located by the Dongshan River (冬山河) in Wujie Township (五結鄉). The goal of the Centre is to support and promote craftsmanship such as glass and wood crafts, and dyeing with natural ingredients. The park has become an important tourist attraction in Yilan.
|Title:India: Delhi, Ahmedabad, Vadodara - Nov 5 -12 November 2017|
The Jewels of Gujarat
by Diana Williams.
Thirteen of us met up at a hotel in Delhi, not far from the airport for a very early departure by air next morning to the capital of Gujarat, the unpronounceable “Ahmedabad”, considered the Manchester of India in days gone by. We had all come from the far corners of the earth; a meeting of Friends, old and new.
Gujarat, where we were to spend the next eight days is a “dry” state. We would be savouring excellent vegetarian food, in what is the westernmost state of India where ninety percent of the population is of Hindu belief. Ahmedabad, where the old Calico Mills operated, was one of India’s leading textile production and trade centres from as early as the 15th Century.
We encountered few overseas tourists anywhere on our trip compared to other parts of India, which made for a refreshing change.
Our first visit of note in Ahmedabad was to the renowned “Calico Museum of Textiles and the Sarabhai Foundation Collections” founded in 1949 and inaugurated by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Our visit was much enjoyed as we wandered through an amazing old palatial Haveli housing an eclectic collection of textiles. We also found ourselves wandering through well-tended bamboo groves and gardens to continue our visit to the ‘Chauk’, which housed royal tents, carpets, and textiles for India’s export trade as well as regional ethnographic textiles.
We were in awe of our docent throughout the visit as she efficiently imparted her information with a unique approach to museum guiding, by managing to incorporate her philosophy while imparting the facts.
Another aspect to Gujarat is the architectural wonders which are unique to the area. We visited amazingly constructed and adorned temples and baths (stepwells), which are well preserved and truly worth seeing in one’s lifetime. Of particular note is the sun temple in Modhera, constructed in 1026/1027 AD, one of few shrines in India dedicated to the Sun God. There is a pond/ bath/ stepwell on the site, which is impressive and the first of its kind that we saw on the trip.
We later visited the Unesco World Heritage site of Patan, the 11th C Queen’s stepwell, Rano ki Vav, which is a fine example of subterranean well architecture. Gugerat has two distinct seasons, one of rains with flooding and one of very dry weather. In the 11th to 12th C, Patan was the capital of the Gugerat Kingdom and much of the stepwell and other hydraulic architecture aimed at water conservation for the dry season, was constructed by Royalty at that time for the welfare of the people.
There was also a visit to a private Ikat Museum owned by one of the last surviving double Ikat-weaving families, after which some of our purses were a tad lighter, as we left clutching our treasures. We also visited Vadodara, where we were treated to High Tea at the Laxmi Vilas Palace and had Royalty join us for a brief chat before we departed. It is still occupied by the descendants of the Royal Family who built it in 1890. This enormous palace is difficult to define architecturally, but the best nomenclature would be Indo-Saracenic Revival Architecture. It is said to be the biggest residence ever built, being four times larger than Buckingham Palace and is surrounded by beautiful grounds said to be more than 500 acres in size. It was difficult to take a picture of the entire building…
Last on our busy itinerary was a visit to the medieval capital of Gujarat, Champaner, built in the 8th C AD, where we spent time at the Pavagarh Archeological Park, also a Unesco World Heritage site. The park consists of a collection of largely unexcavated examples of pre-Mughal Islamic architecture. The 1523 AD Great Mosque represents a wonderful blend of Hindu and Islamic architecture, which became the model for later mosque architecture in India.
After an interesting and varied introduction to the Jewels of Gujarat, we all dispersed to return to our various places of abode, another Friends’ Trip much enjoyed by all.
|Title:Jingdezhen 7 - 11 September 2017|
A taste of Jingdezhen – Ceramics Capital of China
by Gillian Kew
The first image that popped into my head when I started writing about this Friends tour was that of food! I know that it should have been ceramics, since we saw oodles and oodles of pots, jars, vases, and boxes; and enough dining, cooking, and drinking paraphernalia to sink the Titanic – again! Even the lamp-posts were covered in blue and white ceramics - an amazing sight for someone who was visiting Jingdezhen for the first time and had clearly not done her research! But for me, it was remembering the food that started my juices flowing. We always eat well on Friends tours but the food at every stop on this tour was superb; not fine dining, but fresh, clean, simply cooked, simply served, and plenty of it (too much in some instances).
We even ate locally grown, organically produced vegetables after our tour of the Dongjiao Centre’s organic farm in Jinkeng village. And this place was a real eye-opener. As well as farming, the Dongjiao Centre is also the recipient of an annual grant from the Sir Percival David Foundation Trust, in recognition of their work in preserving, protecting, and promoting Chinese ceramics. This small group of local enthusiasts was inspiring!
Our main purpose, of course, was to experience china (or porcelain, if you prefer) from the Kaolin pits through to the Ancient kilns and more modern production methods in Jingdezhen, accompanied by our expert guide, Dr Guanyu Wang, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the CUHK Art Museum, who got us off to a good start with her revealing talk on the history of Jingdezhen’s ceramics, and kept us “topped up” with nuggets of information as we visited different museums and sites. We also had a good local guide to provide more local information and to corral the stragglers during our longer walks.
For over a thousand years Jingdezhen was recognized for the beauty and artistry of its ceramics, the bustling town that supplied porcelain wares to the Emperors of China. The downfall of imperialism in the twentieth century and the devastation of the Japanese occupation led to the destruction of the majority of Jingdezhen’s kilns and the area fell into disrepair. Under the new Communist Regime, Jingdezhen experienced some resurgence, as porcelain became a useful propaganda tool to remind the world of China’s inventiveness, craft, and expertise. Gifts were made for foreign dignitaries such as President Nixon, and porcelain statues were created to mark important events. However, this resurgence was jeopardized as the new Market Economy under Deng Xiaoping led to the breaking of the “iron rice-bowl”. Jingdezhen, struggling once again, had to wait until the late 1990s for its next “life”, when the first ceramics village, “Sanbao” was founded by Jackson Li and Wayne Highby. This International Porcelain Arts Village is still very active, offering residency programmes and producing contemporary pottery.
We were privileged to visit both Sanbao and a more recent enterprise, the “Pottery Workshop and Creative Market”, founded in 2005 by Caroline Cheng. The market, which is open every Saturday morning, has over a hundred vendors, mostly young local artists. And Caroline exercises strict quality control – on the day we visited, she had already told two vendors they were no longer welcome because their goods did not meet her standards! As well as the market, Caroline runs courses and residencies, has her own design studio and shop, and a small café where we enjoyed a break surrounded by her work and that of her students.
There were plenty of opportunities to enjoy the history of the area, including visits to the Jingdezhen China Ceramics Museum, learning about governance during the Qing Dynasty, and a visit to Yaoli Old Town. Our “cross-country walk” in Yaoli, where we navigated a somewhat scary-looking bridge over the river, gave us the chance to experience what life must have been like for the original ceramics producers, who had to mine the stone and transport it across difficult terrain. There we saw the hammer mills that crush the Yaoli porcelain stone, the pottery wheels, and the ancient dragon kilns nestled in the wild countryside.
Other highlights included the giant sculptures and vases at the porcelain factory in Jingdezhen. At only five feet tall, I was dwarfed by some of these magnificent monsters and truly impressed by the ingenuity and artistry of their creators. And, of course, there was time to shop! We enjoyed shopping in Yaoli Old town as well as wandering around the night market near our hotel – some great bargains, but (more important to me) the chance to talk to some of the young artisans selling their products. And finally, a surprise treat from our local guide, who took some of the group to the early morning market and came back with Song Dynasty shards for us to share. I now proudly display my two pieces of broken pottery alongside my other china – little pieces of history, perfect in their imperfection.
|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 !