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China

I take a “leaf in the wind” approach to traveling, relying less on planning and more on just doing whatever looks fun and interesting.  With that attitude I arrived in Beijing looking forward to ten days of adventure and discovery.  On my very first day I met a pair of nice young women who spoke English.  They invited me to have tea with them at a traditional Chinese tea shop, followed by drinks and karaoke at a nearby bar.  At first I was filled with the kind of joy that came from smug self-satisfaction.  I was seeing the real China, not the one manufactured by organized tours and guidebooks!  Well it wouldn’t have hurt to crack open a guidebook before I arrived in Beijing, because then I would have been aware of a scam where tourists are taken to overpriced bars and tea shops and bilked out of large sums of cash.  By the end of the evening those nice young women had taken me for nearly $300.  

Needless to say I was very upset once I realized I had been scammed.  Not just because of the money, but because once again I had reached out my hand in friendship only to have it slapped down.  I had struggled to make friends my whole life with little success.  Sometimes I tried too hard and sometimes I didn’t try hard enough, but either way I spent most of my time alone.  On the one hand it allowed me the independence to travel anywhere I wanted on my own terms, but on the other it fostered a deep sense of loneliness that made me fair game to any con artist with a smile and a few kind words.

I decided to get out of the city and visit Chengde.  The town is best known for Mountain Resort, an imperial palace and garden that served as the summer residence of China’s last emperors.  I went there with no intentions other than to look around, eat, and go back to the hotel.  The grounds were enormous and took all day to explore.  I was awed by the beauty of both the terrain and the buildings, some of which were older than the United States.  While walking through a field I thought I heard someone yell out “hello!”  I ignored it at first, but then I heard it again.  I turned around and saw a small group of people sitting underneath a tree, inadvertently making eye contact with the woman who had been calling out to me.  “Hello!” She shouted one more time as she gestured me to come over.  I suddenly found myself walking in her direction, reasoning that it wouldn’t cost me anything just to say hello.

The woman smiled and introduced herself as Lin, and then she introduced me to her two children, her sister, and her sister’s two children.  We sat and chatted until the sun began to set, and then she invited me to have dinner with them.  Despite the huge red flag being waved in my face, I said yes.  We ventured into town to a very nice restaurant, where we met up with Lin’s husband, brother-in-law, and parents.  Dinner was a meal fit for an emperor.  We enjoyed traditional Chinese dishes such as crispy peking duck, savory pork dumplings and tender steamed vegetables.  Only Lin spoke English well enough to carry a conversation, but the rest of the family was very friendly and tried to make me feel welcome.

Unfortunately due to my previous experience with friendly people I was unable to relax completely, fearing that I would be stuck paying for everything again.  Why did I agree to this?  Why was I such a sucker?  Why was I constantly setting myself up for crushing disappointment?  My questions were answered when the bill arrived.  Lin picked up the tab, expressed how happy she and her family were to meet me, and hoped I would enjoy the rest of my time in their country.  And I did.  I saw many amazing places and met many nice people, none of whom tried to rip me off.

The world isn’t always such a great place.  There are some people who will try to take advantage of you, and that doesn’t change just because you go on vacation.  Every time you put yourself out there you run the risk of getting burned, and sometimes you will.  But if that’s the price to pay for a lifetime of wonderful memories, then I’ll bring some burn cream when I set off on my next adventure.

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Serenity and Strength through Quiet Contemplation

China

On the tail end of a solemn, exhaustive and grief-filled trip to witness my grandfather’s passing, Dad and I made a stop in Hangzhou, a city in Zhejian Province, a quaint and naturally scenic spot southwest of Shanghai. We thought that a quiet diversion would cox our battered spirits into better shape place before returning to New York City. When we arrived, the sky was an even gray, the air awash with a light and cool breeze typical of the region’s spring. The bus dropped us off near West Lake, a sprawling expanse of water whose temperament ranges from that of a demure, crystalline portrait glass to that of a tempestuous, roaring stream. In fact, standing under an open, three-tiered Chinese gazebo, I was unsure if the lake even had an end were it not for the soft undulating hills obscured by clouds in the distance.

                We strolled for a while along the stone-paved shore, crossing a small arched bridge while admiring the willow tendrils strumming the air. Our minds absorbed the calm of the water and we escaped our recent loss by assuming the form of two small specks submerged in nature. Dad suggested we take a guided boat to learn more about the culture of the place. While the lake was lined with smaller rowboats, some built with rectangular dwellings covered by wood-thatched awings, ours was a modern double-decker engine with floor to ceiling windows. Once on, the guide began to explain the legend of Leifeng Pagoda, a five story high octagonal tower considered the defining feature of the West Lake estate. Like all great monuments, the Pagoda has now been built and rebuilt several times. The cause of one instance of damage can be explained by a myth claiming that the pagoda’s bricks could would cure miscarriages. The tower has been raided and burnt by Japanese invaders and even struck by lightning. I stare at the lofty structure, contemplating the layers of history that had transpired in its place, as the boat hums past.

                Later in the day, we travel to Linyin Monastery, an oasis of tranquility and spiritualism among an otherwise dense patch of wooden, residential homes.  As we walked from the bus toward the opening of the monastic grounds, we passed several middle-aged women roasting freshly picked tea leaves in open air woks. The sights and smells of the stirred, charred tea leaves set the mood for the impending introspection and meaning that awaited. Before stepping through the monastery’s gate, our minds were tested by two disfigured people, beggars cumbered by melon-sized tumors, laying dirty and ill in tattered clothes – living reminders of the ubiquitous suffering the Buddha embraced as inevitable to life.  I make a donation and proceed through the red, wooden archway under the words “Linyin Monastery,” written in forceful calligraphy by a now-retired president.

                An instant wave of serenity and peace break in my mind as I enter the hallowed Buddhist grounds. The air smells of the moss covering the gray precipices that lines the walkway. The outside world loosens its grip on as I indulge in the never-ending here and now – the plants, the stones, and the sentiments of the Buddhas carved into the side of the mountain. As we walk onward, we pass several gazebos – engraved wood covered in red paint, roofs lined with lacquered logs, their curved ends pointing toward the sky they worship. I separate from Dad and take a short side trail, climbing higher until I reached an open clearing containing a small five story pagoda. I can see the grounds of the monastery and beyond, open clear and full of possibility.

 After my descent, I rejoin Dad in the main courtyard, a space lined with tall pine trees and iron incense alters – large vats weighted by sand and adorned with burning incense that permeates the yard with smoke. People stream into and out of the temple; a single word “Buddha” hangs on pink parchment, blessing travelers and reminding them of the religion’s purpose. Though I am not Buddhist, I swing my legs over the high entrance barrier into the temple’s main hall, stare at the golden statues reposed in meditation, close my eyes and take deep breaths. As I enjoy the air flowing through my lungs – the same air that grandfather could no longer lift his chest to take in – I start praying softly and earnestly ‘may my family be well, may my family be well.’ Dad does the same and we both find some strength to face the future.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Feeling Ironic in China

Gratitude; a place that makes me feel strong, free, hopeful and inspired.. as I was pondering this, with my cranberry white mocha with extra cinnamon sprinkles I wandered to my retreat, a small wooden pagoda overlooking the Han River. I cast my mind back to my busy summer. A place I had felt empowered? I thought of the summer I had spent working in Italy, relaxing in the Tuscan Hills, cycling down picture perfect canals just outside of Milan, stargazing on warm nights outside the Vatican in Rome. I reminisced about Canada and my time in buzzing Toronto and how alive it had made me feel, the magnificent roar as the Bluejays scored their only homerun, how the giant buildings engulfed me but yet I still felt a sense of importance walking around this city, as my dear sister phrased it, in her bizarre mix of Yorkshire and Canadian accent, “It’s like everyone here is connected by the fact we all know that here, in this city, were all a part of something amazing!”. I pondered Scotland – its beautiful moors and mountains that made me feel free and wild. It’s juxtaposed castles and cobble streets with trashy bars offering 2 -for-1 shots, and the food that made me never want to leave.

 

I scribbled notes on all these pages, manic spider diagrams webbed across my page, these incredible places and the different ways they had made me feel, but none were right. Gratitude? Then I realised, ironically, the place I felt most free, hopeful and inspired was here, in my Pagoda, overlooking the Han river, Fushun, Liaoning province, North East China.

 

This plain sweet pagoda is located on an island between two main roads overlooking the river. I have never encountered anyone else here, and I can understand why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. The roads enclosing the island are constant with traffic; red lights one way white the other. These roads are chocha with irate taxi drivers blaring their honking horns , tyres screeching and people yelling – yet amid this sea of anger I feel calm. The star of my show, is the dark slow river that so beautifully reflects the cityscape with its neon lights. It perfectly mirrors the arches of the bridges creating almost symmetrical circles.

 

And it is here looking at the reflections I come to reflect on my day, to recharge my soul. It’s half an hour’s peace where I can curl up in the benches embrace, surrounded by a sea of people rattling around in tin cans, each living their own soap operas, and feel alone. Away from my ever questioning, ever enthusiastic students. Away from my ever demanding, ever pushing employers. Away from lifes dramas; the illnesses, the stress, the grief. This pagoda where I can empty my mind and fill my lungs with (polluted) air. I can watch the mirrored buildings flicker and become hypnotised by the lights, I can wade through my mind and plan my next years travels.. to find next years retreat..

About the author: I’m Holly, currently living and working in China.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

When I first moved to Hong Kong in 1990, there was a part of the city that was off bounds. It was an ungoverned slum called the Kowloon Walled City, with layer after layer of tenement buildings so close to one another that daylight sometimes never reached the minuscule alleyways. In the center of the slum was an ancient Chinese yamen, or government building. Although Hong Kong had been a British colony for about 140 years by then, the Kowloon Walled City was officially still a part of China. But it was largely run by organized crime.

KWCP model outside
Model of the Kowloon Walled City. Photo by Tom Kason
Model of the yamen. Photo by Tom Kason
Model of the yamen. Photo by Tom Kason

I left Hong Kong in 1991, only to return a few years later in 1994. By then, the Walled City had been demolished and a traditional Chinese park was under construction on the very space where the slum once stood. I often passed the general area of the Walled City–after it was demolished–on bus rides to and from my friend Janice’s apartment. I write a little about Janice’s place in my memoir, Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong, but was so involved in my own drama back then that I didn’t give the old Walled City or the new park (when it opened in 1995) much thought.

Kowloon Walled City Park sign

Years have passed since I left Hong Kong eight months after the Handover in 1997. But I’ve often thought of the Kowloon Walled City and a missed opportunity to 1) see the old tenement buildings, 2) watch the demolition, and 3) visit the new park.

So when my husband Tom and I visited Hong Kong last month, I put a visit to the Kowloon Walled City Park at the top of our list. We traveled out to the Lok Fu MTR station and took a cab to the park. On the short ride, the driver told me in Cantonese that we should have just walked to the park. It was that close. But I didn’t want to waste time looking for it and Tom wanted a break from the sweltering temperatures. Once we arrived at the park, it was difficult for me to imagine the former Walled City in its place. The park was one of the most peaceful places I’ve found in Hong Kong.

KWC old building
photo by Tom Kason
Yamen
yamen
KWCP stone formation
photo by Tom Kason

We walked around the grounds and found a garden with statues of the Chinese zodiac.

KWCP zodiac statues
photo by Tom Kason
KWCP dragon
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

There was a nice pavilion surrounded by water. A woman sat under the pavilion reading a book. I wondered if she was taking a break from work or chose to spend her day off at the park. I also noticed the modern apartment buildings in the background, many of which probably weren’t around when I first lived in Hong Kong.

KWCP pavilion

We also found remains of the old south gate and an old rickshaw, one of the few left in Hong Kong. Even the tourist ones aren’t so numerous anymore.

KWCP ruins

KWCP rickshaw

We also came across a few walls with calligraphy and this old vessel.

photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

Tom and I were both happy we’d taken time to visit the Kowloon Walled City Park. He learned about a dark period of Hong Kong’s history and I was able to visit a place I’d thought about all these years. For first time visitors, there are docents who walk throughout the park, offering free information about the history of the buildings and artifacts in the park. We lucked out and met a lovely older Cantonese man who spoke to us in English and another group in Mandarin.

photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

We hope you enjoyed this article from Susan Blumberg-Kason. Learn more about her adventures in her book:

Good Chinese Wife: A Love Affair with China Gone Wrong

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Walking straight straight ahead amidst the busy people and streets of Senado Square area in Macau lies a breathtaking and impeccable “Ruins of St. Paul.”

People from different walks of life, busy merchants selling their own goods and products,  very friendly vendors that offers free taste of their fresh delicacies, simultaneous performances in Senado Square area that promotes Macau’s rich culture and traditions, and happy travellers taking photos at every beautiful and historical spots in the place.

It was actually my third time to visit Macau, but it was only my first time to visit the Ruins. And people are right that seeing that perfect architectural statue in personal will really melt your heart.  It’s indeed Majestic!

Since Macau became a colony of Portugal way back 1600 up to 1999, it’s not impossible that most of the beautiful atmosphere in the country that suggests Catholicism were all inherited from them.  I myself, as a born Catholic, was really amazed with those churches and statues.

Being with my family during this trip, We were able to enjoy our whole day visiting the city of Macau, and the most charming Ruins of St. Paul has become our point of interest besides shopping around to get some souvenirs and delicacies from the beautiful city.

We would take photos of the Ruins, climb up until reaching the great statue, and stay there as if we were not running out of time.

One thing that surprised me was while going up the stairs to reach the perfect statue.  I felt that It’s as if I’m going up to the stairs of heaven! It was terrifying since it’s quite high but upon reaching the top, I felt glorified!  Seeing the heavenly statue made me feel as if I already reached the top of the world and it was really heavenly.

A simple realization came to my mind that maybe, before reaching heaven’s door, a lot of challenges will come our way and it would also be very hard for us at first, but when we persevere to do good and follow all His will, it will be very easy for us  reaching the top as He will always be our guide.

As to keeping my faith, Seeing the beautiful city has made me more faithful to my religion.  I was not expecting to feel that way cause our only purpose in visitng the place was to go shopping and sight seeing since going to Macau was only part of our Hongkong trip.  We just took a ferry for an hour trip to Macau and as planned, we will just have a day tour at the city and will go take photos and grab some souvenirs.

We believed that we are really destined to be in the place for some reasons.  And it’s to realize that a lot of good and beautiful places around the globe still awaits all of us to visit them and know their culture and traditions, as well as their history.

Every place we go, every country we visit, every people we meet always leave a special mark in our hearts.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

One of my favorite things about living in Hong Kong was traveling an hour south from my home to see the trams glide up and down the northern part of Hong Kong Island. So when I returned to Hong Kong two years ago for the first time in fourteen years, I made sure my husband Tom and I saw the trams.

DSC_0055
photo by Tom Kason

Traveling by tram isn’t always the quickest mode of transportation in Hong Kong, but it’s a reliable one. Only the trams run on the tram lines, so there’s no competing with double-decker buses, red taxis, cars, or trucks. On our last day of that trip two years ago, we spent the morning riding a couple of trams lines and saw different neighborhoods, including Wanchai and Causeway Bay.

photo by Tom Kason
photo by Tom Kason

So when we decided to return to Hong Kong this fall for another quick trip to promote my memoir, Good Chinese Wife, I had the brilliant idea of staying in the area where Happy Valley, Causeway Bay, and Wanchai intersect. My plan was this: we would travel by tram to and from our hotel (shown in the photo above just to the right of the greenery). It would be relaxing to hop on a tram and sit back while it sauntered along the track to a subway station or a destination we could reach on the tram line.

But then Occupy started a couple weeks before our arrival date. Thousands of students took to the streets to protest the lack of democratic representation. Although they didn’t set up their tents that close to our hotel, the barricaded roads affected many modes of transportation on Hong Kong Island. Trams included.

Occupy tents

In fact, on the night we arrived in Hong Kong, I asked the concierge at our hotel if we could take the tram out front to a subway station. He didn’t go into any details, but simply said that the trams weren’t running because of the ‘events’ in Central.

“But aren’t the trams running around in this area?” I asked, half panicking that my grand plans were about to be squashed.

“No, sorry. No trams.”

I thanked him and turned back toward Tom. We went to our room, activated our free wifi, and found out from a friend that the trams around Happy Valley, where we were staying, had started running again.

So we would get in a tram ride on this trip, I sighed in relief. But it still wasn’t what I’d envisioned when I booked the Cosmopolitan Hotel (which, for history buffs or people who enjoy quirky facts, used to house the de facto consulate of the People’s Republic of China back during the days when Hong Kong was a British colony).

racetrack at night
View from the Cosmopolitan Hotel

The next morning we figured out how to get to other parts of Hong Kong without riding the trams. I was still sad we couldn’t just hop a tram in front of our hotel. But I’d soon learn a lesson about what it means to live in Hong Kong these days.

Happy Valley tram terminus

trams in Happy Valley

Traffic was congested, especially during rush hour. We had to leave our hotel an hour before we needed to be somewhere that usually took only fifteen minutes to reach. I was amazed by how calm and accommodating people in Hong Kong were when it came to these changes in transportation. After all, they’re used to living in one of the most convenient and efficient cities in the world. If Hong Kong people can handle it, I certainly could. And we would do our best to ride the trams when we could.

More tram lines opened toward the end of our four-day trip.

tram in Western

And on our last night, we were finally able to take a tram from Central back to our hotel.

Looking back on this recent trip to Hong Kong, I’m so glad we were able to see Occupy and experience what people in Hong Kong now have to deal with on a daily basis. So we didn’t get to take the trams as much as I had envisioned, but we got our fill and had wonderful trip nonetheless.

I walk through a large opening between two cliff walls. Covered by a reddish color of long time untouched soil and the green color of various plants that penetrate and grow through cracks, the walls undoubtedly look majestic. However, the Leshan Giant Buddha in front of me is the one that attracts my full attention. I can almost hear the sound of swords clashing behind me before I realize that it’s just happening inside my head. I just close my eyes and recall a memory of a kungfu movie scene which takes place here in Sichuan, China. When I open my eyes, the view around me has changed. There is only an ordinary wall surrounding me, it is luxurious indeed, but ordinarily modern compared to the beauty of those disappeared cliff walls. There is still one Giant Buddha in front of me, the same majestic yet very clean and well maintained, placed inside a giant glass box.

In the urge of continuing my journey, I leave the Giant Buddha behind and arrive at a beautiful imperial palace. I never knew that the distance between Sichuan and Beijing’s Forbidden City could be traveled in such a short time. I enter a living room and saw them in front of my eyes. The emperor and empress of the Qing dynasty are discussing their princess’ marriage plan while elegantly sat at a classic wooden chair. It’s a dark brown long chair with a small tea table placed on right in the middle, separating the emperor and his empress. The whole living room is decorated in a perfect symmetry and harmony with a set of splendid Qing style’s furniture.

Since I’m afraid to disturb their discussion, I walk to another room next door which turns out to be an emperor’s study room. Its furniture similar with the furniture at the living room, but it has more study material in it. Plenty of beautiful Chinese painting and classic Chinese calligraphy are hanging on the wall. A bookshelf with a rich collection of books and documents from the palace archives attracts my attention. I take a closer look and immediately feel amazed with how beautiful those lines of Chinese characters looks like. It written perfectly neat in a vertical direction so that I almost think that it’s typewritten instead of handwritten. I definitely can’t think of a way to produce such a beautiful character by using only brush and ink.

I can no longer count how many books and documents I’ve read, but those lines of beautiful characters start to make my head dizzy. This place starts to looks like a maze and I’m not really sure where I am now. The next room I enter seems to be the palace’s treasure room though I don’t know for sure. I just know that it is full of splendid valuables. While admiring the beauty of ivory carvings, I catch a glimpse of a eunuch carefully cleaned up a collection of various elegant ceramics. From a corner behind my back, I could hear soft voices of a princess and her maid discussing which jade hairpin will looks the most graceful on her wedding day. A moment later, the further I walk through many rooms inside the palace, once more I feel a change not only at the view around me, but also at the atmosphere inside the room.

Once more, I look at the same ordinarily modern wall that suddenly appears at Sichuan before. A noise from a group of people talking to their tour guide starts to annoy me. I nervously try to find out where the emperor, empress, and princess are, but all I can see is a line of display window with various palace treasures inside. I look at the information paper that is attached in front of each display window and found this place’s name written on it. I slowly regain my consciousness and realize that I’m in Taiwan’s National Palace Museum now, not China’s Leshan Giant Buddha or Forbidden City Palace. It seems that the beauty of various historical heritages inside the museum drives my imagination to a faraway place through a time tunnel to the past. It allows my mind to be completely free, to escape from place and time limitation.

I see a glimpse of China in the past from Taiwan today. After all, historical heritages in this museum and their fellow friends at China share a same long history in the past, just like Taiwanese share a same long history in the past with their Chinese friends. Until today, there are a lot of China’s tourist visit this museum everyday, maybe because they curious to know whether their gift for friends at this little island still carefully kept or not.

About the Author: I was a professional banker for five years before finally encourage myself to follow my passion to write. Leaving my job to become a beginner writer was a perfect decision since it allows me to have more time to get involved in my passion.

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I visited Macao during the cool month of December last year. Staying there for two days, I managed to visit all its historic monuments and properties that make up the UNESCO World Heritage inscription (together with some of its casinos :p).

Ruinas da Sao Paolo, a masterpiece of late Manueline architecture.
Ruinas da Sao Paolo, a masterpiece of late Manueline architecture in Asia.

For most heritage geeks, I share the assessment that Macao is largely a “misinterpreted gem”. At present, when people hear Macao, what immediately comes to their minds are big casinos and luxury hotels. The ruins of St. Paul church (Ruinas da Sao Paolo) only comes as an afterthought as its most iconic landmark – in fact, for most, this is the only place they think they’ll see in this territory. Beyond the picturesque Ruinas da Sao Paolo, not many visitors get to see the bigger picture that Macao offers as the best preserved Portuguese-era colonial trading town in East and Southeast Asia.

Largo do Senado, the main square of Macao. The white building at the far end of the square is the Loyal Senate Building. Again, there are skyscrapers poking here and there :(
Largo do Senado, the main square of Macao. The white building at the far end of the square is the Loyal Senate Building. Again, there are skyscrapers poking here and there.

Though Macao’s monuments are at some distance from each other (the Guia Hill Fortress being the farthest), I still found going around Macao to be a refreshing experience. Firstly, the monuments are truly representative of various cultural testaments and historical stages of the town’s development; thus, the values being represented by each monument hardly overlap one another. Secondly, the government has to be commended for doing a great (and colorful) job in preserving their enduring gems in good conditions.

Beautiful red windows in the in-house courtyard of Zheng Guanying's Mandarin Mansion.
Beautiful red windows in the in-house courtyard of Zheng Guanying’s Mandarin Mansion in the Lilau Square area – the first settlement of the Portuguese on Chinese soil.

Personally, I enjoyed visiting these places: Senate Square (Largo do Senado), Mandarin Mansion, Lilau Square, A Ma Temple, and the Protestant Cemetery compound. I also found my visit to the Santa Casa da Misericordia Museum (its entrance is on the right side of the building) memorable as it is one place where one can see religious artworks as a product of the blending of two cultures and their respective marks of craftsmanship. Here, one can see the porcelain images of Chinese-looking Jesus Christ, and other curios. Nevertheless, Macao’s blend of the East and the West is best seen through the various religious edifices it has. It is even interesting how one Buddhist temple sits side by side a Christian church (in ruins).

San Agustin Square and the Iberian-inspired wave patterned floor that is common to most cities in Portugal.
San Agustin Square and the Iberian-inspired wave-patterned floor that is common to most cities in Portugal.

Nevertheless, I also sensed a tourism versus conservation dilemma lingering around, too. I noticed that there seemed to be foreseeable threat that the sites will face in the next few years with their seemingly weak buffer zones and Macao’s lack of proper urban planning and traffic management. One of the biggest threats to most cultural sites across the world is urban pressure, and Macao is indeed rapidly modernizing. I have yet to see how their government is looking at the preservation of the aesthetic and visual integrity of the historic monuments and their immediate environs amidst modern, high-rise edifices and installations around them.

Sam Kai Vui Kun, a small Chinese merchants' temple that has been instrumental in shaping Macao's trajectories as a trading town.
Sam Kai Vui Kun, a small Chinese merchants’ temple that has been instrumental in shaping Macao’s trajectory as a powerful trading town.

By and large, the monuments of Macao are indeed interesting. As counterbalance, however, I felt that the monuments of Macao may not be the grandest there are to see on this side of the world – there are way better churches and plazas in the Philippines, for example. In fact, the colonial-era buildings surrounding Largo do Senado reminded me a lot of the buildings within Escolta in Manila. And I can just imagine how it would be like if Manila also takes the effort of reviving — and cleaning! — its architectural masterpieces.

Casa Jardin. The very obvious skyscraper behind it just ruins the aesthetic value of this place.
Casa Jardin. The very obvious skyscraper behind it just ruins the aesthetic value and visual integrity of this place.

More than anything, Macao is a site wherein its real importance and outstanding values lie on its impressive history as an Asian trading colonial-era town that cultivated the longest running encounter of the West and the East.

PS. Try their egg tarts!

 

coffee1

The coffee is from the Taiwanese bubble tea stall. Served in a super size plastic cup, pushed forwards by the smiliest server before he retreats back into the throng of waving receipts. Twenty-four Hong Kong dollars- almost the same price as my shrimp noodle lunch. Half luxury, half necessity- I am too tired to indulge caffeine guilt. In this city, marching to this pace and cramming onto these trams and trains and towers, I take my coffee strong and iced.

The paper Hello Kitty cup announces that it is a Happy 2009! I notice as I sup the thimbleful of Nestle instant, the tiny folded handle giving me a paper-cut. It is, in fact, Easter 2012 and rainy season in Yangshuo, China. My rented bicycle stands lonely underneath its tarpaulin tent, the handlebars dripping rainwater like a runny nose. Even the noodles taste like rain, sopping in dirty puddles of soy sauce and chilli flakes and soaking through the polystyrene plate. Mist clings to Moon Hill and my heart strings crack with remembering English Novembers, minus the Mandarin.

Hannah Thompson yates india“Didi, didi, where you go?” Bimala pulls at my elbow, looping her tiny arm through the crook and trying to swing. She has spotted me leaving. In three to five seconds the others will emerge from the bedroom, the same melting chocolate eyes blinking in confusion. It is week three and I still have no idea what to say. How do I explain that I am going for a walk and a coffee instead of playing with thirteen attention hungry children? I can just about cope with unhooking her clammy fingers, firing my other arm out of reach so she can’t reattach. I squint out at the Nepali sun, then back into the dimming corridor of the orphanage. There is nowhere for them to go.

‘Chai, chai, coffee, coffee, chai, chai, coffee, coffee…’ The boy sings out on the Chennai train, his voice carrying through the steamy carriages and stirring the dozing men. Heads wobble that Indian wobble. Most mean no, some, somehow, indicate yes. Soon the samosa, samosi boy will come and the newspaper triangles will be handed out, hot in the hands of hungry travellers. Green chillies and ginger and cinammon and masala and all the smells and savours of wonderful, wonderful India and its ever tightening grip on the senses. I barely even remember the coffee here. Just the lemon infused hours of Kerala evenings and coconut breakfasts and street side Agra dhosas. Camels and tuktuks and motorbikes and Khan and Afsal and dolphins and mosquitos and the rose terracotta of Jaipiur’s sunset; a rolling reel of moments that were cut too short and too soon.

Hannah Thompson Yates IndiaWe like to joke that we are turning into teachers already, brewing our coffee mugs in the staffroom before 9am and clipping back up the stairs for briefing. Gone are the bikini strings and elephant pants, though braids are still pulling hair back from shiny faces and a few bamboo tattoos peek out from underneath waistbands and flip flop straps. Everyone tries to understand the future perfect tense and how to teach idioms, filing away game ideas and making mental notes to never, ever plan a lesson about religion or attempt to pat a Thai student’s head. Then a mosquito lands on an arm and you become distracted, thinking about a Koh Phi Phi weekend or a pad thai special. Coffee is the answer to rum bucket hangovers and sunburn sting.

Home. Home. Hoooome. My favourite mug, warm inside tanned hands with silver rings and unkept nails. Hot against chapped lips and steaming in the over-freckled face of one just returned.

Hannah Thompson-Yates

China MountainsRacing the green light, a massive group of cyclists rode by on a busy China street. I stopped and listened to the people; time became slow as I tried to take a mental picture. Blink. The light turned green as my father, sister, I, and twenty or more people hurried across the street. That is what the trip to China was for me, the amazing food, the beautiful culture, and the colorful people. Then the two weeks seemed to vanish in thin air as we boarded the airplane home.

I am adopted from a Chinese orphanage and in the June of 2010, I learned that my family would be traveling to China for a heritage tour. This huge opportunity would allow me to not only see the world, but to discover what I had missed for 17 years. We toured several fantastic Chinese cities together: Beijing, Guilin, Chongqing, and many others. I was so eager that I was always the first to try new foods, wander off to take a photo, or to get a lesson from women leading a fan dance class in the park.

One of the things that truly defined China was the various types of food. Heaps of dumplings, soups, and noodles made my mouth water as I tried every food they offered. The most memorable food I had was my first meal in Beijing at our hotel; I had a simple noodle soup, and maybe it was the jet lag, but that was most astounding soup I had ever tasted. Everything in the cities was within walking distance, and the sun beat down on us throughout our tour; occasionally the tour guide would stop for all the kids in my heritage group to buy peach ice cream. Each time made me smile as I took a bite knowing that it would be a long time again before I would eat traditional Chinese food again.

Vendors, travelers, tour guides, and the general population brought a personality to China as a whole. The people we met in restaurants or in the towns were always polite and inviting. We had several tour guides but our favorite was Xi Xi; she was funny, informative, and knew the best restaurants everywhere we went. The vendors were the most amusing people to talk to and one of the highlights of my trip was watching my determined little sister, Isabelle, bargain with the vendors on the price of a purse. Other people within our heritage group also had stories to tell of their choices of adoption; it was heartwarming to hear someone else’s discovery that adopting a child was one of the greatest decisions ever made.

Everyone wants to see the Great Wall of China as one of their activities, but I think the Temple of Heaven in Beijing had so much more to offer. While the view from the top is gorgeous and the history is intriguing, I found less appeal when we walked on it. In the Temple of Heaven there was a large group of people doing Tai Chi, there was a man on the sidewalk practicing his calligraphy, and so many other people interacting that it would have been a wonderful place to relax and watch the world go by. Other activities included on the trip were holding an adorable baby panda, playing hacky-sack in Tiananmen Square, shopping in the Pearl market, but I think the Temple of Heaven showed the personal side of China.

I stood looking over the Li River as the mountains of Guilin passed by in fog, and I came to the realization that I would never be tired of exploring my home country. I will always be searching and trying to immerse myself in the culture that seems foreign to me now. I would try to reconnect myself with the world I left behind as a baby with the hope that maybe one day I could return once again.

About the Author: I am currently a high school senior and anticipate to major in International Studies. I love reading and learning about other cultures. This summer I am planning to travel to France and Spain with my school.

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