One of my favorite photography subjects is children in China. They are not only adorable, but they are rarely sad. They have a great respect for their parents and elders, which shows in their genuine happiness to be in their company, a welcome change to western culture. I think their happiness is tied to their love of family. Although in the cities, kids have the same exposure to technology as western children, they respect their elders enough to not let their phones or video games distract them from family (at least, not in my observations). In the countryside, there are no distractions and the kids are even happier. Happy with a stick or piece of cardboard. The good old days.
After taking the cable car up to the glaciers, we disembark SLOWLY. The altitude is high, about 12,000 feet. But the views of the glaciers, the surrounding clouds and greenery and the serene Buddhist temples and statues counterbalance the lack of oxygen.
Buddhist prayer flags dot the landscape. The flags are used to promote peace, wisdom and compassion. The flags are believed to be blown by the wind to carry prayers and mantras to spread goodwill and compassion. A lovely sentiment that feels real in the presence of nature, with the colorful flags blowing in the wind.
The five colors of the flags represent the elements, which, when balanced, bring health and harmony: blue = sky and space, white = air and wind, red = fire, green = water, and yellow = earth.
Depending on where you are in China, there are tea farms where you can do everything from picking to drying to tasting. This past summer, I visited what is deemed the birthplace of Chinese tea, in Sichuan Province on Mengding Mountain.
The tea in this area is called Mengding Ganlu which means "Sweet Dew of Mengding." The tea is hand-picked and hand-roasted. We had the opportunity to pick and roast the tea.
We are instructed to pick the newest baby tea leaves. While we thought we were following this direction, when we bring our bounty back to the tea growers, they pick through and remove about a third of our leaves.
The roasting is done in an enormous wok over a blazing fire. The fire is stoked by the woman of the house while the man mixes the the leaves around...using his bare hands! The leaves need to be constantly mixed so that they do not burn.
After the hard work, we sit down to a tea ceremony in which the growers show us how to steep the tea and let us taste several varieties. Join me on a Chow Fun Tour and taste some of the best teas in the world!
Macaques live in mountains all over China, but I had the privilege of meeting the Tibetan Macaques on my recent trip to Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province. What a lively group! My favorite duo were the mom and very little baby, but the monkey drinking milk comes in a close second. They grab some of their food from unsuspecting tourists, like the cookies and milk and yogurt, but some of it is purchased with the monkeys in mind. That would be the fruit and nuts. Their mannerisms are so close to human that I marvel each time I see one. On this day, we saw so many that all my marveling set us back about an hour. Time well spent.
Emei Mountain is one of the four sacred Buddhist mountains in China. It has over 30 Buddhist temples and monasteries, most of which are housed near the top of the mountain. People flock to the mountain to pray to the thousands of Buddha statues on the mountain. Due to the altitude and climate, it rains on Emei Mountain over 250 days per year. The rain, however, does not ebb the flow of tourists and pilgrims who flock to the mountain for the magnificent views (even in the rain, the mist and clouds are spectacular) and for pilgrimage. Come with me to China and visit one of its beautiful mountains!
I love observing Buddhist rituals: lighting candles, burning incense, counting prayer beads, bowing, kneeling. The harmony and sense of peace is unparalleled. I suppose that this might be said in prayer rituals of any religion, but in my experience, the Buddhist way seems most tranquil. I think a lot of this has to do with the content of the prayers: selflessness, connection, gratefulness, peace, humility, light, compassion, goodness. A traditional Buddhist prayer:
May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness; May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow; May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless; And may all live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion, And live believing in the equality of all that lives.
Less than two hours from Chengdu is a little city called Leshan that has the tallest Buddha in the world. The 200+ feet tall Buddha was carved into the side of a hill at the meeting of two rivers, the Min and the Dadu. The Buddha was built during the Tang Dynasty (between 713 and 803).
On our trips to Leshan, we not only see the Buddha from the viewing platforms above, but we also walk down the stairs, descending from the top of the Buddha's head to the foot. For a full view, we also take a boat ride along the river to see the Buddha from afar.
You don't need to go to Leshan to see Buddha in China, but this one is quite special. Join me on a Chow Fun trip and see what surprises are in store for you!
China is a homogeneous country. This comes from thousands of years of closed borders. While the novelty of round eyes, blonde or red hair and brown skin is wearing off in the cities, these qualities are still rarely seen in the countryside. Being red-headed in China still attracts attention.
Whether or not a westerner has red-hair or brown skin, being "non-Chinese" is rare in some parts of China. I believe that my candid photo, taken when I was not paying attention, is on walls all over China, not to mention all the posed pictures and selfies I have taken over the years.
Sometimes this celebrity status is overwhelming for travelers. I agree that at times, it is exhausting. However, I tell travelers to enjoy their two weeks of fame. Smile and wave.
This summer I spent one night living with a nomadic family on the Tibetan Plateau. Our small group of travelers learned how to milk yak and to make yak butter and yak cheese. I also shoveled yak dung into piles where it dries and becomes fuel for their stoves. This experience was in my top five China experiences, which is significant given the fact that I have been to China over 40 times and have traveled all over the country.
The family consisted of a mother, father and their adult son, who lives in another tent with his wife. However, each morning and night he helps his parents herd the yak and do the household chores, including milking yak. I tried my hand at yak milking, and met some success (a couple of pulls yielded milk), but my efforts resulted in a lot of laughter from our hosts. I stuck with poop shoveling.
Needless to say, our bathroom was the plateau. The tent was small. If I had to guess, I'd say it was about 100 square yards. In the center is a small stove, fueled by the aforementioned dried yak dung. The remainder of the space is blankets, clothing, food stores and other necessities.
Their carbon footprint is almost nil. They use and reuse, living off the land. What a privilege to be able to share in their lives, if only for 24 hours. Perhaps you are brave enough to join me on a Chow Fun trip to the Tibetan Plateau?
I have traveled all over the world, including adventures in China, Uganda, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, Argentina, Vietnam, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, England, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Costa Rica, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Dominican Republic, Mongolia, Netherlands, Canada and Mexico! My greatest love is introducing Americans to the sites, traditions and people of China. My hope is to give travelers a new lens through which to see the world.