China Green

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Moss layered rooftop – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

In a few previous posts I’ve had rambled on the notion of landscape, meandering down paths of culture, architecture, and reclamation.

Not this time.

For a change I want to avoid overly heady discussion and simply enjoy a bit of China. By no means shot at extravagant, or heavily publicised locations such as The Dragon’s Backbone, nor Tiger Leaping Gorge – Hopefully these will come a little later – these few images are from Xuanwu Lake, an abundance of lotus, willows, water, pavilions and life found just past the citywall in north-east Nanjing.

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Butterfly – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

We stumbled across the lake soon after leaving Fuzimiao, the Confucius Temple district. The post ‘The Streets of Nanjing’ documents the in-between journey from there to here (That’s right, I’m going to do my best to keep this travelogue chronological!). Together these areas display just how quickly the landscape of a Chinese metropolitan city can switch from one fabric to another.

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Afloat – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

To my surprise, and a notion that I have briefly touched on before, was the ease with which a city of some three and a half million, in the most populated country in the world can still offer up so much solitude, air, and space.

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Meandering – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

A pleasant diversion from the bustling horns and organised chaos of the city, the lake area even exhibits an expansive Bonsai Garden amongst its twists and turns.

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Roots in Nanjing Bonsai Garden – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

I have grown quite used to the wildlife of the UK and was intrigued to see how different that of China’s is while I am here. Admittedly these photographs do not do justice to how vibrantly exotic it truly is at first witness.

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Hummingbird Moth – Xuanwu Lake, Nanjing

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Butterfly – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

If you do ever venture to Asia and happen to find yourself in the historic capital of Nanjing. Spend as much time as you would like exploring the culture, nightlife, foods and speed of the city, but do yourself a favour, and grab a moment to relax by the lake too.

– Please comment if you can identify any of the above unlisted butterflies

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Reclamation – (Because I couldn’t resist) – Xuanwu lake, Nanjing

Do you have any experience on China’s rural paths, or any fantastic places you could recommend a fellow wanderer? If so please do let me know!

More thoughtful discussion to follow soon – 再见。


Currently reading:

  • The Republic – Plato
  • A Philosphical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful – Edmund Burke
  • 汉语教程 – 第一册 (上+下)
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The Streets of Nanjing

Street Scene 3

Breakfast

Congee

Baozi

Soy dyed hard boiled egg

Sesame pancakes

Egg fried rice

White Tea

Chinese food, real Chinese food, is a fantastic welcome. A breakfast like this could fuel anyone for the day. I am a firm believer in breakfast being the most important meal, and the tradition of hot and ready breakfasts by the Chinese certainly plays in my favour! Soon after, our group were escorted around the grounds of our host campus; Nanjing University, home to the house of John Rabe an intrinsic figure in Nanjing’s bloody modern history. The grounds presented some beautiful examples of Chinese vernacular architecture – Frank Lloyd Wright would certainly have enjoyed some time here. –  The heat during the day was intense, but there is something about the Chinese weather that makes you quickly forget about that side of things, or maybe it’s background buzz of chaotic horn beeping and cicadas that distracts.

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 The streets of Nanjing – Storefront

 Following another adventurous feast, in which our hosts offered us another interesting taste of Chinese cuisine, this time a round table of duck, chicken, fish (Whole fish, head included of course), prawns, various vegetable mixes, and other mysteriously intriguing dishes; a small group of us broke off to explore Nanjing.

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 The streets of Nanjing – Bike

 There is much to much to include in one single post, so I will split the following week across a few separate posts, and start with a short photo essay on the real life of the people of Nanjing.

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 The streets of Nanjing

 As an immediately aware counterpart to the lavish welcome we received, the images of this post describe a large part of what I am here to see, daily life in it’s raw environment, and from that starting point I aim to explore the highs and lows of a beautifully diverse culture, in order to genuinely appreciate it’s riches, both physical and soulful.

Street Shot Factory

 The streets of Nanjing – Work

Chasing the Sun

Study China – Day 1

8.Aug.2014

Departing 6am GMT

Travel to Dublin Airport

Flight from Dublin to Heathrow, London 12 Noon

Land at Heathrow 1pm GMT

Connecting flight to Pudong International, Shanghai 3:15pm GMT

 9.Aug.2014

Land at Pudong 8:55 am CST (GMT+8)

Bus to Nanjing 11am CST

Services stop 2:35pm CST

Arrive at Nanjing University 4pm CST


Dublin Airport

The extensive journey to China was certainly a steep introduction to my first long haul flight, however these new experiences are what the coming year is to be all about. Flying against the sun across Russia and the peaks of Mongolia brought me a short night of only a few hours and my sleep was as sporadic as ever while traveling, I tend to wake quickly to looking out at the country below. Much to easily distracted some would say, but I have a thing for curiosity.

As the plane descended to Shanghai Pudong International, I finally got a glimpse of the haze of China, the limited visibly slowly revealed a patchwork of rectangular paddy fields drawing us towards the runway.

A lonesome travel so far, bar the heartfelt goodbyes with family in Dublin, arrival at Shanghai brought me company quickly. Introductions and sleep derivation may not be the best of partners, – especially when the first person you meet is attempting to teach you how to speak her name in Mandarin! – But I was glad to meet many of the new faces to be my company during our 3 week study program in Nanjing.

The Airport itself was extensive, but surprisingly quiet for my expectations of a non stop bustle in the country. My preconceptions were a little stereotypical, and given the size of China itself it is clear that the presence of quiet and solitude is certainly available.

Humidity.

In Northern Ireland the saying of , ‘It’s awful close today,’ has been tossed around recently, the country experiencing a heat wave of the high twenties, but none of that closeness compares to the heaviness in the air here. Given my lack of sleep I was lucky this brief encounter only lasted until we started our bus journey north-west, I was certainly more willing to tackle the new environment after some rest.

As mentioned, I found my sleep on the bus journey broken, as I excitedly woke to gaze at the my new surroundings, the grey dense build of the airport soon gave way to expansive green fields, rough and unkempt with the dusty grit of baked earth. Every so often the greenery would break to a canal in which low barges and rafts transported produce from one dwelling to the next, the vessels were rustic at best, ‘repair instead of replace,’ seemed to be the mentality, and by using what is mostly available at the time. This grass-roots approach to technology has a wealth of character, and it stuck me immediately, I am much happier to see the human soul of objects on show like this, it is so much more apparent than in the sheen of a ‘modern’ vessel. There is a craftsmanship and character here, and it is one I will be actively seeking during my stay.

After a quick service stop in which my first visual impression of the cuisine was made, followed by a rather surprising ‘hole in the ground,’ discovery – Public toilets had not been the topic of any conversation I had had with friends who had visited the area – I decided to tuck into some Mung Bean Cake, and a Black Soya Bean drink, a sweet introduction, and certainly quite appealing, I wonder if this grainy, savoury like sweetness was common in the majority of Chinese foods…Passing the plains we began to climb slightly in to hills where we crossed Nanjing’s outer boundary and arrived in the bustling Metropolis of Nanjing city. Stepping out of the Bus and into the hotel for the formalities of starting the program I soon found myself falling happily into bed, tomorrow is a big day full of more introductions, inductions, and adventure. I can’t wait!

Barefoot in the Mournes

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Mourne wall from Slieve Muck

 

1. Read Robert MacFarlane’s, The Old Way’s, and grab a map (a paper one if you have it)

2. Now travel to somewhere new, somewhere spontaneous, somewhere where the scenery is different enough to attract your attention in a way the  monotony of the contemporary city once did, or even more so.

3. Now walk, just pick a direction, and walk

4. Take off your shoes

5. Walk again, but walk in the mind of a child, as one experiencing every step with curious caution, and fresh innocence.


I wanted to begin this post with a challenge. One to anyone eager for a breath of fresh air, anyone who is reading this out of – the incredibly human invention – of boredom, especially if you just happened to stumble across it with ‘nothing better to do.’

By no means an uncommon book, I was recommended The Old Way’s by a friend and quickly discovered others who had been moved to contemplate the notion of paths, landscape, identity and heart though MacFarlane’s eloquently human and joyful writing. However it wasn’t till walking the Lagan Meadows with another companion who happened to take her shoes off – resulting in the burning of her soles given the unnatural heat of Belfast in these past few weeks of July – that I was struck with the essentially simple desire to experience landscape in one of the ways the author spends many of his walks, not without painful consequences of course, and that is barefoot.

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Lough Shannagh from Slieve Muck

Spelga Dam, Silent Valley, and the lesser known lakes and pools of the Mourne Mountains sit as patches, sown in a loosely draped net by the incredible stone walls of the hills. Aware of the location from my childhood, my Lithuanian/Irish friend Kastytis Donauskis and I set off in search of a wall to follow and hill to climb. Kastytis has been a travel companion, unfortunate chauffeur, and endless pool of patience across the past year, although we share little ‘common’ interests, it is our differences and curiosity for new experiences that have found us drawn together to explore as much as we possible in recent days.

A lone and uneventful bus journey brought me to our meeting point in Dungannon, and from there Kastytis and I made a direct route to Hilltown in the Mourne mountain range. Briefly stopping off at the aforementioned Spelga Dam to stumble across a fossil like rock I have yet to examine, we finally eventually arrived at the midpoint of Slieve Muck. By no means a great nor challenging climb, this was an experiment for me, one of escape, change, and given that I had three vaccinations teasing me with their side effects from that very morning, it was also a relatively safe gamble in 28 Celsius heat – It may be worth noting how incredibly ‘Irish’ my skin is.

Shoes to one side, water, camera and a grapefruit in pack we set off, following a stone wall across the road and up towards an assumed summit in the distance. Even in the heat, the Mournes held true to their association with water, as marshy patches, small sink holes and run off repeatedly offered my city dwellers feet a ‘fresh’ taste of the real world.

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Mourne range

From the lower point of the climb the range dominates the view, like a fort of land, creating a foreground against the sky, Spelga dam the only large variation of colour on the irregular green blanket. As we rose the grass gave way to a softer moss and cotton, swaying in the warm breeze which left the meadow brown’s fluttering endlessly. This blanket of plant life pockmarked in shards and slabs of granite must surely awaken anyone’s feet, to become conscious of every footfall, aware of where and what comes into contact with the sole of each step, the texture, temperature, moisture, all which changes constantly and surprises endlessly. My mind was moved to a state where an action as simple as walking, and a notion as unassuming as landscape, became an adventure in tactility.

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Wild Cotton

I briefly put my shoes back on, to test the placebo of it all, maybe I was imaging this was something special, romanticising a well written book? That lasted all of a minute. My feet felt stifled, suffocated, and by extension my body, and my mind felt numbed and separated from the path I was taking. The further we climbed, the clearer it became that the summit we observed from the roadside was simply a change in gradient, and the hill extended higher and higher before us, however we trudged on, jokingly moaning about the heat and the weather – I doubt there are many in Northern Ireland that are as eternally dissatisfied with the weather in the ways we make ourselves out to be.

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Mourne wall from Slieve Muck

Further on, and with the ground wetter still, I was surprised to find two small common frogs at this height, however it only reaffirmed the character of the territory we were in, all the while, the stone wall accompanying our accent, often at a gradient which seemed structurally impossible. The walls of the Mournes are a feat of will and determination which could inspire any man to push on with a climb, constantly aware that someone did it all before. While carrying boulders.

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Mourne wall from Slieve Muck

But it was worth much more that the small struggle the hill asked of us, as the surrounding fortress of hills settled down into and below the horizon and the walls from all around came together to meet. Views extended to the coast and beyond, to further summits, to small towns and to the patchwork of green farmland. Views which allowed our eyes to touch water, grass, stone, mountain and air, while barefooted skin offered immersion like no other, sight and touch breathing it all in at the same time. As I returned to my shoes and the city – with a little added blood, granite can be troublesome for the clumsy – I realised I was returning with not just a new experience, but a new appreciation of the landscape, one that allowed me to see, breath, feel, contemplate and appreciate it humbly, like we all do the very first time.

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Meeting point marker of the three walls on Slieve Muck


Recommended Reading?

The Old Ways – Robert MacFarlane

The Eyes of the Skin – Juhani Pallasmaa

 

To China

It has been some time since I last posted, and here is why!

I have been lucky enough to secure a place on the University of Manchester’s Study China program, studying Chinese language and culture for three weeks in the prestigious, and quite beautiful, Nanjing University, Jiangsu. After this I have been extremely lucky in being awarded one of 10 year long Zhejiang Scholarships funded jointly by the British Councils ‘Generation UK China‘ program and Zhejiang Providential Education Department, allowing me to study in Zhejiang Sci-tech University, Hangzhou.

Following seven years of living, studying and working in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I have recently been pursuing getting away to explore different cultures and begin to appreciate the diversity of the world first hand. When western architecture and lifestyle takes so much from the local heritage, Greek origins and developed nations, I am sure to encounter inherit differences in culture, history and people which will prove nothing short of exhilarating. Undoubtedly there will be an infinite number of challenges ahead (My first language studies in 7 years to say the least!) but I am certain facing these, and experiencing the challenges of others, will only further my understanding of humanity, and ask me to develop a further respect for the diversity and resilience we are capable of.

You will be able to keep on track with my travels as my camera, journal and sketchbook remain permanently attached to my hand at; ‘BSA Study Abroad,’ a Travelogue charting the adventures of our current year group. So please do drop in and say hello! We leave to various parts of the world this August and September, studying for a year before returning to Belfast for the final year of our undergraduate degree in Architecture with fresh eyes, and new horizons.

I will of course be back on track to bring news from China to these pages too, so keep in touch, especially if you have any advice of experiences of the country you’d like to share.

Until then, I will leave you with a shot taken from our Architecture studio in Belfast, one that makes those late nights worthwhile.

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Sunset behind Divis Tower/Divis Mountain, Belfast

再见!