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Close to home – thanks Stuart!

Close to home – thanks Stuart!

The excitement of the new, different and exotic drives us to explore, to leave our hotel rooms and walk out into new cities looking for interest, quaintness and, hopefully, a bit of understanding.   When I lived overseas I gladly took every opportunity to explore the city I lived in, the surrounds and the whole country.

However, since I’ve been back in my home country, despite living in a different state, that same excitement and wonder at difference hasn’t been a motivator. My friend, Stuart Sipahigil, is a great advocate for a ‘close to home’ approach with photography, and I took a leaf from his book.

So yesterday, with a rare day off work, I decided I would treat my new home exactly as if I was in an exotic location in another country. (And for people from other parts of the world – this IS an exotic location). I slipped on my good walking shoes, packed a spare battery and went off to find the interest, quaintness and, maybe, understanding that the many international visitors look for when they arrive in my little part of the world. What catches my eye, and camera, in other countries? Beauty, signs, glimpses of fascinating activities, people living ordinary daily lives that I will never lead. Patterns and textures, the foundations of ‘why’ and ‘how’ of that city, town or village. Interesting juxtapositions and contradictions.

Was I able to find them in my own small town? In abundance. This was not a brisk walk, this was a meander, with turns onto sea walls and paths beside railway tracks and rivers. I chatted to the local fishermen, lazing away their afternoon with a couple of rods leaning on the guard rails. I waved at train drivers, and waited while the big Pacific gulls drifted on the wind above me. I shared the attempt to shoo the silver gulls away from a picnic lunch and found it interesting how the natural beauty of the coast could, within metres, become an industrial site.

Close to home is exotic, and worth the walk. Next week, another direction to explore.

 

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Wine away the Weekend

Wine away the Weekend

Tasmania has four distinct wine growing regions, and as a newly transplanted Taswegian, I feel it is my duty to explore this vital aspect of the economy.  To that end, I enlisted the help of my best mate, and trouper as always, she flew down from Brisbane to provide support for this difficult exploration.

We began the weekend by tasting raspberry champagne at the raspberry farm down the road. A soft pink colour, but distinctly nice sparkles, and it accompanied the raspberry dumplings and cheesecake we ordered nicely.

Closer to home we stopped to pick up some chocolate to go with the next round of exploration – the Janz champagne and Ninth Island Chardonnay I had stored in my wine cellar.

Now, this was just preliminary preparation for the great adventure that the next day was to bring – the foray into the Launceston Wine Fair!  Much preparation was required for this – fortifying with a solid fruit toast, mushroom and egg breakfast; dressing appropriately with stable leg supporting shoes; ensuring we had our tickets to enter the unknown realm, and; once in Launceston, ordering the transport to take us to the beginning of the adventure.

We set off with high hopes and much courage – we would not be daunted by the challenge ahead of us – over 200 local and mainland wines, plus a few whiskies to fight our way through to reach the end.  We had considered plans of attack but had yet to decide upon one as we entered the wine jungle.  In the end we decided on an all terrain approach – down one side, up the other and take on the middle last.

We sipped, tipped, chatted and listened our way around the various wineries presenting their challenges to our palates.  We found wines we loved, wines we thought should have been left in the grape, and the whisky finale was eye-opening.

The jungle was filled with other explorers and the atmosphere became louder as the afternoon explorations wore on.  Young people starting out in their first adventures into this wine world mingled with seasoned adventurers looking for a hidden treasure, not yet discovered.

Our transport out of the jungle called for us, and so we left to prepare for the next stage of the adventure – dinner at a local winery.  This necessitated a bit of recuperation and gear rearrangement, but once that was accomplished, we were ready for the next arduous round of exploration.   Joseph Chromy Winery was on the other side of the concrete jungle and we appreciated the differences between the federation and art nouveau style jungle of Launceston and the wild areas of grape vines scattered across the hills.

We valiantly adventured on through the amuse bouche, the two completely different local oyster dishes, the confit of chicken and the thick, rich undergrowth of dessert, testing the various wines that supported the life of the food.  Our bravery knew no end – although, as designated driver, my courage was limited.

Back at the camp we planned the next day’s adventures; creating another path into the jungle by venturing north to Vélo Vineyard.  Exploration gear reassembled, we followed the river to our destination and again, tested our strength and endurance against the array of bottles waiting for us.

The exploration concluded with a quick trip to the airport for my fellow explorer to head back to her civilization, while I continued my adventure by exploring a cheese factory on the way back to my civilization.  We had done well, and planned for more wine jungle exploring in the future.

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(Interesting Differences/Shared Humanity)  Grass is for…

(Interesting Differences/Shared Humanity) Grass is for…

I love grass, not the ‘medicinal’ herb, but the stuff that is grown in parks and back gardens all around the world.  Picnics in the park with a mat on top of the grass, rolling down grassy slopes as a child, the sweet smell of newly mown grass, the fresh beauty of it after rain.  Grass is nice stuff.

One of the fascinating differences I noticed between China and Australia is that grass is off limits in China. It is very rare to see people sitting and picnicking on the grass in parks, even more rare to see groups or families playing the local equivalents of backyard cricket, football etc. There are parks – some really lovely ones – and people enjoy visiting them. But they also abound in ‘Do not walk on the grass” signs.  Seats are provided, but the flower gardens are fenced off, and the grass is forbidden.

I asked my students why this occurred and after some surprise that people would think about sitting on the grass, and much discussion, the only answer they could come up with was that “Grass is weaker in China”!

Perhaps this is slowly changing as I have seen young couples sitting on the grass in secluded places.  I hope it changes more quickly and the joy of sitting on the grass on a lovely day, having a picnic, playing a game or two becomes ordinary.

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Worlds within Worlds (2)

Worlds within Worlds (2)

In a big city it is a little more difficult to find worlds that don’t connect to your own, because we generally socialize within a set group, work with a set group, and because of time constraints, very little changes.  Other worlds may be glimpsed occasionally, but are much harder to access.

However, in a small town these other worlds are closer, and easier to see.  Last week a potter off to the local farmers’ market saw me not only buy my fresh fruit and veg, large double yolk eggs and beautiful meat, it also saw me run into another world.

The local poultry exhibition was on, and as I wandered into pavilion, enticed by an elderly man selling raffle tickets, I found a world of beauty, competition and for some, passion.

All different breeds of poultry were crowing, cackling, honking and calling.  Clean, shiny feathers were on display; bright red combs on the roosters; elegant, coffee-coloured, fluffy Silky chickens shyly hid their heads.

The judge, dressed in his official white duster coat, carefully examined each bird, and his comments were scribed just as carefully by his off-sider.   Anxious owners waited outside, and a few visitors strolled around looking at the birds, and occasionally exclaiming at a particularly cute one, or one with a loud and aggressive crow. The winners from here may be shown at the next biggest exhibition, and so on until one special bird will be crowned Champion of the state.

The care these birds had been given was obvious, and spoke clearly of the fascination this particular world had for a whole group of fanciers.

And the joy for me was that it was so easy to access.  I could chat with waiting owners, buy a raffle ticket and see what was happening without having to make an effort.  It was there, right beside where I had wanted to be, and close to home.  No planning necessary, no specific journey required.

This is the joy of a small town.

 

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Plane philosophy

Plane philosophy

Planes, and by extension, airports are wonderful things. I love flying, and for me there is no hassle to sitting in an airport for a few hours between flights.  Domestic airports are nice, but international ones are magic.  The departures board with its magical names – Marrakesh, Mumbai, Dhaka, London, Lima… the possibilities for new adventures and new lives are endless.

Airports also have a lovely buzz of energy and excitement. Families and friends greeting each other after holidays or life away; tearful farewells with a barely hidden touch of excitement from the traveller; backpackers shouldering battered packs, with travel guides in hand – where to next?  It’s all magic.

And once in the plane the magic only increases.  The power of the engines as we take off, the sudden surge as we lift off – finally on our way!  The world shrinks, and with that distance we can gain perspective.  The spaces, things and people that filled our lives are now small, less immediate and so less difficult, less stressing, less demanding.  We are now in a much bigger world, with millions of people, millions of issues and millions of ideas we can’t see below us.  We are just a tiny part, and so our worries are tiny as well.

Beautiful blue skies or clear stars are just a windowpane away, and when there is cloud, even more magic.  Such a new fantastical world of valleys and mountains, light and shade.   My imagination runs riot, and I take hundreds of cloud photographs.  Then, sunrise and sunset from high take over and the edges of the world are filled with glory.  Flying gives a chance to see how stunningly beautiful the earth and skies are.

Landing inflates us again, our sense of self as large returns, and the perspective we gained drifts away… but for a few magical hours we were part of something so much bigger and more beautiful.

 

Posted by DeborahH, 2 comments
Fun and games

Fun and games

Fun, we want it, and most of the time, feel we don’t have enough of it.  But no matter where we are, people usually find a way to have fun.

For those of us living in westernized societies our fun is placed in specific areas – the beach, parks, the bars, the discos or at home. But in China and many Asian countries, fun is more often out on the streets.  Parks are for walking through and admiring, not sitting, picnicking or playing games in.  Children’s playgrounds are few and far between.  Often the apartments are too small, too hot or too cold to be places of fun, and people are more likely to meet outside for dinner or to enjoy themselves.

This means that walking down streets in China gives the opportunity for watching people having fun right beside the road, sitting on footpaths, open to all to join in.

Empty streets will have shop assistants playing a quick game of badminton (without the net).  Any handy set of steps with a delivery slide will have children creating their own slippery slide.  And almost every street has card, mahjong and Chinese chess players crouching over home-made boards, or sitting on kindergarten sized chairs intensely involved in an epic battle of wits.  Onlookers watch the progress of the games with as much concentration as the players – maybe the coloured pieces of paper changing hands after the game has something to do with that.

At night, the big, empty public spaces will be filled with line dancers or couples waltzing.  Early mornings are likely to see those places filled with old men with their kites or diablo,  and middle-aged women practicing fan dances, or balancing tennis balls on small bats as they glide to music.

Fun… it can be anywhere if we look for it.

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My Local

My Local

One of the lovely things about small towns is the sense of community that rapidly develops,  AND great service.  Small towns KNOW that if they aren’t good at service people will go elsewhere.  And so everywhere I have been in Burnie has offered me really good service, including telling me to go elsewhere, showing me which way to head, or even talking me part way,  if I can’t find what I need in that shop.

Burnie was previously a mill town, and from all reports, pretty ragged and not so nice to live in.  When the mill closed the city administrators got together and rebadged it as a great little tourist place, with nice eateries, lots of arts and crafts and it has become a lovely space to be.  The regional art gallery is here, little art and craft shops are in alleyways, and there are dozens of cafes and restaurants.  Not bad for a town of 19,000 people.

And there are … coffee shops .. oh boy!  I haven’t tested them all yet, that could take a while, but I have found a couple of favourites.  During the week, on my way to work, I head for Café Bliss.  On the weekend, when I have time to relax and play around, it is the coffee shop at the Maker’s Workshop.  However, Café Bliss lives up to its name.  Once you begin to frequent places regularly, then you become welcomed as an old friend.  I hit ‘my local’ on the way to work for a hot cuppa and this place makes me happy.  So happy that I have already been given my second cup of free coffee!

Café Bliss is owned by a Ethan, young fella with great customer service skills. He has only owned the café for 15 months and has retained the services of Debbie, who had worked there for a number of years.  Debbie loves her job and it is clear that she is a valued and really great employee.  When I walk into the shop, the first comment is “Your usual, love?”  Yes please.  They fill my bling coffee mug (a pair with my grand-daughter’s, so we can share something even though I am 3 plane hours away), click my ‘VIP card, and ask me about my day.  The regulars have ‘their’ seats, and their orders are also known by all the staff. Debbie was an employee at the shop when Ethan took over, and she asked him if he wanted younger waitresses. To his credit he recognized expertise and said “Hell no, I need you”.   Smart man!!  She helped train him, and all the other wait staff after.  Café Bliss runs on great service and this has been fostered by Debbie and Ethan.

Around the walls are arts and crafts by local artists, and the shelves stock locally grown coffee beans.   This is when a coffee shop becomes more than just a sales point, but part of a community itself.  I’ll be there tomorrow, having my VIP card clicked, taking my good coffee to work, and wishing I had more time to sit down to have a nice breakfast. Small town living… very nice.

 

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Village Crafts

Village Crafts

One of the uniting factors across the world is the desire to create beauty.  In all countries and across all times we have found ways of creating some form of art, some form of beauty that inspires.

In many villages in China, these art forms have been expanded into commercial crafts, although still on a local rather than industrial scale.

In Liuyang Village, outside Xi’an, the villagers have specialised in creating ceramic sculptures, usually the animals from the Chinese zodiac, highly decorated and gloriously eccentric.

Each step in the process is carefully managed, and the loveliest pieces can take weeks to prepare.  Layers of slurry are built up, sanded down, smoothed and coated in whitewash, waiting for the delicate hand painting of the stylized patterns.  The concentration needed not to have a tiny hand shake or line wobble is intense.

If we lose these village crafts, or they are created in industrial scales, we may retain some of the traditional designs, but we will lose the creativity and depth of care that makes a craft into an artform.

 

Posted by DeborahH, 1 comment
Mourning in the market

Mourning in the market

I have told my boss that I will not renew my contract for next year.  After I told her, it became real to me. I am about to step off into as as yet unknown future and quite suddenly the mourning for what will be the end of a fascinating time has begun.  A couple of things are already ‘last times’ – even with over 8 months of my contract to finish!

Unless friends from overseas come, or I really need something special, I rarely go to one of Xi’an’s most famous tourist sites any more – the Muslim Quarter.  But today I had promised a friend to buy him a particular scroll from a shop I had taken him to, so I needed to return there.  It’s a misty, damp, drizzly day – which sounds bad, depressing and dull.  BUT… in Xi’an, because of the pollution, I welcome such days – tomorrow the skies will be clearer, the air fresher, the PM2.5 reduced.

I left home early, to miss the tourists, and arrived just as the shops were opening.  Wandering around the damp market, buying the stuff I needed and taking photos, I realised that this will be one of the last times I go there, and at the same time I realised that the market itself had changed so much in the nearly 10 years I have been visiting.  I have clearly visited often over the time, because as I wandered into one of the alleys, a stall holder recognised me and told her friends -“Look, Xiao Wang’s friend is here”.  🙂 Xi’an has close to 10 million visitors per year and most of them will potter around the Muslim Quarter for at least an hour or so, bargain hunting.  So, for the stall holders to recognise one foreigner out of millions…. I’ve been here awhile!

The changes are sad for me.  The older style architecture has been replaced with modern characterless structures, brightly lit and so clearly commercial, with commensurate higher prices.  The bigger roads have become available for cars, whereas before only 3 wheel bikes could make their way though the streets and alleys.  My favourite dried fruit shop is half the size, the other half making way for expensive scarves and ‘faux’ silk pyjamas. My best scroll painter has moved on, and his wife no longer runs the little scroll shop. My favourite tea shop has made way for a (plastic) ‘leather’ shadow puppet shop.

The back streets are still there, but I can see buildings being torn down, and soon they too will become commercial and so less real.

So, while I mourned the process of leaving this place, of only seeing it two or three more times, I also mourned the loss of what it had been.  I felt this conflicting mourning is what I will be feeling for the next 8 months – sad at leaving, pleased I am leavng before the genuine beauty and interesting places in China have all been tarted up.  Mourning leaving, and mourning what used to be.

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Reflections

Reflections

One theme that seems to run through much of my photography, albeit unconsciously, is that of reflections.  Reflections in windows, water, puddles by the road, in glasses of wine.  Anything that reflects something else catches my eye, and my camera.  And I began to wonder why…

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One obvious answer is the distortion of the normal.  Seeing things upside-down or fractured gives a quick surprise to our senses, and then perhaps we look to see the ‘reality’.  So maybe reflections are a start point for a new look at what is.  But then my question becomes, which is real?  The reflections have a reality, have a life of their own, even if it is ephemeral.

Sometimes though, it seems to me that the reflection is more real, that the reflection says more about life or whatever it is than the reality.  When we look into a mirror we see more than just our face.  The reflection we see is our vision of our selves.  When I take photos of reflections, I think sometimes I am seeing more than the reality, I am seeing perhaps the vision of what ‘should be’ and also at times reflections of the true reality, without the ‘makeup’ that the reality sometimes has.  The blur, the ripple, the change in colour and distortions can sometimes create a more in-depth image of what is.

When we see the reflections of buildings or people walking past a lake then that building or person becomes part of the lake, and become more than the reality, part of ‘the other’.  And then I can imagine different realities for each image and each object.

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