Xi’an

The Muslim Quarter – Xi’an

The Muslim Quarter – Xi’an

Cities have defined areas that reflect the local culture of that particular bit of the city. Some of those areas become part of the definition of that city, e.g maybe Pike Place in Seattle, or Piccadilly in London. For Xi’an, the Muslim Quarter is that area that reflects and adds definition.

The Muslim Quarter has a long history in Xi’an, with Muslims living in Xi’an from 651 AD. Every street in the Muslim Quarter had, at one time, a mosque. Today there are still several mosques remaining, but the Cultural Revolution and current government practices have reduced the number still operating as mosques.

The small winding streets lead to hidden treasures – the street markets with anything for sale ranging from dried bull penis to live worms for fish feeding, from cheap tools to dodgy DVDs. Street dentists operate, along with sales of traditional medicines.

Earlier, farms filled in spaces that are now turned into modern housing and shopping centres reflecting China’s desire to be seen as a version of New York or Sydney.

Food is really important in the Muslim Quarter, with a mix of street food and restaurants offering snacks and meals. Bakeries, spice shops, tea shops and butchers fill the air with aromas. Dried fruit stalls, with wonderful grapes, dates, apricots, persimmons and tomatoes imported from Xinjiang in north-west China fill shops and bicycle carts.

Time spent wandering through the Muslim Quarter, sitting in the Great Mosque during call to prayer, eating street food and watching the local Muslim community mix with the Han Chinese and all the international tourists is stimulating.

The sense of community hasn’t disappeared despite all of the changes, and the city is richer for this added definition.

Posted by DeborahH in China, Cultural dimensions, Daily Life, Photography in China, 0 comments
All the tea in China

All the tea in China

Tea? Who drinks tea? At home, generally our parents’ generation drank tea. It was Indian style tea, strong and black in colour. Some drank it white and sweet, some black with lemon, some straight out of the billy, boiled over an open fire and tasting of smoke and gum leaves. The younger generation is more likely to drink coffee or fruit and herbal teas. But Chinese tea in all its variety? Not very many people really know this wonderful part of Chinese culture.

Here, I have learned to love tea and one of my favourite activities is to hit the tea markets and spend all day there, chatting to the tea sellers, sipping different teas, drooling over the beautiful teapots and trying to decide what to buy, how much lightening my wallet can stand.

Little tea shops are lovely places to start learning about tea. Tea shop owners are happy to spend time chatting about tea, while we sip different teas. Fancy tea shops also abound, and in these, the art of tea is as important as the taste. Here, the invariably beautiful girl serving you tea will be dressed in traditional costume, she will sit or kneel before you at a low, highly decorated, ornately carved table, and with graceful gestures pour tea into your thimble sized cups. A traditional musician may be playing nearby.

The tea pouring ritual is fun watch. The tea leaves are selected and we smell them, good aromas, strong or fresh grass green. The tiny cups are removed from the sanitiser with special tongs, and hot water is poutred over them, then water at the correct temperature (it varies with the type of tea) is poured over the leaves to wash them and this tea is then poured over the cups. Next round of water is poured onto the tea and then strained and finally tipped into your cup. The lid of the small tea pot or cup is offered for smelling, the colour of the tea examined and then we can sip. Each round of tea changes flavour, some becoming sweeter, others becoming stronger. Then different teas are offered, and we start again. Tea tasting is fun!!

There is a touch of snobbery around tea, just as there is around wine or olives or cheese back home. ‘Real’ tea isn’t fruit- or flower-flavoured. ‘Real’ tea relies on the mountain it is grown on, the water the tree is watered with, the age of the tree, the time of the year the leaves are picked and many more things aficionados talk about for hours.

To appreciate ‘real’ tea head for the tea markets. Tea markets are wonderful and sell everything to do with tea – the leaves themselves, the special pots, cups, tools and implements that accompany tea. Nimble fingered girls sort tea leaves and stalks. I stop to chat with them and they show me the stalks which can be used to replace your earrings at night. These stalks have an antiseptic quality and prevent infection. Like everything else edible or drinkable in China, tea in all of its forms is good for you!! Pu’er is good in winter, green tea in summer, this tea helps you lose weight, that tea helps you regain your appetite.

I have three “cha hais” – the table-top trays to hold the tea cups and pots while serving. But these are small – not like the huge, elaboratly carved and decorated marble and wooden tables. I also have a collection (growing…) of ‘cha chong’ (tea pets), small scultpures to bring luck. and to keep them beautiful, the waste tea and hot water are oured over them.

Tea is fascinating.

Posted by DeborahH in China, Homepage, 0 comments

In Hiding

Hidden sun

I’m experimenting with my camera, looking for a couple of things.  Firstly, to understand the camera and its capabilities better and secondly, to increase my own ways of viewing the world, looking at it with fresh eyes.  HDR – even the letters scared me! – but the plan I had for improving my photography had  a section on HDR, and even though I tried to skip passed it, I felt I had to have  one try.  So – this is my first HDR experiment – and not a really good choice for HDR – just the sun hidden behind branches.  Definitely not the world’s best HDR image, but when I made it, different ways of seeing appeared for me.  This now looks almost 3D and that was a surprise.  HDR isn’t as scary as I thought.  🙂

Looking to the sun

As I was looking over the results of my different experiments, I realised a small theme of ‘in hiding’ was emerging.  The techniques and capabilities of the camera are in hiding until I deliberately go looking for them. I could just as easily set it on Auto and let the camera do all the work.  My creativity is in hiding until I start pushing it, by trying different things, looking at things in different ways.

Many of the subjects are in hiding – only glimpsed through leaves, or trees, or behind fog.  They also need to be found before they can become part of our conscious understanding.

When life is comfortable it is so easy to move through it without looking beyond the obvious.  Things are smack in our face, telling us clearly what they want us to see, do or think.  It’s easy to skip past the hidden pains and losses around us.  We also try to slide over the top of our own ‘hidden’ bits – the stories we don’t want told.  In not seeing, and choosing not to see, these things, how much are we losing?  Bypassing the chance to search for the hidden means we miss out on the hidden surprises and joy as well.

My photography will improve with more experimenting, and I hope my creativity will grow the more I see and understand of both myself and the world I live in.  Each of the steps I take along these paths of experiment and investigation brings me closer to seeing and understanding more of what is hidden in the world.

Posted by DeborahH in China, Growth and Development, 0 comments