on the high speed trains

If you’ve ever been to China, one of the highlights is travelling on the fast speed trains. Cities which once took a day, a night, or a few days and nights to reach now take a matter of hours.

Live in Shanghai, want to head up to Beijing for the weekend? No problem. Take the fast speed train and be there in five hours.

Like most railways in the world, you can head down to the dining car if you feel like a full meal, but if it’s snacks you are after, train stewards wheeling trolleys full of snack food, from tea eggs, instant noodles to dried meat,  dried fruit and potato crisps.

The stewards are always polite and helpful, even if you don’t speak Chinese. There’s always someone on the train who can speak English, and will be happy to support you. Does this helpfulness come naturally? Probably – but as part of the focus on service industries, these stewards are receiving training in deportment and etiquette.

Chinese train stewards in training. photo courtesy of http://www.xinhua.

Travelling by train is more convenient – and more comfortable – than flying, especially if your seat gets upgraded to business class.

Business class seat on China’s fast speed trains. Plenty of leg room here.

I used to travel a lot for work. My daughter was young at the time, so to assure her that Mum was being looked after on the trains, I bought her this cute pencil.

My daughter was assured that the train jiejies (big sisters) were looking after me!

China has exported fast speed train technologoy to 102 countries and regions   and has recently launched a freight service from Beijing to London. It’s an 18 day journey involving swapping many different rail gauges crossing through Kazakhstan, Russia, France, Germany and Belgium. There’s talk of building a direct, high speed train from China to Britain – the journey would take only 2 days!


Evanescent: Sunset in Xiamen


厦门 – Xiamen. Wikipedia calls it a “sub-provincial” city.  (What’s subprovincial, anyhow?)

Suburbia spread out over a long harbour, a bit like a mini-mini-mini version of Hong Kong, mainland style, Xiamen is famous for its universities, subtropical climate, and a car-less island in the harbour once renowned for the sweet tinkling of pianos as you walked around.

Like many places in our 21st Century world, an onslaught of tourists have filled the empty spaces in what was, once, a charming island.

Xiamen will soon be home to a meeting of BRICS nations ( Brasil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). BRICS is the new world order, what other countries are doing when the established order isn’t looking – an inter-country banking system which ignores the World Bank and stares unblinkingly at the IMF. BRICS came into being some years back and has already funded massive projects in South-East Asia.

Like many cities across China, Xiamen is becoming increasingly gentrified. Western style restuarants and bars spill out along the sidewalk beside the waterfront. Sipping on a mojito in a bar named Havana, I watched the evanescent sun setting over the bay.

Xiamen is a charming city, mid-way on the road  to reinvention. It’s not really bustling, not quite beach-culture, but it’s off-shore islands full of tropical plants and its by-the-harbour overpasses make it a town worth savouring.

the beach on Gulangyu, Piano Island in Xiamen.


The modern character for “xia” means mansion, and “men” is gate: Xiamen is a Mansion Gate. It’s older name used a homophone, another character xia, 下 meaning lower. Contrasting with 上海 , shanghai or ‘upper sea’,下门 was the lower gate.

Like most famous places in China, there’s a classical poem that sings it’s glory. The poet Cao Cao lived around 100 AD,  in the Three Kingdom period. Cao Cao is more famous as a warlord, whose adventures were novelised in the Chinese classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms. After gaining control of Central and Northern China, Cao Cao was defeated by the remarkable strategist Zhuge Liang  at Red Cliffs. The famous battle has been immortalised in the 2008 film Red Cliffs.

In between fighting land and river battles, Cao Cao must have gone on a trip to Xiamen. Walking from Xiamen and Looking at the Blue Sea is the name of his poem.

gazing at the blue sea, Xiamen

East of Jieshi mountain, I gaze at the blue sea.
The water dances so gently, the mountain island towers.
Trees here grow thick, a hundred grasses are lush.


Since the main ferry to the piano island was rumoured to be swarming with tourists, the taxi driver recommended taking the ferry from another island, Haicang. The taxi sped past a lush of trees, hibiscus plants, and giant banana leaves waving in the breeze. The trees were still thick, surely there were hundreds upon hundreds of lush grasses, and at the dock, I gazed at the blue sea.

on the ferry in Xiamen harbour


The only difference from Cao Cao’s time were the throng of tourists. I decided I’d give piano island a miss, and returned through the mountain island, gazing at the blue sea.







on top of the Lake and the Mountain….

on top of the beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou is a pagoda with a rich history.

The story of White Snake and the Leifang Pagoda appears here 

a small hall leads the way to the zigzag bridge, atop West Lake

nearby the Lake is a hill, a small mountain, with winding paths through a forest. one of those paths leads to a little cave, hidden away from view, off the beaten track.



from atop the hill where the cave is, looking down, a gathering of musicians.

one man stikes up a tune on his erhu – two-stringed fiddle …

and his friends come to join in…

Whilst i loved looking down over this scene, listening to the lilting then melancholic tunes, played by a group of friends relaxing on a sunday morning,

my favourite spot atop the hill was the little mountain cave

where an altar to the Bodhisattva Guan Yin  is hidden away.

观音 –  she who hears the cries of the world.

观  –guan   the character used for Daoist temples. it also means “observation” or “contemplation” and the character was originally referring to the comtempative view from a mountain top temple.

音 yin means sound.

观音guan yin she who hears the cries of the world.


( a little note on phonetics: across the world wide web you will see the Goddess’s name spelt as “quan yin” – this is incorrect and makes absolutely no sense in Chinese. the sound “guan” and “quan” are completely different. the ‘q’ sound is quite a difficult sound for non-Chinese speakers to make – why use it, when it is not correct? a grand mystery.)

It’s a brand new day….


An open horizon across a Mongolian lake, containing the promise of movement, change, and a brand new day…

The horizon on those great rolling grasslands is always wide open, beckoning new camp sites, travelling routes for camels, horse, people….

and vehicles like this converted Russian truck known as the ‘gaz’. In Mongolia, the horizon is as limitless as the grasslands….

Nomadic peoples and agricultural, settled peoples, have a different view of the world. Nomadic peoples connection with nature is immediate, raw, and intimate. The Mongolian god is the Eternal Blue Sky.

In contrast, settled peoples try to “tame” nature. Nature is  seen as something to be controlled, to be ordered according to human desires. In modern day China, this manifests as high rise buildings everywhere…. its not so much as not being able to see the forest for the trees, but more a case of not being able to see the sky for the skyscrapers.

The visual, tactile, and sensory impact of lack of nature can cause illness and disease. Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods” first coined the term “nature deficit disorder” – and it’s a chronic condition in contemporary China. Striving to find a spot of blue sky impedes the connection with nature. “Civilization” becomes paramount and nature deficit disorder arises. Without an unobstructed view of open space and clear skies, the spirit feels contained, squashed, pressed in.

When there’s nothing outside by rolling grasslands, and a great long wall is built….

Are you trying to keep marauding horsemen out? Or keep your gentry inside?

Or is the concept of a ‘great wall’ at all, just latter-day scholars vain-glory?Author Arthur Waldron describes the Great Wall as “a fascinating vision” based on “fundamental misunderstandings”.  The Great Wall of China has many myths surrounding it.Never one long wall, but a series of city walls and ruling state frontier boundaries, it was not until the Ming dynasty ( 1600s -after the Mongol-ruled Yuan dynasty) that serious wall-building began.

Nomadic peoples and agricultural, settled peoples weren’t always at war – the border Walls often as not functioned as places of trade, with seasonal markets lining the edges of the frontier walls.

Qin Shi Huang, China’s “first emperor” back in 200 BC, is said by the history books to have “built the Great Wall. If that is so, questions Waldron, why then is there little mention of it in historical records left from the succeeding dynasties? Records exist, but not necessarily for one long wall, but a series of walls built by city-states to protect their regional territory. Marco Polo, apparently, did not mention a ‘great wall’ either…

Is a clear horizon necessary for human being’s mental and emotional health?

Or is freedom really just  another word for nothing left to lose….

Swan River

Swans have been sited recently on wetlands in the Yellow River, in Shaanxi, Western China.

Every year nearly 10,000 swans fly from Siberia, escaping the harsh northern winter.

Sadly, however, over 200 swans were found dead in a lake in Inner Mongolia, about 300 kilometres north of Beijing. The swans were found laced with Carbofuram a type of pesticide. News reports blame poachers.

This lake, in Sanmenxa, Henan, is also a migratory stop for swans from Siberia.



The swans rest on the Yellow River in Shaanxi ….


Then take off in flight


yàn què ān zhī hóng hú zhī zhì

is a common Chinese idiom

It means can the sparrow and the swallow know the will of the Great Swan?

Pictures and news source from http://www.china.daily.com



Dao is like great rivers




The relation of the Dao to all the world is like that of the great rivers and seas to the streams from the valleys.

.Translation from the Chinese Text Project.  http://ctext.org/dao-de-jing

Dao has been called “The Watercourse Way” because to be attune with Dao is to flow like water. The following passage from the Dao De Jing, courtesy of the Chinese Text Project.

514hpx7rzl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Alan Watts was one of the first western authors to write on Dao – he called his book “The Watercourse way”.

Water plays an important part in Chinese philosophy. fengshui,风水 literally means wind and water, and when divining the energy of the land, determining  where and in which direction to build houses, water plays a large part.

West Lake  Hangzhou – one of the most beautiful water views in China.

The Longhu Water fund near Hangzhou is aiming to change agricultural practices, protect land and save water. Lack of water is a global problem, and China is attempting to deal with this issue in a myriad of ways.


Dujiangyan, photo courtesy of http://www.tibetpandatours.com/attraction-v293-dujiangyan-irrigation-system.html

A look back two millenia ago might give some ideas.  Dujiangyan in Sichuan is the largest non-dam water conservatory project in the world, and it was built some 2200 years ago. The Chengdu plains, which once continually flooded, has not experienced floods since the completion of the Dujiangyan Irrigation system. People still worship Li Bing, the designer of the project, on Qing Ming Festival. Li Bing had his workers construct bamboo cages, and floated on the river. They took heavy rocks and threw them into the water, eventually creating a levee.


For those of you following the new Traditional Chinese Medicine series, there is an acupuncture point called 水道shuidao or the water-way. This point is on the stomach meridian, and not suprisingly, it regulates the bladder.


the blue ocean of Hong Kong Harbour, the South China sea.

Its a trueism to say that ‘water is life’. Why then, do companies like nestle, insist on drilling ground water to sell in plastic bottles, leaving the community with nothing much to drink? Nestle, it seems pays the grand total of $524 to 27 million gallons of water.

Meanwhile, back in China, the country is preparing to build 20 major water conservation projects this year.  This includes a major project in the dry North China plains. China thinks big. By 2020, around 170 water projects are planned.

In China, the ancient and modern mix in an ever-changing dance.

neon lights reflecting on water of Jin Ji Lake.

the highest excellence is that of water.

Laozi, verse 32 of the Daodejing


The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Dao. The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of associations is in their being with the virtuous; that of words is in their trustworthiness; that of government is in its securing good order; that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness. And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him


Synchroninity and Nostalgia

Synchroninity is a Jungian term, meaning ‘meaningful coinicidences’ when events occur with no apparent causal connection. Where western philospophy believes events to be related in causal sequence,

“synchroninity takes the coinidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than chance”.

Carl Jung wrote that sentence, in his introduction to Wilhelm Baynes classic translation of the I Ching, ( now phonetisced as Yi Jing…. the pronunication of the Chinese word actually sounds like that latter, not the former).

Over at Deb’s World, Deb is wondering how wordpress seems to know her thoughts. Rather than wordpress knowing her thoughts, its maybe the principle of synchroninity at work. When our life is synchronistic, we are in tune with the larger meanderings of the wide universe.A kind of Universal Wide Web. ( UWW) :)….btw, for Aussies out there, Deb and her colleagues are fighting the good fight against the NSW buracracy, who want to take trained teachers, like Deb, out of NSW prisons… go and check out her story here ( that’s right, you click on the word ‘here’) and support her cause…..

This weeks wordpress photo challenge  is Nostalgia. Yesterday, I was out shopping with my daughter. As usual, we head for clothes shops. A girl can never have too many, really. When i saw this teeshirt, I almost laughed out loud.

There was my photo challenge, in wearable black and white.

Actually, I’d been musing about how nostalgic I was for the beach…

the beach in my australian home…

but then again, i’m often nostalgic for times gone by

The Tang dynasty, specifically, at Hangzhou.

But why think of unnessary things, when the universe, synchronistally, presents you with the perfect photo for a WordPress challenge. Right next to the Nostalgia teeshirt, was this one.

But then there was this one

Don’t quit your daydream? Sounds like good advice. Righty-oh. Back to Hangzhou.

For more on Carl Jung and his connection to the I Ching/Yi Jing,

read here for the whole forward:


or here for an overview


Old Dust and the Rabbit on the Moon

The full moon in the northern hemisphere’s autumn is a special day for the Chinese nation – its 中秋节zhong qiu jie or Mid Autumn Festival. On this day, the moon is closed to earth so appears bigger than usual. Chinese people gather with their families and eat delicious food. Traditonally, everyone goes out to look at the moon also.

Everyone’s favourite poet – well mine anyhow – Li Bai, was famed for loving to look at the moon and writing poems about it. Often when drunk.

Statue of Li Bai in his mausoleam at Ma’anshan, Jiangsu.

Li Bai wrote a poem sometimes translated  into English as  “Old Dust“. The Chinese name is a bit more complex. 拟古 ni gu –  gu means ancient, and sometimes refers to a classic text, whilst ni  means draft. Joseph Li tranlates ni gu in Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry,  as “In imitation of Ancient Songs”.

The living are a passing traveller

says Li Bai in the first line of his poem. 生者为过客 sheng zhe wei guo ke

In ni gu, Li Bai refers to the rabbit in the moon pounding an elixir in vain. The first recorded reference to the rabbit in the moon is from the Western Han dynasty, in the Chu Ci, the Songs of Chu. Chu was a state in central China, and the Western Han ruled from 206 BC to 9 AD .

The rabbit is pretty busy. He has to help Chang’E, lady of the moon, prepare her elixir of immortality.

Chang E and Jade Rabbit from http://theopenscroll.blogspot.nl/2013/12/part-30-celestial-stargates-chinese.html

After her husband, Yi the archer, shot down 9 of the ancient 10 suns, leaving only one, he was given the Elixir of Immortality. One day someone broke into Chang’E and Yi’s house, demanding the Elixir. Chang’E, rather than handing over the Elixir to the thief, drank it herself. She promptly turned into an Immortal and flew to the Moon, where she found the Jade Rabbit. The Jade Rabbit resides on the moon pounding the elixir to eternity, so Chang’ E may drink it.

Happy Moon Festival! 中秋节快乐!


Here’s  an online translation of Li Bai’s poem

The living is a passing traveler;
The dead, a man come home.
One brief journey betwixt heaven and earth,
Then, alas! we are the same old dust of ten thousand ages.
The rabbit in the moon pounds the medicine in vain;
Fu-sang, the tree of immortality, has crumbled to kindling wood.
Man dies, his white bones are dumb without a word
When the green pines feel the coming of the spring.
Looking back, I sigh; looking before, I sigh again.
What is there to prize in the life’s vaporous glory?  


Here’s the Chinese version



Lee, Joseph, Sunflower Splendor: Three Thousand Years of Chinese Poetry, pp. 103-104.

Online translation: http://www.damo-qigong.net/forum/Thread-The-Old-Dust-%E6%8B%9F%E6%97%A7-By-Li-Bai-%E6%9D%8E%E7%99%BD


The Edge of Jiugongshan

a daoist temple, perched on the edge of a lake on the edge of a mountain 

at 九宫山 jiugongshan, nine palaces mountain

云中湖 yunzhong hu, Middle of the Clouds Lake, is aptly named. driving up the mountain I felt like i was in the middle of a chinese painting, all craggy mountain peaks, mist and greenery


daoists from the sacred mountain wudangshan came to rebuild the temple after the devastation during the cultural revolution

walking up the mountain, coming to the edge of a precipse in 九宫山 jiugongshan,

with a view in front of you something like this


and a gap below of some thousand feet

giddying should you look down, but you dont

The others have gone first, stepped across the ravine like its a walk in the park, and you know there’s more hazardous mountain paths, like treacherous 华山 hua shan, the Flower Mountain, and if you dont walk soon you wont find them again because the mountain is lost in a thousand-year-old mist

so you step, over the edge, because its all you can do, not looking down… its only a little jump, and your heart beats as you tread through the mist, wondering if your feet are going to step on solid mountain rock, or the air circulating through another ravine

12 years pass, a whole cycle of Jupiter,  the岁星 , the year star and its the Monkey Year again, and you’re on the edge – we’re all on the edge – of Jupiter and dwarf planet Makemake,

Jupiter in the Milky Way, Nasa Astronomy picture of the day sourced from http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap960723.html

who are hanging out together and aligning themselves slap bang to the middle of the Milky Way, right near Galactic Central, which according to Astrologer Jim “can be so rife with Danger that it can Create its own kinds of Trauma.  ” Turns out there’s a host of other planets and  dwarf planets in the cosmic mix and Astrologer Jim tells us that “the World is Shifting, and this is an Opportunity for us to Shift along with it.  That means Letting Go of obsolete Identities and Emotional Baggage, and replacing them with New Ways of Looking at the World.  “

So that’s what’s going on, you think, as everyone you know is dealing with heavy-duty energy and on the edge of madness and despair, love and transformation, as Gaia shakes off all she doesnt need and sends us into a spin of transformational energy so intense you cant sleep, you can’t walk, you can barely even cry….

when saturn and neptune have got you cornered, currently in aspect to Jupiter and all those dwarf planets, ( see Astrolger Jim at the above links), it behoves to think of the wise words of Mary Mausby,  who reminds us, like John did all those years ago that

so when you’re on the edge of reality, it’s really not so hard, cancel the negative thoughts, neutralize their energy, and upgrade our energy into positivity and miracles

and remember

all you need is love, love, love is all you need.

stone gate in jiugongshan




MIrrored View in Classical Gardens

The Unesco Listed World Heritage Suzhou Gardens were composed and built to harmonize human beings and nature. 

The construction principles are complex yet essentially functional: a harmonious mix of rock and stone, water and nature, to create a living space that was at once poetic, meditative and inspirational.

Mirrored views were one principle which created a sense of space, an illusion and illumination, a carefully constructed view to create harmonious aspects.

So naturally placed, so carefully constructed to take full advantage of sunlight, the mirrored view seems like looking through a window.

But it’s a mirror, on the Fragrant Isle.

Mirrored views, also termed borrowed views, aslo placed carefully selected rocks in positions to create an illusion of famous mountains.This rock sculpture is placed before a mirror reflecting back more rock sculptures, the stones speaking to each other in reflected grace.

Sunlight and shadow, mirroring a sculpted window.

an engraved poem, a mirror,a geometric space of beauty.

suzhou first week 218

The Suzhou Classical Gardens – a mirror into another time.


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