Showing posts with label minorities. Show all posts
Showing posts with label minorities. Show all posts

07 October 2016

Trekking in the New Territories of Hong Kong

Meeting Stanley at my hotel in Mong Kok. He is a late-twenty-someting Hongkonger who freelances as a tourist guide.

We hop on the ever trustworthy MTR and are whisked to a station in the New Territories called Tai Po Market. From there it's a short taxi ride to the start of the trek. We walk through thick forests, and come within sight of the mainland: Shenzhen in just across the narrow bay.

At our destination we meet with David, a local local Hakka guide. He speaks German as he lived and worked in Germany for 20 years came back to revive village. With not a little pride he shows us around the Hakka village. Simple dwellings, a school, a temple. Hi brother cooks a delicious lunch for us: duck, pork and tuna. I am not sure which I liked the most, I ate too much of all of three. Yet I don' feel guilty, we are going to walk a lot today, some 20km all in all perhaps, so I need the calories.

The village is "protected" by a Feng Shui wall, which serves the dual purpose of keeping the evil spirits out and good fortune in (good fortune gets into the village through the gate, which somehow the evil spirits can't muster). The gate is impressive, very pretty and solid. Next to the door, on two golden panels, one can read the names of the people who live in the village, a kind of census. Next to each name a number: the amount of money each donated toward the restoration of the village.

It is called the Lai Chiwo (lychee) Village because in the early days people found the fruits in the surrounding area.

On the main square I am impressed by an austere building, the old school, now shut.

The temple is, as always, a deep experience. David insists, and I oblige, that I don't take pictures directly to the face of the deities who are watching us from the top of the altars.

Villagers mostly live off sustainable agriculture. They grow many different vegetables, notably rice and sunflower.

Toward the end of the tour we meet two ladies working in the fields, they speak good English, too good to be farmers of an isolated village. After talking to them I discover they are actually academics, have MAs and PhDs but do this farm work for free when they have time to keep their old village alive.

It's almost sunset, we are going back. Stanley takes me to another route, so I have a chance to see a different area. Lush valleys and rolling hills, I would never have expected Hong Kong to have this hidden face to show a curious traveler who digs deeper than shopping and dim sum. At one point Stanely tells me we are almost home, ie to the bus terminus: then I see a sign that says we have 5km to go! Distances are relative. It's a bit exhausting for me but I enjoy it. Stan walks ahead of me but never forgets to look back and check on me. there are no other trekkers around. I enjoy the solitude of the moment though I can also anticipate with enthsiasm the moment I will lower myself into a hot bath back at the hotel.

03 November 2014

Book review: South Africa: A Traveller's History (2003), by David Mason *****

Travel to multi-colored South Africa
Synopsis

A Traveller's History of South Africa is intended as a comprehensive single volume survey of one of today's most popular and exciting destinations. Lifting the lid on this most multi-cultural of societies - and its chequered past - the book will begin by tracing the evolution of South Africa from prehistoric times, taking into account the most recent archaeological and anthropological findings. It will then chart the penetration of the region by European explorers and traders; the political, social and economic developments that follow on from this, and finally, the complicated descent into state repression of the majority black population after the Second World War. Bringing the story up to date, the book will also include practical information for the visitor, as well as a full compendium of historical facts and data.


Review

Well written brief history of South Africa, will be a friendly companion to travelers there and will help appreciate the country better than a guide book.

Racial issues of course are prominent in this book, and the white vs black juxtaposition is described in a wealth of details. But the history of South Africa is one of parallel struggles amongst the white colonizers, one the one hand, and among indigenous Africans, on the other. English and Dutch settles (less the French) fought each other as much as Zulu fought Xhosa.

Interesting to learn that the NNC (forerunner of the ANC) supported segregation because it saw it as a way to acquire power over African tribal rulers. Yet, as Mandela put it, segregation developed over time to become " the codification inone oppressive system that was monolithic, diabolical in detail, inescapable in reach and overwhelming it power".

See other books and films about South Africa I reviewed in this blog.





10 October 2011

Book Review: Slaves of the Cool Mountains, by Alan Winnington, *****

Author with released slaves in Yunnan
Synopsis

Beijing, 1956: foreign correspondent Alan Winnington heard reports of slaves being freed in the mountains of south-west China. The following year he travelled to Yunnan province and spent several months with the head-hunting Wa and the slave-owning Norsu and Jingpaw. From that journey was born this book, which Neal Ascherson has called 'one of the classics of modern English travel writing'. The first European to enter and leave these areas alive, Winnington met a slave-owner who assessed his value at five silver ingots ('Your age is against you, but as a curiosity you would fetch a decent price'), a head-hunter who a fortnight earlier killed a man in order to improve his own rice harvest and a sorcerer struggling against the modern medicines sapping his authority and livelihood.


29 April 2011

6. - 29 APR: Shangri-la, lake Bitahai, Shudu and visit of town, shopping

Lake Bitahai
In the morning we make a trip to lake Bitahai, the highest in Yunnan at 3500msl. Nice walk along the river, abou three kilometers. We also take a short ride on a boat, a rip-off at 5 dollars to sail 10 minutes locked inside an ugly ferry. Would have been nicer to walk that distance as well. Then a drive to lake Shuduhai and another pleasant walk of a kilometer and a half. Tons of Chinese tourists all around. Not as many yaks as we had hoped to see, but still we see lots of the archetycal animal of this region in the meadows that paint this landscape.

28 April 2011

5. - 28 APR: Drive to Shangri-la, via leaping Tiger gorge, Tibetan villages

We leave Lijiang for a drive north, toward the Himalaya. At the Yangtse we cross the “border” between Yunnan and the Shangri-la (formerly Zhongdian) districts. Right after the bridge over the river we turn right and drive to the “Tiger Leaping Gorge”, nothing much really... but the Chinese are pretty good at making this look like a never-to-be-missed natural wonder!

We actually drove to the gorge on road on the north side of the river, but it would be possible to hike on the trail on the southern side. One or the other... if you hike one way (maybe some 3 km) you can not drive back.

After lunch at a local eatery we walk back about 30 min. to the bridge where our bus is waiting and move on and soon we are in an area inhabited by Tibetan people.

We stop at a couple of villages, Navadi and Civadi. These are not rich people who live here but the houses we see are rather big and well maintained. It is not easy to communicate with the locals, but I try and one young lady invites me inside to have a look at her home. A huge kitchen/living room displays huge chunks of smoked pork hanging from the ceiling, and a large stove in the middle of the wooden floor. There are also baskets with yoghurt left to ferment and solidify.

Some ladies are weaving wool in their yards, with lots of little children playing around. No men are to be seen, probably working in the fields. On some roofs, a small red flag, meant to bring good auspices for the next harvest, flutters quietly in the evening breeze.

Next to each home is a huge wooden frame, where grass will be hung to dry.

A friendly people that made for a warm if fleeting encounter that could have been more significant had the language barrier not closed off any meaningful communication.

in the evening we arrive at Shangri-la, formerly Zhongdian. The old name was changed after the Chinese government decided that the city was the mythical Shangri-la described by John Hilton in "Lost Horizon". Few questioned the decision, and the new name was an immediate hit for tourists.

You may also want to watch the film "Lost Horizon" by Frank Capra. This movie is in my opinion superior to the book it is based on. I found the book a bit boring, while this movie is all but! Many aspects are clearly very incredible, but then again this is a novel, almost a fairy tale, not a travelogue.

The main point I came away with is that somewhere there might a Shangri-la near all of us, we must only open our eyes to see it, accept it and be ready for change. The worst favor we can do to ourselves is stick to the beaten path.

The restored original version is great even with a few scenes missing and replaced by a slideshow with the original soundtrack.

Recensione: Benvenuti nel paese delle donne, di Francesca Rosati Freeman, ****

A sud delle nuvole
Sinossi

Un viaggio straordinario 'a sud delle nuvole', alla scoperta di Nu Guo, il paese delle donne. Qui abitano i Moso, un'etnia strutturata in grandi famiglie matriarcali. Un sistema unico, nel quale le donne 'portano sulle spalle' un'intera comunità e i valori su cui sono costruite tutte le nostre società sono rovesciati. I Moso, infatti, rifiutano il matrimonio e le coppie passano la notte insieme per separarsi all'alba.



Recensione

L'Autrice Francesca Rosati Freeman  ripercorre il viaggio di Namu, la protagonista di "Il paese delle donne" (Sperlig & Kupfer) nello Yunnan, la provincia cinese dove abitano i Moso, una piccola minoranza etnica presso la quale le donne hanno un ruolo preminente e molto speciale.

Un'interessante approfondimento sociale e poltico di una piccola realtà della Cina del sud ovest. L'autrice visita ripetutamente la regione e riesce ad entrare nelle case e dar voce a tanti Moso che altrimenti non ascolterebbe nessuno. Il libro mette a nudo i successi ma anche le contraddizioni dell'amministrazione cinese in questa regiona, dagli estremismi del maoismo alla maggiore autonomia dei giorni nostri.

Consiglio di leggere entrambi i libri, sono complementari tra di loro.


Book Review/Recensione: Leaving Mother Lake, by Namu and Christine Mathieu, *****

Recensione italiana di seguito

Synopsis

The Tibetans refer to Moso country as "The Country of Daughters" because of their unique matrilineal society. In Moso culture, daughters are favoured children. There is no word for father, marriage is considered a backward practice and property is passed on from mother to daughter. This book is the haunting memoir of a girl growing up in a remarkable place. In her village, Namu was known as the girl whose mother tried to give her away three times because she would not stop crying...

27 April 2011

4. - 27 APR: Lijiang, Jade Dragon Mountain, Baisha, market

Up early and off to a bus ride to the mountains of Yulong Xueshan (Jade Dragon Mountain), where we leave the bus and buy some tickets. To do so, one must go through a weird sort of hangar, with a whole series of stands selling anything from oxygen bottles (in case of mountain sickness) to T-shirts, to traditional Chinese medicine, to dried frogs... I end up buying some CDs of local music.

A chairlift takes us up to the “yak meadows”. The view of the peaks from the top is stunning, and the white snow against the blue sky provides a perfect frame for the Buddhist gompa on top of a hill that we reach with an easy 20 min walk. The gompa is not the most impressive I have ever seen, still, it's good to see it here, open for business.

A few yaks graze around, it is all by the book! Not enough time to savor the atmosphere unfortunately, time to go back. I detest fixed schedules when traveling but today I have no choice, I am in the hands of the local guides. To make things worse, some of my clients, especially 50+ single Italian ladies, complain to me! Oh boy...

Lunch is in a typical restaurant in Baisha, the capital of the old Naxi kingdom and still one of their major centers, where murals from the Ming dynasty were once world famous, before, yes you guessed it... the Cultural Revolution did irreparable damage to them. Some of my companions begin to display uneasiness with Chinese food. (Figures...) I, on the contrary, find the fare fed to foreign groups to be too edulcorated, its taste made way too plain to adjust to the wimpy palates of Western tourists. Therefore, after making sure everyone has his plate full, I go and eat with the driver and the guide, who get REAL Chinese food: hearty, sometimes spicy, sometimes VERY spicy, and sooooo good! As of today this will become my standard operating procedure for the rest of the trip.

After lunch off to town for a visit of the food market, with impressive displays of all kinds of delicacies, clearly a successful farmers’ market that may not be very communist but has all its shelves full. Very colorful cabbages and other greens are on display next to bright red chili baskets that will spice up local dishes. Southern Chinese cuisine is known for being generally more spicy than the rest. In a semi-dark covered pavilion a number of butchers are busy chopping and skinning all kinds of animals, but especially pigs and cows as I can tell. No refrigeration system is in sight but the meat looks very fresh, I suppose there must be a high turnover.

I bought a red mahjong set, kind of old looking if not necessarily that old. Nearby, a palace that used to belong to an old pre-revolutionary governor exudes some ancient charm. I especially appreciate its old wooden doors. Many frescos all around, we are told by our local guide, were destroyed by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, but these doors survived because local farmers painted them over with portraits of Mao.

We then move on to the park of the Black Dragon Pool. It is a stunning location, with lots of history, art and architecture which we only have time to taste in part.

There is an old and very big camellia tree. It has its own guardian, who is well known because he has had this job for over 50 years. He says, through our guides, that the Red Guards wanted to cut the tree down as it was an "old thing" but he stopped them and told them they would have to kill him first, and they gave up. Who knows what really happened but the tree is here!

Dinner tonight brings a new guest: Baijuu, the rice liquor that will accompany most of the rest of our dinners in this trip. Sort of similar to grappa (very sort of) it can be made with rice or sorghum. It has a rather coarse taste but can go down very well after a hearty Chinese meal.

26 April 2011

3. - 26 APR: Fly from Chengdu to Lijiang, Yunnan. Naxi concert

Alalalei! (Hello!) is the first word in Naxi language I learn from our guide upon arrival in this small but pretty and efficient airport in Yunnan province. Zhubaysay (Thank you!) is the second. Swallow, (the name of our guide) welcomes us in this peculiar province, where most of all the minorities of China live.

In Yunnan province, forty-five million people live in 400,000 square kilometers, an area  almost one and a half times the size of Italy, and of them, one third belong to national minorities, i.e. non-Han peoples. Twenty-five of China's fifty-six national minorities are represented in Yunnan.

The number of Naxi is small, less than half a million people, but Swallow thinks it's probably set to rise a bit since national minorities are not bound by the one-child policy of China. She, however, married a Han Chinese and therefore is stuck to one kid! :-( She says there are quite a few who break the rule. In this case they have to pay 300,000 Rmb (about 30k euro) for a fine. Alternatively, some couple just don't declare their second born. This can be difficult in a city but is relatively easy in the countryside. A third option is to sell the child to couples who can't have any. Finally, quite a few end up aborting their second child.

She takes us around town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Black Dragon pool park is a serene spot, and very clean... everyone comes here to have their picture taken, and for good reason. A place to be savored for a few hours. A typical Chinese garden, with pagoda, lake, bridge, tower...

My most interesting meeting is with a ninety-something year old man at the Yufeng temple. He is a gardener, and has been tending to an extremely old camelia tree for many decades. He sort of sits there by the wayside, but says that during the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards came up the hill and wanted to cut down the tree, seen as some sort of decadent symbol or whatever... but he stood up and told them they would have to cut him down first, at which point they gave up and left. Not sure what to make of the story, but the obesssion with the damage inflicted by the fanatic Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution is a recurring refrain in this trip.

Dongba pictogams
We also have a chance to visit the Dongba Research Institute, where the old Naxi language is still studied and preserved. It is perhaps the last pictographic language in the world, composed of some 1400 pictograms, ie little drawings, unlike the Chinese ideograms which are composed of graphic symbols that don’t necessarily have any resemblance with the object of their representation.

At 20:30 we get a chance to listen to a concert of traditional Naxi music in the town's concert hall. This is no tourist trap, but an amazing group that resurrected an old musical heritage that had been destroyed to near extinction during the 1950s after the repressions of the "One Hundred Flowers" campaign in 1957.

The musicians are almost all octogenarians, with a few exceptions, among them a lady harpist and an amazing lady singer. They are led by Xuan Ke, who was imprisoned for twenty-one years (until 1978, after Mao's death) for his key role in founding the orchestra. He was allowed to restart it in 1984, and today the ensemble plays some original instruments which were saved from destruction at the time of One Hundred Flowers and then during the Cultural Revolution by some brave locals who hid them from the Red Guards at their own risk.

I talk to Xuan Kue after the concert, he has no bitterness, just an incredibly strong will to keep Naxi musical tradition alive, and he is sorry that it is difficult to find young people to learn how to play it. He claims this is China's oldest music and must be preserved for posterity. So at 81 y.o. he keeps performing with his group every night to packed audiences of locals and tourists.

Leitoto (goodbye in Naxi)!

18 November 2009

Film Review: Kurdish Yezidis (2009) by Florence Gavage, *****


Synopsis
According to ancient legend, in the beginning God created a white pearl and a bird. He then created seven angels including Melek Taus, the peacock angel whom he made the greatest of them all. To make land, He threw Lalish into the water which made it solid. And so the seven Angels went ashore at Lalish.  These people, the Yezidis, believe that they were the very first inhabitants on earth when the world was created. Yezidism is one of the most unusual and unknown religions on earth. It has survived during the centuries despite its status as an unrecognized religion under Islamic rule, and through many onslaughts against its Kurdish followers. 

Review
This is a unique documentary on a little known people. The director has done thorough research and has traveled not only to Iraq to document the life of contemporary Yezidis, but also to various countries to meet Yezidi diaspora.

You can view Part 1/2 here:



You can vew Part 2/2 here:

14 November 2009

Film review: The Last Assyrians, by Robert Alaux, ****

For six years Robert Alaux researched and wrote this documentary. It is the first film that tells the complete history of the Assyrian Chaldean Syriac people. History overlooks how they suffered from massacres, hunger and starvation during the1915 genocide; and the international community has not protected these people in their homeland after decades of mass exodus.

Despite their pain and suffering this indigenous Christian community, including the Diaspora, seek justice, peace, prosperity, security, and solidarity in the Middle East. From their ancient beginning in Mesopotamia to their present existence in the Middle East and around the world, the story of the last people to speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. I wish to thank Faito Doc Festival for having shown this movie to me and Robert Alaux for having presented it in Brussels.

This is a passionate accunt of the plight of an ancient people and a significant diaspora who can't really hope to have their own state but have been fighting to preserve their identity.

You can watch a trailer of this movie here. 

DVD available in English et en français. Contact the director here.



03 October 2009

Film review: Afghanistan, Messengers from a Dark Past (2007), by Hossein Sadre and Florence Gavage, *****

Synopsis
Having been ravaged by over twenty-five years of civil war and strife, Afghanistan has today lost nearly all that made up its rich cultural past, as well as the pride of its inhabitants, in the days when caravans trod across the Silk Route. Long before these dark years, the various Afghan clans had already seen internal conflicts caused by their geographic isolation and the resulting political and social weakness. The principle of “divide and rule” became very easy to apply to these peoples who had no thirst for conquest.

This documentary goes back to the very early periods in the history of Afghanistan and its most ancient inhabitants, some 2.000 years ago: The Hazaras.

Over the centuries, they were colonized and their identities gradually eroded. From Arab conquests to the rule of the British-backed Amir Abdul Rahman Khan in the 1870s, right up to the Taliban, who destroyed the Bamyian Buddhas with the help of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, a century of persecution, torture and humiliation finally subdued the Hazara people who were left without even a strand of hope.

You can view this film on Youtube by kind concession of the authors:

You can view Part 1/2 here:


You can view Part 2/2 here:

24 August 2005

6° g - 24 Ago: Ngorongoro

Giornata intera nel cratere. Ho preferito passare due giorni qui, anche a costo di dover eliminare il parco di Terengire dal programma, e tutto sommato ne siamo stati soddisfatti per l’unicità del posto anche se a Terengire dicono che in questa stagione si possano trovare più specie di animali che non sono migrati verso nord – soprattutto gli gnu. Ma anche con la migrazione ce ne sono comunque tantissimi. Molti ghepardi ci arrivano fin sotto la macchina!

22 August 2005

4° g - 22 Ago: Eyasi, caccia con i Boscimani – Keratu

Partenza prima delle 6 per essere dai Boscimani, popolazione di raccoglitori e cacciatori presente un po' in tutta l'Africa meridionale ed orientale. Su questo sito si possono vedere alcuni interessanti video sui Boscimani. All’alba ed andare con loro a caccia, con arco e frecce! Li troviamo dopo un po’ (essendo nomadi non sono sempre facilmente reperibili) in un wadi (fiume in secca). Presentazioni di rito, sono socievoli anche se non abituati a vedere troppi turisti. Visita molto interessante anche se non si riesce a comunicare con i Boscimani, che non parlano neanche lo swahili per cui neanche le nostre guide possono fare da interpreti!

20 August 2005

2° g - 20 AGO: Arusha e villaggio dintorni

Arrivo ad Arusha molto presto, siamo a 1800mslm, ci vengono a prendere in aeroporto. Andiamo in albergo dove mi incontro con Don, il corrispondente, per fare i conti e confermare le prenotazioni per tutto il viaggio. Poi decidiamo, tra le varie possibilità offerteci per la prima giornata, di andare a visitare un villaggio nelle vicinanze, quello di Ng’iresi, a 7km dalla città. Il villaggio è diventato un emblema del turismo “culturale”.

20 June 2005

8° g - 20 Giugno: Valle INDO NORD, da Lamayuru a Dah, via Khalsi 120 KM ORE 4

Partenza da Lamayuru sul presto. Arriviamo in tarda mattinata al campeggio di Dha Hanu, ci sistemiamo e proseguiamo per il villaggio di Dha, abitato dai Brokpa, a volte scritto "Drok Pa", una etnia indoeuropea dalle origini non certe ma probabilmente ex nomadi del Caucaso. Non ci sono gli uomini, che sono andati a lavorare nei campi, e neanche tante donne, ma in compenso in cima al villaggio c’è la scuola, ben sistemata proprio accanto ad una enorme antenna parabilica.

Spontanea fraternizzazione, insegnamo a cantare canzoncine italiane dello zecchino d’oro (tra i partecipanti c’era una ragazza che effettivamente vi aveva cantato!) e naturalmente tante foto, tè, ecc Vale la pena!

La sera un gruppo di Brokpa ci fanno uno spettacolo di danze, sempliciotto assai, secondo me erano un gruppo di passanti più o meno raccogliticci che si sono messi i costumi da festa per noi (2500 Rs per tutto il gruppo dopo quache trattativa). D’altra parte qui arriva ancora poca gente, e per loro è un’occasione di sfoggiare... e guadagnare.

10 August 2003

4° g - 10 AGO: gita a Qara Kilise e Santo Stefano

Lunga gita verso il nord, stancante ma ne vale sicuramente la pena. Le strade in Iran sono mediamente buone o molto buone. Paesaggi brulli ed aridissimi, montagne che si impennano drammaticamente dalle valli deserte. Arriviamo fino al confine con l’Azerbaijan, la polizia ci fa perdere un sacco di tempo per i necessari permessi dato che siamo in zona di frontiera. Ma la fatica viene ripagata dall'obiettivo della gita...

26 August 2002

19. - 26 AUG: Muang Sing market, trek in the jungle

Muang Sing market

Six o’clock in the morning and the market is already in full swing. Ladies from around the province are deployed to their negotiating positions behind tightly packed stands: fruits, vegetables, spices, sweets, the usual suspects as far as country markets go. But some not so usual foodstuffs did make me wonder what kind of recipes would be prepared that evening in some of Muang Sing’s homes: roasted and live beetles, whole raw pig heads, buckets of chicken paws…