The distance from Shanghai to Melbourne isn’t a small one, but when my cousin Ruth suggests I visit her temporary home the decision is easy. Being lean on vacation days, I select a 3-day weekend and book my trip to Australia.
The height of my excitement is equaled only by the height of my disappointment upon arriving in Sydney to discover I’ve missed my connecting flight and won’t be able to get on another one for nearly eight hours – practically half the time with my cousin has been lost. So I do what any jilted traveler would do: I head out on the town. The Royal Botanic Garden becomes my refuge for the day.
The warm sunny day and cool bay breeze sweep away the remnants of the cold winter chill that lingered with me. I find a beautiful tree to sit under, remove my shoes so I can feel the soft blades of grass beneath my toes, and allow the pleasant day to melt away my disappointment and frustration. Staring out at the harbor and up at the blue sky, I recline against the strong tree trunk. I watch the people pass by, enjoying the stillness of this pleasant and unexpected afternoon in the garden. I leave the garden feeling grounded and rejuvenated by my peaceful surroundings.
The bright light of the late afternoon sun bounces off the gold adornment of Wat Sothon Wararam Worawihan. Nearly 2 hours drive east of Bangkok, this temple is stunning. It too pays homage to the deceased king, as do nearly all the buildings in Thailand – a country in mourning. His black framed picture lends a solemn tone to the temple. I’m curious if it always feels this somber or if it is a byproduct of the expression of collective grief.
We’ve arrived just as the monks are beginning their evening prayers. Although it means we are unable to enter the temple, it also means we are greeted with their chant as we meander around the temple grounds and adjacent market stalls.
The granite peaks and pine trees emerge from the fog as if by magic. Walking the 1,500 year old stone steps that navigate these mountains, one can easily recognize what sparked the inspiration of centuries of poets and artists. A spark that created a whole genre of Chinese landscape painting, Shanshui (Mountain and Water). Rumored to be the place where the “elixir to mortality” was found and self proclaimed as “God’s favorite mountain”, Huangshan’s (Yellow Mountain) designation as one of China’s sacred mountains dates back to the eighth century. The fog, which creates the so beloved magical scenery, can be so thick that one cannot see the magnificence around her. So one hopes for fog, but not too much.
Hot springs, waterfalls, and ponds pepper the base of the mountains. Being the only laowei (foreigners), our presence elicits giggles and stares. The few locals who do speak English jump at the chance to practice and for the most part everyone is surprised to see us here. The population in the area is small and unlike most of China that is booming with growth and development, policies are in place to decrease the population and remove buildings. A favorite place for locals to visit, the park must find a balance of preservation and supporting the increasing visitor load.