A Door in an Ancient City, China

Doors in China are the most important feature of a house. The front door lets in good energy and welcomes family and friends, but also keeps away demons and intruders. Inviting but guarded. Solid and protective.

Another door in Dali, Yunnan, China.
A door in Dali, Yunnan, China.
Doo, Lijiang. Just for the texture.
Door, Lijiang, China. Just for the texture.
A door in Dali, Yunnan, China
Another door in Dali, Yunnan, China
Door, Lijiang, China
Door, Lijiang, China

I adore a good door! Some great doors in China may be found in Dali and Lijiang, Yunnan Province. Both are ancient walled cities and free of traffic, the latter being a Unesco world heritage site.

Sichuan Pepper Berry Oil. 花椒油

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASichuan pepper berry, in its dried form, is well known and is an exotic addition to many a dish from that province of China. Its finely ground powder forms one of the ingredients in five spice powder, along with star anise, cinnamon, fennel and cloves. Less is known about the oil that is extracted from the berry. The pepper berry, although tingling and a little hot, is not related to regular pepper or to chilli.

We came across a factory producing Chinese pepper oil, 花椒油, located in Meishan, quite by chance. We were driving back to Chengdu after one glorious week of visiting ancient historic walled cities, restored Tang Dynasty houses, Buddhist temples, mountain streams dissecting lush green jungles, as well as the ‘Big Buddha’ in Leshan and the temples of Mt Emei, when Tia asked if we would like to visit the factory.


A big fan of the Sichuan pepper berry, I had to investigate further. This industry has thrived for more than 2000 years. In those days, the berry was harvested and the oil was extracted using these ancient wood and stone mills.


Today, the oil is extracted in the same way as olive oil and stored in vast stainless steel vats, then bottled and shipped around the world. It is an extensive, modern factory and well worth a visit to see such an unusual industry.


There is a quaint museum next to the factory with dioramas showing the production of this oil in ancient times, as well as kitchenalia from more recent times, including enamel ware from the Cultural Revolution, along with a restaurant.

The oil, like the berry, produces a tingling, numbing sensation on the tongue and lips: a few drops added to the top of MaPo Dofu or a Vegetable stir fry is sensational, or with noodles, ginger, brown sugar, vinegar and greens.


I really wanted to buy a small bottle at the Hong Ya County Yaomazi Food Company but the thought of the jar breaking and leaking pepper oil over my luggage was a strong deterrent. It can be purchased in Melbourne in Chinese grocery stores but is hard to recognise. Just ask for Sichuan Pepper oil and someone in the store will find it for you. Like sesame oil, a little goes a long way.



Converge: Pick Me up for Work.

1-IMG_1007We are standing on the banks of the Yangtze river close to its convergence with the Min River at Yibin, Sichuan Province in China.  A large cargo boat travelling upstream slows down. A ferry waits at the scene. There is a man dressed in white standing on the edge of the ferry. 1-IMG_1008The boats finally converge. The man in white is hauled up and off to work he goes.


At the Daily Post, you may find other images on convergence.

Travel Theme: Broken in Yunnan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATravelling around Yunnan Province, China this year, it was a pleasure to spend a week in the ancient town of Dali. After each long day of walking and touring around Lake Erhai, we would return to our comfortable guesthouse, the Jade Emu, run by a Chinese -Australian couple. Next door, they also run a quaint little restaurant, La Dolce Vita, with an Italian menu, wine, along with a book exchange, cafe and DIY laundry. These Western services are most welcome, especially for the long term guest,  but then so are the broken bikes used as decor.

Cafe in a Melbourne suburb? No, Dali, China.
Cafe in a Melbourne suburb? No, Dali, China.

The husband is from Melbourne: this would explain the broken bikes in the cafe garden, an appealing idea to copy.  Melbournians love to up-cycle junk.

The Jade Emu is located in a quiet precinct just off the Yunnan -Tibet Highway, a road that I wouldn’t mind travelling along next time.

Thanks once again to Ailsa for the travel theme.

Travel Theme: Noise

We’re back in Lijiang, Yunnan Province, China. At night, the bars light up, with each bar employing a band or singer. The noise can be overwhelming, but the locals love to party.  I preferred wandering the streets of this ancient Chinese city in the day time, when the cobblestoned streets were quiet and empty.

You can find some more noisy shots at Ailsa’s travel photography site.  And I recommend my brother’s take on this theme too. Take a look at Mick’s Cogs.

Lijiang by night.
Lijiang by night.

Travel Themes: Merchandise

Scarves and wraps re essential at night.
Scarves and wraps re essential at night.

Merchandise in the old towns of Dali and Lijiang, in Yunann Province, China,  is colourful and tempting. Lijiang is a Unesco World Heritage site with an altitude of 2,500 meteres above sea level. It can get cold at night, even in summer. Both towns are popular with young Chinese travellers, particularly on the weekends, when they come to party and shop. The cobblestoned streets are closed to traffic, making the evening promenade a pleasant experience.  An appealing travel challenge from Ailsa this week.

All the tea in China.
All the tea in China.
A basket of combs for sale!
A basket of combs for sale!
Young girls shop for strawberries.
Young women shop for strawberries.

In My Kitchen, September 2014.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn My Kitchen this month I am listening to the music of  Jiang Yang Zhuo Ma.  I can’t start the day without her deep voiced Tibetan ballads stirring my spirit. With a cup of tea in hand, the first of many, I drift away and travel back through Szechuan Province in China. Then the kitchen business day begins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn keeping with the Chinese theme, we have some very good Chinese tea, gifts from our dear friends in Chengdu. It tastes of Spring and flowers. The tea shops in China are surprisingly beautiful. Some teas cost a fortune.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn our road trip through the north of Szechuan Province, we visited a Szechuan pepper oil factory.  Back in Melbourne, I immediately sourced a bottle ( sadly not from the same factory). Used like sesame oil, it provides a deep, peppery finish to MaPo Dofu or drizzled over stir fried wongbok cabbage, for example.

Sechuan Pepper oil
Szechuan Pepper oil

I have a slight obsession with these vintage floral tin plates from China. Produced during the period of the Cultural revolution ( 1970s), they have become quite rare. I use them as prep plates, or as trays to cart things outside, or to collect, then wash, greens from the garden.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I also have a big pile of these Chinese fish patterned bowls as I am sure many others do. They are economical and handy for one bowl meals.


I found this Chinese thermos in Labuan Bajo, Flores, Indonesia in the hardware store for $6.00. I had to buy it, even though it meant lugging it back to Sanur, Bali, before heading home to Australia. I fill it up in the morning and drink tea the Chinese way, topping up the same leaves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr Tranquillo likes a beer after work and this is his current drop of choice, Tsingtao of course.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI always keep a kitchen Buddha nearby to help with the day.  My Chinese kitchen sits very comfortably within my Australian kitchen, alongside the Italian cuisine, when I’m not cooking Turkish. Thanks to Celia from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting the ‘In My Kitchen’ monthly, thus allowing me to expose my love of China. Visit Celia’s site and open the many links to worldwide kitchens.



Pandas of Chengdu. Travel Theme/Endearing

Cute animals and babies immediately come to mind when considering this week’s travel theme topic, Endearing, nominated by Ailsa, of  Where’s My Backpack. How cute and endearing are Pandas!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A visit to the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base (Xiongmao Jidi) in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China is an enjoyable day out. The pandas have acres of bamboo forest to enjoy, the nursery pandas are kept separately, and there is a birthing section, complete with all the paraphernalia of a maternity hospital.


The park itself is huge, with large promenades of bamboo forests, a large lake and an excellent restaurant where you, like the pandas, can enjoy a plate of bamboo, pickled and steamed.  Like everything else in China, the park and facilities are spotlessly clean and a pleasure to visit.

The Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, No.1375 Xiongmao Avenue, Outside Northern Third Ring Road, Chenghua District, Chengdu 610081, China.

Entrances and Gateways.

Tang dynasty shrines, temples and houses draw you in, inviting you to explore further. Entrances lead you to the numerous courtyards within, giving real meaning to the word ‘amazing.’  Most entrances lead you ahead, others take you sideways.


Masters of Feng Shui, the Tang dynasty ( 618- 907 AD) was the Golden Age of Chinese culture. Tang dynasty courtyard design is now quite fashionable  and is copied in boutique hotels in Chengdu.


Many large houses remain- they are sympathetically renovated of course – from this era, and the best examples can be found in the ancient city of Langzhong  in the north of Szechuan province, as well as at the beautiful shrine to Dufo, the famous Tang dynasty poet, in Chengdu.


Follow me through a few entrances, gateways and courtyards. Smell the oil in the wood.  Sit an Imperial exam in the oldest remaining examination hall. Sip tea or dine in the courtyards within. The ancient houses of Langzhong are open to the public and some are now hotels.


This post is a response to Ed’s photo challenge this week, Entrances and Gateways, on Sunday Stills



Mao Money

“Would you like a Mao Bookmark, Helen?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was sorting through my remaining yuan, Chinese banknotes that I call Mao money. His face appears on all the big notes, so I have a tendency to think in green Mao, blue Mao, and so on, where the humble and rare Jiao notes feature attractive ethnic minorities and are only good for a token toilet fee.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA “Oh what a lovely idea. I would love a Mao bookmark”.  Helen responded, looking up from her e-reader. “But I don’t really need one now that I have one thousand books stored on my e-Reader and Kindle.” Helen doesn’t do things by halves when it comes to relaxing travel toys!

I wandered back to my room, still pondering how to laminate my Mao money, my left over Thai Baht and other paper ephemera loitering at the base of my new fake Chanel overnight bag.