I Am

I Am

I Am the sun warming Your face;
I Am the birds You hear, calling in the forest;
I Am the beauty You see in the flight of the Eagle;
I Am You as the gardener, growing self in perfection;
I Am the grandeur of Your changing seasons;
I Am the deep currents of joy experienced in Us;
I Am the crackling energy that flows out; Joining Yours; creating Ours;
I Am the essence in every cell of Your existence;
I Am the burning of desire in Your beautiful heart;
I Am the nakedness of Your truth;
I Am the contrast in the feelings We share;
I Am the euphoria of our experience in Each Other;
I Am the grass on which You lay;
I Am the glory of God within You;
I Am the wonder of Our pulling apart and Our coming together;
I Am Your attraction to the flame as the moth; feminine to masculine;
I Am the flower of your being, seeking the light;
I Am the connection to Us, that can never be broken;
I Am Your animal in the valley and Your God on high;
I Am Your desire, yearning, craving for Us;
I Am the drumming of hooves, You hear on the plains;
I Am the flowing mane You grasp as the ground rushes by;
I Am Our body, mind and Our soul in joyous harmony;
I Am Our spiritual centres, raised in unison, unto Our highest selves;
I Am Our sacred cup spilling over;
I Am Your love;
I Am God Is Love.

Reflection

Reflection by Katie Grace

The Eagle’s Delightful Dalliance in Dali

Our accommodation in Dali couldn’t have been more pleasing, being situated in a quiet area near the impressive ‘East Gate’, yet just a walk from the hustle and bustle of the central shopping area. The staff at Sleepy Fish, treated us like a part of their family; Max, Kevin, Jenny, Yun, Penny and Tang, and the two resident Golden Retrievers, Milo & naughty Vesper, made our stay a highlight of Southern China.

A lovely street in Dali

A lovely street in Dali

We felt incredibly relaxed and excited as we began our exploration of this ancient and historic town and it didn’t disappoint. The buildings impressed, with their mix of classic Chinese and Bai-style architecture. Beautifully carved wooden concertina panels and doorways, decorated with colourful lanterns adorned every shopfront and most residences. We strolled down narrow, interesting streets and alleyways that ran off wider paved avenues, discovering grand arches, ponds and sculptures, and calming gardens with flowing water; creating tranquil ambiance against a contrast of colourful and noisy shops.

We bathed in the light of our Chinese Shangri-La. Here we could luxuriate amongst the clamour and crush of local and ethnic shopkeepers, tourists and Chinese holiday makers, or delve into the glorious array of food, history, flora and fauna, and natural beauty of the surrounding environment.

Dali rose from a settlement into a significant town in the early period of the Ming Dynasty and is situated on the banks of the Erhai Lake, which literally means: the ear-shaped sea. This high altitude lake sitting 1,972 metres above sea level, at 41.5 km in length, by 6.9 km in width, is the seventh biggest lake in China. The lake, town and surrounding valley, is surrounded and beautified, by lush forested mountains with jagged limestone peaks.

No matter where you stand in Dali, mountains dominate the view. The whistle of the wind through their crags and forests, seems to whisper to you; ever beckoning. So, with the smell of adventure in our nostrils, we set off for the base of Cang Shan Mountain, pronounced Tounge Sen. We couldn’t, or didn’t want to find a pathway to walk up, so we decided upon the chairlift instead. We mounted our steeds and rode up through the pine forest canopy, rising close to the top of the Cangshan Range at 4,122 metres above sea level. At this point, we hadn’t considered the need for a rain coat, or even an umbrella, so, true to form, about half way to the top, the heavens opened up. Considering we still had fifteen minutes to travel to our destination, this became a problem. We arrived at the top, sodden, shivering and looking more than a bit bedraggled. The noise of the downpour on the roof made communication difficult, yet we did managed to meet a great couple from Alsager in England. We all waited for the rain to stop, so we could walk the four hour track to the top of the mountain. An hour went by and the weather didn’t abate, so we hired two very large, dodgy looking umbrellas and took the chairlift back down.

Chairlift in the Rain

These guys had the right approach to dealing with a downpour whilst travelling on a rather long chairlift to the top of the mountain.

That evening we discovered Dali’s vibrant night life, of quaint little bars, plastic chaired restaurants and street BBQ’s. We tried a new taste sensation each day, like fried beef with green chillies, BBQ beef with chilli, a Bai potato dish called grandmas potatoes, Tibetan momos, Tibetan special lamb, jiang shang bing, which is a kind of tangy pizza bread and many varying types of dumpling. We remained in taste bud heaven, hidden away from the evils of our multi-national fat dispensing, fast-food corporations. Not one in sight … yet!

The next morning we decided to go for a rock climb. Unfortunately, our day out on the cliffs fell foul of early rain. We spent the morning waiting at Café 88, a German bakery with really good products and an equally nice host. When the sun came out, we drove to the climb, despite the road looking pretty pot-holed, rutted and soggy. It didn’t take long for us to come across a bogged truck. We attempted to help and nearly suffered the same fate, yet our escape from calamity became short lived. Moments later we suffered a flat tyre.

Mud covered our boots and pants, but we eventually got going; the atmosphere in the vehicle feeling strange from then on. A CD played a kind of funky, chilled out Jazz, which seemed odd and out of place, as we bounced, slid and bumped our way along.

Rock Climbing near Dali in China

Rock Climbing near Dali in China

We carried our gear up the long, steep track to the cliff face and everybody appreciated our first magic view of the lake. We rock climbed for the rest of the day with my wife Katie scaling the face like a teenager, completing every climb. I, on the other hand, lugged a body the size of an elephant up that rock face, which ultimately caused my forearms to pump-up, harden and become useless. By mid-afternoon, my knuckles seemed to be dragging along the ground. Another hour and I may have turned back the evolutionary clock and made the stretched limbs a permanent arrangement.

Swinging out over Erhai Lake, near Dali in China

Swinging out over Erhai Lake, near Dali in China

We bounced and jerked our way back to Sleepy Fish feeling both tired, satisfied and excited. Tomorrow offered just as much adventure and we could hardly wait.

Sleepy Fish Eagles

In my experience, you generally get the quality you pay for, so we shouldn’t have been surprised when our cheap hard-seat ticket from Chengdu to Kunming, turned out to be ridiculously hard. The estimated time for the journey, meant 19 hours crammed on a small seat with your knees jammed under a table. To compliment this arrangement, two young men sat on the other side of our table, who we named ‘Laurel and Hardy’. Why? Because of their ability to play cards and argue for eight continuous hours without a break.

Some architecture of Old Dali Town

Some architecture of Old Dali Town

Despite the noise and the multitude of humanity wedged into our carriage, including people standing and lying in all the corridors, who didn’t have a seat, one heavily pregnant woman spent the night sleeping at the top of the stairs with people walking over her while she slept. Over the course of the night, we witnessed some of the most amazing contortionist acts, whilst listening to a fifty odd person choir, whose chorus of snoring, spitting and wind emissions kept us awake. I did manage to nod off at one point, but the sound of a loudspeaker woke me. It turned out to be an extremely loud salesmen with a microphone, trying to sell tiger balm. We couldn’t understand his dialogue, but even in the wee small hours, people roared with laughter.

In the morning a lovely Chinese girl called Esther, an English speaking teacher based in Bangkok, came past and struck up a conversation. She asked if we would like a sleeper for the rest of the journey. What a question? We practically ran to keep up with her. Esther, the Angel, showed us how we could upgrade on route, which meant we spent the next nine hours sleeping comfortably, a world away from the unfortunate people left in the not-so-nice smelling cattle carriage. We also very much enjoyed the company of Esther and her friends and a young man who we nicknamed Louis, because of the large array of Louis Vuitton accessories he carried.

One of the four gates into Old Dali Town

One of the four gates into Old Dali Town

We thought of Kunming as a quick stop for us on our way to Dali. It seemed like just another busy city, until we discovered the best dumpling house in the world, in a back street. Actually, now that I think of it, almost every second restaurant we attended gained the same title. As we arrived, Lucy, the maître d’, a rather articulate girl of eleven, who spoke perfect English, greeted us and acted as our host for the evening. She asked us about our Australian universities, but insisted that she would only attend Harvard when the time came. As we walked back to our hotel that night, we were confronted with a six-story high poster of Nicole Kidman and ‘almost’ felt a little homesick!

That night we left Kunming for the mountain oasis of Dali, on an overnight sleeper. This being a relatively short trip, allowed us to arrive fresh and ready for the adventure of old cultural China. Disappointment! We arrived to find that the growth of Dali Town into a modern city, was well underway. Fortunately, a forty-five minute drive brought us to Old Dali Town. Our excitement grew as we took in the Bai style architecture and beautiful archways.

View from Cafe 88 in Old Dali Town

View from Cafe 88 in Old Dali Town

The taxi dropped us in a lane of concrete structures, but we soon found our accommodation snuggled between buildings. Sleepy Fish, was an apt description; peaceful and tranquil, and crackling with travellers energy and excitement. Our Bai style room provided a spacious verandah, which over-looked beautiful well-kept gardens. Wow! This would be our home for most of the next 10 days, while we kayaked, trekked, rock climbed and headed into the mountains to walk the famed ‘Tiger Leaping Gorge’.

Dripping Eagles and Wet Pandas

Katie and I negotiated the Shanghai subway; quickly becoming absorbed by the crowds that besieged the Main Shanghai Railway Station. We stood; obvious, amongst the local crowd of well-dressed holiday makers, looking somewhat bedraggled and bent, like a pair of overburdened pack animals. Fortunately, boarding our train turned out to be straight forward and relatively easy. I don’t know why we harboured negative expectations akin to horror, regarding our accommodation for the next thirty-two hours, especially given our experiences of China thus far. Ignorance, or perhaps memories of past experiences on trains, in other Asian countries, coloured our unromantic associations. I’m not sure if we felt embarrassed or relieved when we discovered our ultra-clean and comfortable facilities.

People continued to stare at us, which we never quite came to terms with, as we didn’t look like Brad and Angelina, nor were we anything like a novelty, with so many other international travellers in attendance. If anyone can explain this phenomena, I’d be grateful. Despite the fact that we travelled in a carriage of local people heading home from holidays, we and everybody else in our carriage become an impromptu family. People who had never before met, just naturally become friends. Such is the nature of the Chinese people!

Mother and Child After a restful sleep, we awoke to see central China rushing by. Hour after interesting hour of Hubei, Chong Qing and Sichuan landscapes; each dotted with many tiled brown-earth villages, surrounded by terraced fields of rice, with jagged limestone peaks towering above; spectacular against the vivid blue of a sky devoid of pollutants.

We arrived in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province and the gateway to the Himalayas, only slightly frazzled. Saying goodbye to our family of travellers, we left the station and worked our way into a square teaming with noisy Sichuanians. It’s still a delightful shock to be amoungst so many people. We also felt a little groggy. Being that long on a rocking train, ran akin to arriving at port, after a long sea voyage. From here we jumped a taxi to Sim’s Cosy Garden Hostel, which turned out to be the best hostel either of us has ever stayed in and tried to get a feel for the city. Our area contained many old, grey looking apartment blocks, smattered with the occasional new housing development and a lot of westernised shops and office buildings. I know, it sounds dreadful, yet the overall dullness seemed to magically transform itself into Parisian-like avenues, due to the beautiful trees and plants that lined almost every street.        Photographing Giant Pandas in the RainThe next day we set out on a pre-arranged tour of the ‘Panda Research Centre’ and because we didn’t even consider a raincoat, it began to pour. Actually, it didn’t just rain, it fell down in torrents, as soon as we left our vehicle. What a wonderful turn of events. The rain felt terrific and turned out to be a real boon. Pandas don’t enjoy heat and like us, enjoy a good soaking, so we were treated to a great viewing of these seriously cute animals, who played and rolled about eating bamboo shoots. Many years earlier, I stood in queue at Taronga Park Zoo in Melbourne, to see two visiting Chinese Pandas. Suffering the heat and flies, I shuffled along in a queue for over two and a half hours, only managing to see a tiny bit of black and white rear-end amongst the grass. As you could imagine, this previous experience made our day with the wet Pandas all the more special.Giant PandaThat afternoon, we headed into some funky looking alleys to find a place for lunch. We were accompanied by Rudy and Nathalie, from Nimes in the south of France. By the time we chose a restaurant, we were all wet through and thoroughly enjoying ourselves. When it came time to order, there were no menus, no English speaking staff, or no pictures to go by. After some ridiculous attempts at communication, we dragged the waitress with us, as we walked about the tables, pointing to meals that we hoped tasted as good as they looked. Frowns became smiles, which grew into good natured laughter. Our arm waving and comic-strip gesticulating eventually resulting in a range of meals that tasted sensational, although to this day, I have no idea what they were.

Our stay in Chengdu came to a close with another interesting dining experience. That evening we went for dinner with a French family at another non-English speaking restaurant. We all agreed to share a fish hotpot, but were forced to choose the poor bugger; a live sturgeon, from the giant wall of fish tanks at the front of the restaurant. We spoke no real French, they spoke no real English and neither of us spoke Chinese, which culminated into the same humorous arm-waving attempts at communication.

Often, great travelling memories come out of awkward situations. We’ll never forget the fun and frivolity we experienced with the people and wet Pandas of Chengdu.

Eagles Land on Planet Bling

Updated blog page for ‘Read an E-book Week’.
One week only 2 – 8 March 2014. Starts Now.

Ken "Charlie" Grace

Where do you go to see the best of night-time Shanghai? Walking Street and The Bund, of course.  We arrived, utilising Shanghai’s ultra-modern subway system. Once on the platform, my head shook from side to side in amazement. Trains arrived every four minutes here, for just about every destination. Again, the contrast to our ‘Puffing Billy’ services at home, felt like a slap.

Once on this amazing boulevard, we felt that the Gods of sparkle had transported us to Planet Bling; viva Las Vegas, at its best. Hey, hold on a minute … this is supposed to be China; the so called third world. Within minutes, our necks felt sore from constantly looking up at the lights and … because half of the Chinese population seemed to be in the street at the same time as us, we fell into a stream of humanity, dragged along by the crowd, to…

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