Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A revisit to Wuyishan

The principal of the group with which I am associated decided to hold a high-power get-together at Wuyishan. Friends from America, Canada, Europe, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia would be attending. The 12-day do was packed with programmes ranging from visiting tourist sites to being feasted by Michelin-starred chefs and entertained by world-class performers to practising meditation and getting a taste of tui-na (traditional Chinese kneading massage) to understanding Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism to taking part in a two-day discourse on East-meets-West medicine. It was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience to many of us.

Saw Hwa and I visited Wuyishan in April 2013, when we decided to find our roots in China. Fujian Province was where our ancestry hailed from. Wuyishan is in Ming-bei, or north of River Ming; we are both of Ming-nan (south River Ming) heritage, i.e., we speak Ming-nan dialect which is spoken by people from Xiamen down to Quanzhou and Zhangzhou. Native Taiwanese also speak Ming-nan. Many say that Ming-nan was also the court language of the Tang Dynasty which ruled China from AD 618 to 907. I believe there is merit in this claim. Buddhism spread to Korea and Japan during the era, so did the "court language", hence the large number of  terms in both Korea and Japan which are basically Ming-nan in pronunciations. Many migrated south  and ended up in Ming-nan to live. They took their dialect along. Some went further south to Chaozhou. This might be the reason why the Chaozhou dialect is quite similar to Ming-nan. To put Chaozhou in Guanzhou is a huge heritage aberration!

Wuyishan is renowned throughout China for its Dahongpao tea, besides its reputation as a UNESCO cultural and heritage site. From Kuala Lumpur, the most expedient way of getting there would be to take Xiamen Airlines to Xiamen and from there take a connecting flight direct to Wuyishan. I had to rendezvous with some of my Singapore colleagues; we decided to congregate in Hong Kong and from there we took Xiamen Airlines to Wuyishan. I flew Cathay Dragon and my colleagues from Singapore used Singapore Airlines. This was a big mistake; I will explain why.

Since I had been in Wuyishan, I decided to skip most of the attractions that had been organised for us: Heavenly Tour Peak, Tiger Roaring Rock, A Thread of Sky, Bamboo Raft Tour, Dahongpao Tea Site, Wuyi Xiangjiang Mingyuan Tea Culture Tourist Park, Zhonghua Wuyi Tea Expo Park and the Neo-Confucianism attractions. Even though I had also visited the Xiamei Village and the Dahongpao Show directed by Zhang Yi-mou at "the largest outdoor theatre in the world", I decided to join in the fun. The Xiamei Village which was a tea trading hub in the early Qing Dynasty remained ugly and largely disorganised from a tourism angle. The Dahongpao show has not changed a bit since my last visit, that was more than five years ago. No wonder the crowd was pretty thin.
With friends at Xiamei Village

The town has undergone a big make-over, though. The streets are wide and building look clean and orderly, at least from far. But you still see the town make-shift carts everywhere; they make the place look tired!

Zhang Yi-mou's Dahongpao Show
Earlier I said it was a mistake for us to rendezvous in Hong Kong using non-Chinese airlines. Going there was not a problem. Even though Cathy Dragon is a OneWorld airline and Xiamen, Skyteam, the Cathay Dragon at Kuala Lumpur International Airport was able to send our bags all the way to Wuyishan, we couldn't have that convenience on our return journey. We have to clear Immigration and Customs at Hong Kong and re-check in to catch our respective connecting flights. There was a one-hour delay in take-off by our aircraft in Wuyishan. My Singapore colleagues were resigned to the fact that they would have to put up a night in Hong Kong. And an unusual thing happened. SQ, which always prides itself with great punctuality, strangely decided to delay its departure for that flight. All ended up; save for the great anxieties we were made to bear earlier.

Wuyishan's airport is still new, but its lounge is already showing signs of fatigue! I suspect the sofas have become staff's resting pad when the lounge is not in use. The toilet exuded an unpleasant ordour. The only water basin there was not working. I asked why there was no alert; the receptionist there nonchalantly told me, "oh, it has just happened." You know she was telling a lie. Luckily there was a tap outside; but that's meant for food! Old China dies hard!

My overall take is this: Everything in China moves forward at lightening speed; but etiquette and manners crawl like snails and in circles.

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