June 29, 2008

Gold and Silk

I was surprised to find a touch of the Silk Road right here in Melbourne this week, in a fine gallery on the edges of Bridge St. Distinctive paintings by Chinese artist Huixuan Zhao are on display at Dickersons, and it's worth taking a closer look.

Miss Huixuan casts a youthful eye on ancient stories. The technique on display is called Gongbi, literally meaning "fine brush". The style originates in the Han Dynasty, very early in the period of China's evolution towards becoming a unified country, around 200BC - a time when both Rome and Julius Caesar was ascending.

The works on display by Huixuan reflect the very essence of China in that period, a tale of gold and silk. This was the golden era of the Silk Route, when money, culture and religion was coming into China from the west, and silk was being sold from the east.

The delicate and articulate creations of Huixuan are painted on silk, with restrained application of colour and subtle layers of gold. Within each work an echo of the Silk Road can also be found. Buddhist symbolism, Confucian wisdom and Han aesthetics. Some works even hint at the Arabic influences further out west, while others evoke the Chinese art of balancing yin and yang.

As a collection it is irresistible. Her themes encompass marriage, contemplation, devotion, enlightenment and passion. Elements are layered within each work with great depth and intention. For such a young artist to compose an array of ancient reflections is worthy of recognition.


June 19, 2008

Panda Man

My life as a travel writer is much like that of the Giant Panda - sitting in a field of bamboo, surrounded by his preferred diet even though it yields next to no nutritional value.

Over time the Panda Man grows fat, mostly from inertia than from a lavish diet. In the absence of true predators it's hard to stay lean, the only real competition for the bland diet of bamboo is other Panda Men.

Some aspects of size do confer strength however. It is unwise to provoke the panda unless you have the speed to run away.

Pandas are very much adored from a distance, even though on close quarters the grubby brown tinge of their white fur and stinky faecal habits become more apparent.

Ironically pandas are solitary animals that enjoy a vast home range and reconnect with their species once a year for potential mating rituals. The modern panda, devoid of natural habitat and confined to enclosures, becomes dependent upon the social interaction with the hand that feeds them.

Panda Man is not an island either, bearing no wish to be cast out into the forest.

June 02, 2008

Moce Nukubati

How to visit Fiji and avoid most of Fiji. Lovely...

Day 1
Landed in Nadi. Smiley old man drove us to hotel. Will be a nice hotel when finished.

Day 2
Smiley old man drove us to airport. Caught little plane to Labassa. Airport is the size of a postage stamp. Picked up by 4WD and drove for an hour. Sugar cane everywhere. Arrived at jetty in the mangroves. Boat to Nukubati Island takes under eight minutes. Every one of the hotel staff were on hand to sing and welcome us. Got lays.

Took catamaran for a sail. Lazy lunch. Slept. Victoria had a massage and returned smelling like a lamington. Sunset on the beach then champagne and canapes. Mosquitos joined us. Dinner brought sundried tomato tapenade, prawn salad and pan fried lobster tails.

Grilled fish and pineapple for breakfast. Walk to top of island, watch out for frogs and medicinal plants. Took catamaran for a sail and nearly killed us both. Seafood lunch, lemongrass tea and snooze in the hammock. Snorkelling around the mangroves. Sunset champagne. Dining on kokoda, crab and crepes.

Day 4
Late breakfast. Visit to pearl farm. Lunch, sleep, kayak and more sleep. Champagne, kava, music, seafood dinner.

Day 5
Early boat ride to the Great Sea Reef. Snorkeling far out to sea, just the two of us. Literally not another boat for 20kms in any direction. Back to Nukubati for lunch. Took catamaran for one more spin, broke the main block. Late arvo took a boat ride to the sand bank. The tide was still falling but we sat with Bolonger and canape and watched the sunset. Kava and dancing before dinner, then packed our bags.

Day 6
Reality sucks. Plane load of screaming children all the way back to Sydney. Shoot me.

Click here to see more of Nukubati, it rocks.