Taohua Island – The Peach Blossom Island

Taohua Island (Peach Blossom Island)… This name sounds like a dream full of expectations. Being the second place I visited in China, this is important for me to present it to you as I was literally speechless in front of its beauty. The “Peach Blossom Island”, Tao Hua Dao in Mandarin Chinese, is part of the Zhoushan archipelago located in northeastern Zhejiang Province.The island south of the biggest Zhoushan island one (Dinghai Island), just represents 42 square kilometers but is a marvel of botanical diversity, lush sceneries of natural rich flora and fauna.

Spending a week on Zhoushan Island, I had the opportunity to spend 3 days and 2 nights on Peach Blossom Island. The island is sharing a marine channel with the famous Putuoshan (Putuo Mountain, one of the Four Sacred Buddhist Mountains in China), the only way to get on the island is to take on board for half an hour crossing from Zhoushan Island’s harbor. The island got its name from the ancient peach tree branches naturally printed in a fossil-like way on stones. Spreading throughout the island, the stones are today the center of a legend that I learnt from our tour guide. Indeed, by touching the stones, people would find luck in seeking for love, an idea coming from the fact that the words “peach blossom” (tao hua) suggest romantic love encounters. I had the chance to see and touch one of these precious and legendary stones on my trip to Tao Hua Dao when I was visiting the rocky coastline of boulders and Buddhist legends. In this place, the scenery was just astonishing: huge bay with rock formations, clear water, green and bright vegetation intertwining with the typical Chinese pagodas and temples – the sights exceeded my expectations indeed!

Everywhere, some lion-like and turtle-like rock formations could be seen. The area was made of black wooden pathways standing out in sharp contrast with the beige rocks and the lush vegetation. Our attention was also taken on the other legends of the place, telling about Guan Yin Princess who ashamed herself after being seen by a young man while bathing in the sea. She is said to have fled to hide herself in a cave nearby. The place is today a great tourist sightseeing appealing to everyone’s imagination for trying to glimpse her slim shape in the cave. The rock ball shape site in the area is another legend bringing luck and long-life prayers to anyone touching it!

The Peach Blossom Island is not very extensive, so I could did my trip mainly on foot or taking a little private bus sometimes. While visiting the island, I could have the chance to discover that it was also the most popular site for shooting Chinese movies and TV series! What a sight I had in here, really! Any traveler looking for some typical Chinese views would be delighted by the sight I had the tremendous chance to admire! We could enter the site, walking on the banks of a waterlily pond near to old Chinese stilt houses shaded by ancient trees, cobbled streets and other typical movie-like Chinese relics that any traveler to China can have in mind! The Taohua Island filming base was in fact the place where some famous Chinese movies were shot such as “The Eagle-Shooting Heroes”, the “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils”, “The Return of the Condor Heroes” and the “Duke of Mount Deer”.

For travelers loving natural landscapes, this little island is just a must-see! Every part was a discovery all the more impressing every time. Located near to the filming base, the 38-meter-high and 7-floor Jilin Pagoda was also a great highlight to me. Our group decided to climb the mountain on which the pagoda stands despite the hot and humid weather we had during this three-day trip. The foot of the mountain is surrounded by a lotus pond where golden copper beefs were enjoying their times. Little souvenirs shops and dragon-turtle statues on the way to the top give the place a special taste not looking like every other tourist places in China. The site wasn’t crowded with tourists, so we could enjoy our time at its best point there and take everlasting pictures.

Finally, before coming back to Zhoushan Island, my last but not least experience in this marvelous little Chinese island was: the beach! What a wonderful moment this was, this island is just an unsuspected paradise intertwining different types of sceneries for the pleasure of travelers having the chance to get there! The beach my group and I went for a few hours during the afternoon was called “Tawan Golden Sand Beach”. There, a little restaurant serving some fresh beverages, fruits and other meals is at the disposal of tourists. The view while taking a rest there is just amazing!

The moment was a relaxing one far away for the tumultuous mainland. My Taohua Island experience was amazing and I think that pictures can speak for themselves even though I find that they may not be as beautiful as it was in reality. Looking for some different experiences of China far away from typical tourist cities, Zhoushan and its islands will fill your curiosity: a dream-like destination on your tour.

New Jersey Peaches

Today we have to head for the shore. It’s my nephew’s birthday. Everyone who is free will meet at grand mom’s house for his birthday dinner. The problem is that it’s a Saturday, not the best day to drive to South Jersey. To make the best of it, the boys and I will divert the monotony of the traffic by visiting some of my favorite farm stands along the way. Most important, corn and peaches are ripe and ready. The dogs know when we’re off for a visit. As soon as they see me pull out my suitcase they dance around it on the bed with yelps of excitement. They know where they are going. Down and out we go the car. Felix and Oscar, Finley and Franklin hop into their seats. We’ll use the Barry Bridge and then follow 322 to Mullica Hill. The road is home to a number of very good farm stands but I have a few favorites.

Our first stop is Ever-Fresh Produce in Swedesboro. They specialize in Italian produce. Ever-Fresh is on the right hand side of the road headed East. It’s a small something of a shack and it’s almost hidden by the trees around it. You have to be attentive and careful as you turn in. The stalls are surrounded by eager buyers. Tractors and carts are bringing corn in directly from the fields. The workers are coming in for their lunch. At the site of the variety my head begins to race with ideas. There are several varieties of peppers, tomatoes of all kinds are in boxes and bins and baskets. Huge cantaloupes and watermelons form summer sweet walls along the back stalls. Eggplants, onions and potatoes suggest July favorite recipes. I can smell the peperonata and taste the ciambotta. Moussaka will soon be on the table with lightly salted melon for dessert. Of course, I can’t forget the corn. Nothing is sweeter than corn as soon as it is picked and these are still in their field sacks. It takes two trips to the car to load my finds.

It takes a few minutes wait for a break in the never ending line of Saturday traffic. While I’m waiting a see a sign in an adjacent field: “Future site of Shopping Area.” The loss of this rich farm land with its produce so close to Philadelphia would be an irretrievable loss. I don’t understand why this area so abundant in fruits and vegetables does not fall under New Jersey’s “Protected Farm Land.”

The traffic line parts and we’re back on the road. The traffic is a bit slow but at least its moving and we’re not in a hurry. 322 makes a sharp right into Mullica Hill. Even though it almost immediately makes another left we stay on the main street of the town. Mullica Hill is on the small side but the main street has several nice Victorians, a fair share of touristy antique shops and at least one nice cafe© with outdoor seating. The Friends Meeting with its colonial grave yard sits upon a small rise. We drive as far as n extensive public park. Usually such parks are good places for the boys to have a run and a sniff but this time there is a big sign with red letters: “No Pets.” Sorry guys.

At the park we turn around and rejoin 322 East. Peach orchards line the road. I keep wondering what will happen when all this is concrete and asphalt. Then, there it is, set back off the road, a somewhat rusty looking loading dock and depot with a faded cloth sign, “Peaches.” We pull up on the bumpy drive to the loading area. A teenager is shuffling crates of produce. “How much is a full box?” I ask. “$20.” “Hand me down one,” I say. The box is heavy. It is loaded and fragrant with peaches. The catch will into several uses. My mother will turn half of them in jars of peach preserve that will take bake to summer in the middle of winter. I will peel and slice a large batch and preserve them in the freezer to be the stuff of January pies. And a portion will do to tonight’s dinner as a peach cobbler. What is left over is just for eating as they are. We’ve accomplished our two major goals for the day. The traffic is still heavy. A short way down from the peach depot is a winery. This is a good place to stop for a little snack. There is a pleasant outdoor seating area. Wine tasting is available if that’s your pleasure on a summer afternoon. If this were a mid-week road-venture we would have the time. Mullica Hill, New Jersey, is only about an hour drive. But we have miles to go and traffic ahead so we move along. There’s a birthday party this evening.

Post Script: The ride home.

Even though I know that blueberries are now over, I thought I would give one last chance to see what I might find by stopping off at Hammonton, New Jersey on the way home. For ease I took the Atlantic City Expressway. Just before you come to the Hammonton exit you see to your right two large blueberry farms. These would be my two tries. Once off the Hammonton exit I take the first right that parallels the Expressway. In a minute I see the sign for “Bill’s Berries.” I turn up the drive towards the sheds. Outside are all the empty boxes. It doesn’t look good. Nonetheless, I get out and peer into the deserted depot. In the far corner a woman is stacking empty crates. “Any left?” I ask. “No, finished. Only frozen.” She has a Spanish accent. “Congelado?” I answer, “está bien. Yo voy a congelarlos me mismo. Ok. Cuánto?” After all, I was intending to freeze them anyway. “Let me ask my husband?” she answers in English. She goes to the phone, waits. No answer. She opens the freezer and filled with boxes of frozen berries. On the top is a bag that looks like the left overs that didn’t fit into the cartons. “Here,” she says, “take these.” “Cuánto?” I continue in Spanish as I open my wallet. “Free,” she continues in English. “Muchas gracias,” I mutter. “De nada,” she smiles and goes back to her work. It’s a good thing to speak another language.

What to Have for Lunch? Try Peaches and Banana

If you are looking for what to have for lunch, try peaches and banana. Not only will they fill you up, you will take in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and still not add appreciably to your weight. Not bad if you are like me, not so young and watching everything you eat.

Why not? After all, the body is not what it once was, the food-grinding machine of a sixteen-year-old – or a twenty-six-year-old, for that matter.

Cheeseburgers or Egusi/Melon soup with pounded yam are yummy food, but you don’t always need to eat them – unless, of course, you are lucky enough to be into manual labor.

But I am not so lucky, as I mostly do a sedentary job. Not that I don’t like my job, but I wish it came with some real physical activities – just enough to break sweat and keep the weight perpetually off, but not so much as to tire the ankles, the knees and the bones. I’ll be needing those when I hit age ninety, like my nonagenarian friend. Well, that is by the way.

For a start, peaches and bananas complement each other like water and cement. In combination they will quench your hunger and satisfy your appetite.

If you are wondering where to get fresh peaches and bananas, stores like Big Y, Stop and Shop are my favorites. Locate a store close to you, where you can get easily get your supply of fresh peaches and bananas.

Until I began to write this article I never knew that peaches could refresh the body, the face, the appearance of the skin, and may even slow the ageing process. You don’t need any more reasons to include peaches in your menu, do you?

One particular afternoon I was searching for what to eat for lunch in place of almond nuts. Normally I skip lunch because I think lunch is unimportant, especially if you are like me, with a sedentary lifestyle. I sit around all day, occasionally getting up to stretch a hand, but quickly sitting back down on a chair.

The point is that I don’t do much and therefore do not deserve much food. Some days, however, when I felt hungry (not without a sense of guilt), I would drive to a nearby store and buy a sachet or two of almond nuts. Immediately I got back to the car, my finger would rip open the small plastic bag and decant nuts, three or five at a time, until I was done. After that I would face the other pack and deal it a blow just like I did the first. Each bag was a walloping 130 calories, so together this little snack gave me 260 calories.

Most times my hunger would vanish, allowing me to continue through the day with my sedentary lifestyle of sitting on my stool, occasionally standing up if I have to stress a point when talking to parents and their children, doing the best I can to alleviate, even if only temporarily, their physical and sometimes their mental afflictions.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are times I will go from one consultation room to another, across the short hallway to the refrigerator to select a vaccine or stretch out a hand to rummage through the wall cabinets for a needle, syringe or gloves.

Nobody in their senses would call any of these activities anything but sedentary, for which a heavy load of food, such as pounded yam or Garri, or rice or goat meat or soup or French fries or hamburger or sandwiches, would be unnecessary. That is why I tried to keep my lunch very simple and limited to almond nuts.

So, that afternoon when I was searching for what to eat in place of almond nuts, my mind settled on banana and peaches. Well, it wasn’t that I never ate banana or peaches, but I never knew it could be such a good replacement for my two packs of almonds at about 260 calories. Somewhere in my brain, banana and peaches had been hiding in plain sight since I saw my son Jermane bite of a wedge of banana and my daughter Amy bite of a chunk of peaches.

“Is that all the peaches you bought?” I had asked Amy, when I saw her eating a big peach. ”Yes, Dad, sorry,” she said.

Next day at lunch time, instead of purchasing two packs of almonds at the corner store, I went to the ‘Stop and Shop’ food store and selected two ripe but firm peaches and a bunch of four ripe, firm bananas.

Back in my car I searched under the seats and found a half-full bottle of water with which I washed the peaches. I set one peach on a clean napkin on the front passenger seat and held the other one, reexamining it for dents and soft spots, which I dislike in fruits.

Satisfied, my teeth bit into it and took a chunk of juicy peach. What a delicious, refreshing, slightly tangy flavor! The velvety feel of the skin made me want to hold the fruit a little longer, but hunger was getting the better of me.

Peaches are nutritious, with plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I don’t think they are given the respect they deserve among the fruit family.

Banana is a very popular and ubiquitous fruit, so there is no need to discuss it in any detail, only to say that I take time to choose my banana since I want it exactly the right way, not overripe or under-ripe, just ripe, and strong and easy to peel from the top, not squishy. Like peaches, bananas contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

As usual the banana did not disappoint, and I ate two of the four. Soon after my hunger went away I began to suffer from post-gluttony despair.

Perhaps I have overindulged in food, sweet food which I still remember my grandmother warning me against when I was a young boy. I had run away to stay with her in my village at Akokwa, because I wanted to escape the scrutiny of my parents. My mother in particular would come so often to my room to check on me and ask, “Are you okay, my son?” even though all she wanted to know was who I was hanging with. Grandmother never bothered with any of that; she would bring some bitter leaf soup with dry fish to me, her eighteen-year-old grandson: bitter leaf soup, cooked with dry fish.

Oh, I miss Grandma. Forgive me where I have digressed, but I thought you should understand the kind of person I am – at least a little bit of what I was as a child.

Forced by the kind of person I have become, I added up the calories and the cost of two peaches and two bananas. A peach, the size I ate, was about 70 calories, two of them, 140 calories. Say a humongous banana contains 150 calories, two would contain 300 calories. Together, two large peaches and two humongous bananas add up to about 440 calories; not so expensive either – all for the price of just $2.00.

Peaches and bananas fill the stomach better than two small packs of almond nuts. Next time you are wondering what to eat for lunch, try two peaches and two bananas. I promise you will enjoy them. If you are a weight watcher, don’t feel guilty; you will have had a healthy meal and only consumed about 500 calories.